With guests becoming global citizens, customers are increasingly looking for a more bespoke experience from accommodation providers. Replacing legacy technology with cloud-based customer reservation system will enable the hotel sector to offer a more personalised experience through the transition from a transactional to an experiential relationship with its customers. This technology is expected to enhance the way hoteliers interact with guests. In conversation with Mr.Sujeet Kumar, General Manager, Sheraton Grand Bangalore, Mr Lakshmanan Ramanathan, General Manager, The Westin Chennai Velachery, Mr SrijanVadhera, General Manager, Conrad Bengaluru and Mr Saagar Panchal, Founder & CEO, Hireavilla Hospitality Pvt. Ltd, Excerpts from Tourism India’s endeavours to find out why and how these hospitality front-runners prepare to welcome an experiential approach in their hotels.
Everyone is talking about the hospitality industry opting for an experiential approach in comparison to a transactional one. What do you think about this?
Sujeet Kumar: The hospitality industry has evolved over the years. Earlier, staying at hotels was very typical like checking into a grand property at the reception, enjoying a well-appointed room and rejuvenating self in the pool or spa accompanied by good food and drinks. With the introduction of technology in tourism, hoteliers have been making every stay for their guests an experiential one by offering services like self-check-in, city tour, customized stay packages, discounts/offers, loyalty programmes and the like. In today’s competitive market, with various options available for every kind of travellers shows that there is a shift from a transactional approach to an experiential one which is very important. There is a demand for unique experiences.
Lakshmanan Ramanathan: Experiential approach is quite important as that is what sets you apart from the competition. Moreover, the new age travellers do their homework well before zeroing on a hotel and need value for money they spent. They also travel for engaging experiences and that’s where we need to be unique to attract them.
SrijanVadhera: For hotels in the luxury segment, this is extremely important. The personality of our guests is those who are well-travelled, who travel with purpose and expect intuitive service and seamless experiences. Another growing trend is that global travellers prefer hotel rooms to be priced in ways that allow them to customize or add on bespoke services that enhance their stay. These factors lead me to think that choosing to stay at a hotel inclines more towards being an emotional mindset than a transactional one.
SaagarPanchal: I think the experiential approach is much better because the popularity of experiential travel destinations is increasing in comparison to traditional vacation destinations. The youth is travelling to exotic destinations and are ensuring that they stay an extra few days to submerge themselves in the local culture and experience something new. Furthermore, for the millennials seeking a life of adventure and spontaneity, quality experience is everything and they are always on the lookout for experiences that keep them happy and satisfied.
How is your hotel embracing this new approach?
Sujeet Kumar: We have embraced the new approach but have also maintained some traditions like we do have a reception where the guests come and take their keys; a human touch is still maintained. We have our staff taking orders for the guests. But at the same time, our hotel curates special and unique promotions as well as packages for the guests to give them a WOW factor at every step. With the new Loyalty program called Marriott Bonvoy, the guests can now redeem the points earned and buy items online, get a free ticket for an upcoming concert or meet and greet with a celebrity. This adds to make a guest’s experience peculiar.
LakshmananRamanathan: Yes we are actively promoting experiences. In fact, we have recently launched Weekends by Marriott, a unique weekend staycation package for guests to spend their weekends with us and engage in activities such as cocktail mixing and cooking a barbecue for the family in our outdoor poolside grill restaurant. Westin being a wellness brand of Marriott we lay a lot of emphasis on wellbeing hence yoga and a 30 min spa therapy are a part of this deal. Guests are also welcome to use the gym and pool. The idea is to encourage local families and couples to spend their weekend at the hotel and learn something rather than being at home.
SrijanVadhera: At Conrad Bengaluru, our team of experts exude passion in delivering exceptional experiences. Right from the arrival experience and express check-ins to locally inspired amenities, the customer journey is plugged with subtle appointed touchpoints that subconsciously influence the experience of guests to stay in a positive way. The key to success is to understand each individual guest in terms of the context they are travelling for. For example, a corporate guest’s expectations vis-à-vis a family’s stay during the weekend would be entirely different.
SaagarPanchal: We have carved a niche for ourselves by delivering experiential stays to our guests since the beginning. We offer well-equipped staffs present 24×7 at our rental villas catering to the guests, including a concierge service which will cook on call, travel desk support, car on rent, butler’s or bartender’s on call, customized possible theme-based decors inside our villa on request etc. Gradually we also came up with our own bathroom essentials which are crafted with perfection and are also Paraben-free for additional care.
