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Five challenges facing the hotel industry

Tolerance for poor customer service is rapidly shrinking in the travel industry. Within the hotel sector, one bad experience is enough to turn off customers from using a particular brand, according to results from a 2016 survey of US and UK internet users.

Driven by growing customer expectations in relation to hygiene standards, exceptional service and customized personal experiences, the hotel industry is facing a vast set of challenges.

Combined with increasing competition, thanks partly to the growth of the economy of sharing, today’s hotel operators need to ensure they exceed expectations at every stage of their guests’ stay if they are to ensure long-term profitable growth.

Here are some of the biggest challenges faced by hotel operators in the twenty-tens.

1. Cleanliness

First impressions count for a great deal and many hotel guests get an instant sense for the standards in a hotel from their first visit to the hotel washroom.

The demand for cleanliness should not be a surprise, especially within the service industry.

In fact, hygiene and cleanliness are ranked as number 1 priority for choosing and recommending hotels post stay.

The majority of hotel guests would happily give up on luxuries and even technology, such as wifi access, than stay in a dirty hotel.

Efficient housekeeping teams are still critical for brand reputation management and to drive loyalty amongst guests.

2. Technology

Technology is an integral part of everyday life. Whilst we might use our holiday to take a break from certain aspects of our lives, it seems we never want a break from technology.

Hotel guests demand a basic right to be connected in any hotel, in any location, around the world. Technology is a constant travel companion, wherever we go.

Good news then, that the hotels sector is embracing the technology revolution.

Innovative use of technology that benefits customers and not just hotel operations, helps hotel chains to stand out from the competition and attract new customers.

The Oracle Hotel 2025 survey, conducted in February 2017, discovered that guests are willing to engage brands that offer new technologies if they feel they’re in control of their experience.

It started with the demand for free WiFi connection but this is very much a basic need now.

Hotels have since turned to robotics and voice control technology, amongst other technological installations, like smart mini bars and golf simulators. If you are excited about high-tech hotels, read the Business Insider article on the 12 most high-tech hotels in the world.

The Wynn hotel in Vegas already uses Amazon Echo and Marriott is exploring Amazon Alexa and Google Home to use in their bedrooms.

Whilst technology provides endless opportunities to improve hotel efficiencies, hoteliers must strike the right balance between automation and the human touch.

Investment in technology is critical to long-term business success but it must not come at the cost of personal service.

3. Meaningful experiences

Memories are based on powerful experiences. There is a growing expectation now to always ‘experience’ something.

In the hotel industry, design trends, technology and personalisation can all help to provide a meaningful experience and drive guest loyalty.

It is no longer enough just to go out for a nice meal in a nice restaurant with great service. Restaurants are aware of the need for offering a real ‘dining experience’.

Consider the trend for dining in the dark thanks to French restaurant Dans Le Noir, where all the senses are awakened, not just your taste buds, all to provide a real ‘experience’.

In terms of cruise travel, just think about how cruise ships have evolved over the past decades into liners like the Symphony of the Seas cruise ship.

Experiences should be treated as an extension of the great quality customer service already offered by hoteliers, though admittedly it might be more relevant to the luxury/ five-star plus rated hotels in the world.

Whilst quality of service is hugely important to guests it can be made even better by a meaningful, personal experience.

In some cases, Hotel design and interior trends might be enough to attract new customers and in other cases, technology might be more attractive — as in the case of the world’s first robot hotel in Japan, The Henn na (Weird Hotel).

In the UK, a BBC television programme, Amazing Hotels, brings the rising demand for experiences, over and above pampering, into sharp focus. It showcases a new breed of hotels that have diversified into providing experiences, such as sharing your breakfast table with giraffes.

If hoteliers can provide these sought-after experiences, then they can exceed customer expectations.

4. Excellent service

Every hotel guest expects good customer service but today’s hoteliers must exceed expectations by being more than just good - they need to be excellent.

A hotel is judged by the quality of the service delivered. Highly skilled and attentive staff, a personal touch, respect, and the ability to make a guest’s stay as comfortable and as relaxing as possible are all equally important to succeed.

If hotels can provide that extra level of service, they can generate brand loyalty and repeat custom. The phrase "The customer is always right" may have been coined in the retail sector, but it is highly relevant to the hospitality sector.

How can hotel operators win on service? By understanding who their customers are and what they expect.

To win repeat business and ensure long-term growth, hotels must develop a deep understanding of the types of customers they want to attract and provide services and facilities that cater to the needs of their target customer base.

There is now a growing demand to employ data scientists in the hospitality sector, to provide insights into hotel guests — their likes, dislikes and interests — to ensure unexpected and highly appreciated personal touches during a guest’s stay.

5. Sustainability

Sustainability is rapidly climbing the agenda of every organisation, driven by people’s growing interest in and concern for the environment. In fact, the World Tourism Organization, is deeply committed to sustainable tourism.

Smart hoteliers understand that corporate responsibility programmes can help to win customers and trust, whilst benefiting employees, the environment and earnings.

Hotels spend a large part of their running costs on energy and utility bills. Luckily there are many ways, thanks to intelligent technologies, that hotel operators can go green, review energy consumption and implement ways to deliver financial savings.

There are many opportunities for hoteliers to raise their brand profile in terms of environmental impacts by focusing on reduction of food waste, general waste, water consumption, and energy (lighting, heating and cooling).

Thanks to technological innovations, such as daylight harvesting sensors and motion sensors, hotels are already finding ways to reduce lighting and heating bills.

Hilton already understands the importance of Corporate Responsibility initiatives and Starwood has pledged to reduce energy use by 30% and water use by 20% by 2020.

In 2017, Hilton announced their partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to launch a new, long-term water stewardship strategy to tackle their water usage.

If hotels can meet the challenges and expectations of their guests, they can ensure long-term business growth in a sustainable way and exceed customer expectations.

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