Ms. Stark

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Is it Possible That We Are Experiencing the Best of All Worlds?

By Naomi Stark, President, Stark Service Solutions, LLC

The question that the Grand Hotel, Point Clear, Resort and Spa is exploring an answer to, as are many others, is: "How do we honor authentic hospitality, our rich history, our unique timeless gem of a property, and remain relevant for future generations - starting with Millennials?"

The sad, but honest truth is, the guests that have been patrons of this particular historic landmark are getting older. As they travel less, their business is coming to a close. So how does this property and all in the industry for that matter, ensure that Millennials and future generations choose them to create their time honored traditions and memories? The answer just might be one of the easiest hoteliers have had in over 20 years.

An Experience for the Books

Just over 20 years ago, I had what I consider to be, the best start in the hospitality industry. I was part of the early days of what was then, the Orchid at Mauna Lani, a Sheraton ITT Luxury Collection property. I 'was just a server' who wanted to get as far away from cold snowy New England weather as possible. I was ready for adventure and wanted to meet people from around the world. What better way to do that than to work in the hospitality industry! The adventure was just beginning. Even then I recognized that I was part of a very special team, at a very special time. Now, more than 20 years later, props to LinkedIn, many of us who worked together 'back in the day' are still connected and have gone on to build exciting careers. I am willing to bet that if you ask anyone from that 'era' they will tell you that it was a moment in time that we will all cherish. The experience was one for the books!

Why am I sharing this story with you? Because, that experience epitomizes what we are all striving for - an experience - whether as a guest or as an employee - we want to experience things. We want to matter and we want to make a difference. We all have jobs, careers, titles, whatever, but being part of something, part of an experience, that is the ideal.

Besides the fact that I always like talking about my Hawaii experience, there actually is a lesson from that hotel experience that is directly relevant to Hotel Executive's April theme. Experiences are what Millennials - the tech-centric generation are actually looking for. How does this benefit hotels and their bottom line?

For the first time since the technology boom, I believe that the best of all worlds are finally available to hoteliers. Today's technology trends mean hotels can afford to give the 'experience' once again, as this article will explore. The real question will ultimately be, who will take advantage of this perfect storm of current technology trends and Millennials?

The Results Are in

Unless you read absolutely no industry reports or articles (which is unlikely since you are reading this) I do not have to tell you that there is overwhelming data and discussion about Millennials. I will presume you already know more than you ever thought was possible to know about people born approximately, between 1982 and 2004. For the purpose of this article, let's keep the following key points in mind as highlighted by Tourism Consultant, Amy Bair, in a recent report:

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  • According to the United States Census International Database, there are almost 2.7 billion people in the world between the ages of 12 and 34 years old. (1) The World Bank informs us the earth's population is almost 7.4 billion people (2) which means this age group makes up 36 percent of the world's individuals.
  • Millennials are 23 percent more likely to travel abroad than their older counterparts. They are also willing to budget more for trips, with Millennials on track to spend $1.4 trillion on travel each year by 2020.(3)

So, yeah, it is a no brainer that it is time for hoteliers to mature past the 'awkward technology puberty' that so many have been going through over the past decade. Revenue and occupancy is conceived in the personal device that everyone has their nose stuck in. Period. The end. We get it. Or do we?

In 2014 I had the opportunity to be part of a panel addressing hoteliers on the subject of hotel technology. One of my colleagues suggested it would take another 10-15 years before hotels would embrace technology for their staff. That shocked me (especially coming from a CIO). It still does. How can anyone believe their business will continue to be relevant in another decade without embracing technology across all levels? In my opinion, the disconnect would simply be too great to overcome at that point.

During that same panel discussion, an attendee asked the panel what we recommend to the industry. My personal response was: "'Uberize' your hotel. 'Uberize' your hotel, and start now." Make your services available in the palm of your guests' hand. Three years later, the 'results are in' and this is where hotels need and truly want to be.

Revenue Stream and Millennials

Studies, reports, articles, experts, and the general population finally recognize the one 'thing' everyone, and I do mean everyone including Baby boomers, are attached to (aka addicted to) are our personal mobile devices. With it, we are connected to everyone, and everything, we care about. Becoming part of that picture equates to r e v e n u e for your hotel. Just how significant is the potential revenue stream by becoming app-centric?

The revenue stream availed by having your services app-centric means the generation who conceives their adventure on their device can also 'co-create' it, 'gamify' it, pay for it, upgrade it, and market it for you to everyone they know and who their friends and family knows. The revenue stream becomes exponential. Give the guest what they want, and they will give you what you want.

What a Millennial Really Wants

Back to the main point that this is the best of all worlds for hotels. Hotels have always had to walk the line between managing rising labor costs and providing excellent service, often choosing one or the other. The old challenge of 'if we cut labor we will hurt service' is not so true anymore. Today's and tomorrow's guests are more than happy to self-serve the transaction side of their experience. For example:

  • Check themselves in and have keyless entry to their room.
  • Skip daily housekeeping service because they genuinely care about the environment and do not want to have new linens every day.
  • Order their meal from their phone and have it delivered to their room, to the pool, to the fire pit.
  • Make a request for their HVAC to be looked at by Maintenance, from their phone and receive a message when it is complete.
  • Make a spa appointment, from their phone.
  • Upgrade and pay for services, such as late checkout, through their phone.
  • Text valet for their car.
  • Check out through their phone.