In your opinion what is more critical to ensure repeat clientele, is its price, loyalty or experience?
Sujeet Kumar: According to me the experience that matters in the end. Like they say “the first impression is the last impression”, the experience stays with the guests even after their check out from the hotel. Guests will be loyal to a particular brand or a property only if they are willing to spend more because of their special experience.
LakshmananRamanathan: Most definitely an experience which turns into loyalty over a period of time takes precedence over all else. An engaged guest drives revenue over a period of time and therefore hotels need to do more to remain engaged thereby driving loyalty.
SrijanVadhera: In light of the market segment we operate in, repeat clientele is a factor of the experiences which are intuitive, seamless and memorable. Experiences are what create a desirable feeling that encourages repeat consumer behaviour. By forming connections with guests that are emotional and not merely transactional, you open yourself to a potential for great brand-building successes.
SaagarPanchal: As a vacation rental company owner, I dealt with a number of clients and from my personal experience, I consider all three- price, loyalty and experience because if a customer is given the best experience and the price is high, they won’t consider our company for the next time because price is also an important factor for the customer’s point of view and at the same time, experience and loyalty by us to them is equally important from our company’s point of view. So, I would definitely provide my customers with the best experience, loyalty and best price all at the same time.
Are you also replacing legacy technology with a cloud-based system to enable your hotel to transition from a transactional to an experiential relationship with guests?
Sujeet Kumar: We have already started the replacement of the legacy technology with a cloud-based system to meet the experiential demands of the guests which will enable the hotel sector for the transition from a transactional to an experiential relationship with its customers. Legacy technology is comparatively slow and has high costs. Cloud model gives us a better understanding of the travellers and their needs and avoids a large outlay and supports more rapid deployment and faster business case realization.
LakshmananRamanathan: Yes, the work is in progress and is bound to happen for everyone including us to migrate to a cloud-based system.
SaagarPanchal: Yes, we are also replacing legacy technology with a cloud-based system to enable our rental villas for the youth are tech-savvy since they put greater importance to personal experiences and showing it off to the world. 90% millennials use smartphones and 93% of them have access to the internet, so it would be easy for us to connect them with a cloud-based system technology.
How do you see the hospitality sector, with this technology after 5 years from now?
Sujeet Kumar: Five years from now, the hospitality sector will shift from being brand focused on being guest-centric. Travellers will decide who they want to provide the data to and they will provide it only if they get an experiential benefit out of it. Since older legacy systems are still catching up when it comes to mobile optimization, cloud-based systems are offering hotels the access to use the data using any device and enable guest bookings on mobile devices easy. With cloud PMSs, managers are also able to remotely monitor operations, access reports and measure staff performance, while legacy systems still rely on age-old methods of inter-communication. The new-age guests demand quickness, simplicity and mobile-friendliness from the hotel booking and stay experience.
LakshmananRamanathan: This will make the industry become asset-light for sure and will also help further upgrades in the future years faster as the major hardware requirements will go away.
SrijanVadhera: In today’s rapidly evolving environment, technology plays a key role in each of our lives. It is important to realize the impact technology can make for brands. I foresee that hotel services will be sold on granular attributes that the hotel offers, allowing a guest to customize his experience at the hotel. At Hilton, we have just touched the tip of the iceberg. Conrad Bengaluru is one of the first hotels in the country to allow guests to check-in and select their room before they physically arrive at the hotel. We believe that once a guest chooses to stay at a Hilton property, they already have the key to a great stay. Through the Hilton Honors, app guests can use their phone to open their door at over 700 hotels, with many more to come. With the implementation of the Digital Key, we have augmented the way humans interact with guests. It is important for hotel brands to continue to invest in technology to be able to provide unforgettable experiences. To state, with the implementation of the Digital Key, we have enhanced administration processes that allow our teams to focus more on customizing inspiring stays for our guests.
SaagarPanchal: From the current scenario of the tourism industry, little-known tourist destinations and home-stays have become popular and are eminently accessible as a result of flight and road transport options that can be accessed round the clock. Also, this generation has prioritised importance to personal experiences and show it off to the world. Millennials say that posting pictures on social media is as important as the holiday they are on.
TourismIndia, India”s Travel & Tourism Magazine.