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Guests are now on our page. Happy to use technology to co-create their unique experience while at the same time not wasting a moment of precious time on the middle man. Isn't that what we all want? Time it is simply too precious. We are happy to be able to push a button on our phone vs. trying to figure out how the antiquated hotel phone works, just to wait and wait for someone to answer the other line, to radio or write down a request... tick tock tick tock. No thank you. Let's push a button on the device we already know and love and then have a smiling, personable hotel team member materialize with our request.

This dynamic emphasizes the vital role hotel staff have now. Millennial guests truly want from hotel staff what their phone can't give them. It is in fact, what we all really do want even if we were born prior to 1984 - a personal interaction, to be smiled at, spoken to by name, offered personal assistance vs. wait on someone else to process the 'transaction' component.

Millennials go further though, they want to chat, to 'talk story' as we called it in Hawaii. They want an artfully crafted cocktail that none of their friends have experienced, they want that delectable locally created meal, and they want to be pampered in the spa with a long-overdue deep tissue massage (okay maybe that is just what I want). The point is, Millennials want their phone to do the transaction element and the hotel staff to do what only hotel staff can do: create the experience, the memories. The beautiful part of this is while it is what guests want, it is also what hotels need.

They need a core staff that cares for each guest but isn't wasting time or labor dollars on things that a cost effective and well managed app can do. The result is the hotel saves money. The guest gets precisely what they want. Hotel service improves because technology offers a platform of accuracy and consistency that human error simply cannot accomplish.

So take the steps to let guests opt for text messages to their personal device vs. phone calls to their hotel room. Let them place their order via the app for In-Room Dining. Let them purchase your merchandise from your gift shop via your app. If Amazon can deliver items in 24 hours, hoteliers can deliver their product to a guest room expeditiously. Let your guest request maintenance or housekeeping directly through your app. Let your guest recognize your staff directly through their phone and your app. All the while, they are letting you save labor dollars and enhance your service.

The Best of All Worlds

It gets even better. After being able to cut back on unproductive labor dollars and concentrate on high-quality-experience-creators, the Millennials reward the hotel with priceless marketing.

Cool Millennial factoid: Millennials don't just want to book online, co-create their experience, they are also eager to share it with their thousands of friends and followers. Score! How much would that cost you if you had to pay your marketing company to run an ad or commercial raving about your services? This is exactly what hoteliers want: Efficient processes to deliver impeccable, timely, service and free marketing.

I actually suspect that Millennials will drift away from 'Gen X sites' such as Trip Advisor. Instead, I foresee guest voices being shared directly with the hotel and through their app community. The days of longwinded detailed descriptions of every service omission and gripe with hotels on sites as Trip Advisor, I imagine are numbered.

Millennials are 'Tweeters'. They Like or don't like. They, in many ways, make it easier for passionate hoteliers to get back to authentic hospitality. My days in Hawaii were some of my most favorite. Over the past decade I have seen a lot of talented hoteliers loose some of their fire for hotel life. Truthfully, I have also, a bit.

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with accountability and love the platforms of service transparency. Too many hotels needed to be brought back in check on the level - or lack thereof - of service and amenities they were delivering. Thus, social media review sites leveled the playing field for travelers and forced everyone to kick it up a step.

However, the pendulum swung too far and many guests used it for blackmail. This resulted in passionate, dedicated General Managers being reduced to justifying their existence to every guest who got a deal online and wanted something for free. How could we not lose some heart with that kind of unproductive dynamic? Now, as hoteliers embrace this next generation of technology trends and technology-centric guests, it feels like the vibe is balancing out. We can be inspired once again to create phenomenal experiences for a generation who is ready for it - and will co-create it with us.

To Sum it up

Travelers are ready for automated services. This is great news. It means that hotels can concentrate and invest in team members who are guest-centric, being experience co-creators with guests. It means, services can be delivered with a degree of consistency that only technology is capable of, and with cost saving perks that have long alluded the P&L and budget meetings for far too long. The question is, "Is your hotel ready for it?"

References

(1) International Programs, International Data Base, (2016, September). Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/idb/worldpop.php
(2) Population, total, (2016). Retrieved November, 2016, from http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL
(3) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-clark/4-ways-millennials-are-ch_b_10503146.html

Stark Service Solutions, LLC was founded in 2001, by Naomi Stark, current Chair of the AH&LA Technology & E-Business Committee, an expert in guest satisfaction and loyalty and employee development. Stark Service Solutions, LLC is known for developing smart training and software platforms such as the Touch System. The Touch System is the only software tool of its kind, bridging HR, Training and Operations to sustain a culture of highly personalized guest experiences. This program brings a unique approach to customer satisfaction management, which consistently assists clients in all sectors of the industry. Ms. Stark can be contacted at 480.614.1009 or nstark@starkservicesolutions.com Please visit http://www.starkservicesolutions.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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