Will hotel brands become tech companies?

Last week’s NYU hotel investment conference revealed a greater recognition of the power of digital and guest intelligence than ever before. 

“Hotels make money every 15 years, and this is the 15th year,” Bill Marriott said. The difference this time around, according to chief executives? The money should be spent differently. Accor Hotels CEO Sébastien Bazin remarked that instead of spending billions acquiring another hotel brand, hotel groups today would be better served investing that money in digital innovation to stay competitive in a world of disruptive startups. 

Disrupt or be disrupted. 

“The hotel industry has focused on product and brand for the past 50 years. For the next 50, it will be on relationships and databases,” added Ashford CEO Monty Bennett. “Digital budgets and departments will continue to grow as other traditional hotel departments shrink. Hotel brands will become tech companies.”

If this is the time for the industry to invest, what opportunities do we have? 

There’s an opportunity for feedback collection to be more than just a one-time, post-stay survey. Expedia shared its approach for also collecting feedback while the guest is still on property — and how it has collected more than 1 million pieces of feedback in this way over the past year, allowing hotel managers to intercept and resolve guest frustrations as quickly as possible.

There’s a broader opportunity to collect feedback from as many sources as possible and aggregate them for centralized guest intelligence. Ed Maynard, SVP at Denihan Hospitality, discussed the tremendous amount of data that comes from call-center and service discussions — and the need for combining this with more direct feedback to really understand guests.

There’s a need to use this guest insight to provide experiences that exist beyond the stay itself. For Bazin, focusing on improving service on property isn’t enough. “We have to think about how to provide services outside the stay to increase brand loyalty,” Bazin said.

Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian believes in digital to do this, calling it the “biggest opportunity in hospitality today.”  

There’s a need to recognize that luxury today is defined by many travelers as not just white-glove service, but also having access and options. Maybe not every guest wants to check into a 5-star hotel on their phone, but for those who do, it’s essential that’s offered as an option.

There’s an opportunity for user-generated innovation — tapping into collective intelligence to create new products and services that matter to guests. We’ve seen Marriott do this on a large level before, and Carlson Rezidor’s new CMO Roger Chacko talked in detail about how this approach will become a central part of that organization’s strategy in the months ahead.

Finally, there’s an opportunity to develop new properties and brands around just what guests want. Several panelists called this a “mega trend” in development today, highlighting the success of concepts such as CitizenM that focus on providing a great bed, fast Wi-Fi and limited (required) staff interaction. No need to waste money on aspects of a hotel guests are not asking for.

Whether you’re in a position to invest billions or not, these are opportunities you can probably participate in to some extent in order to better serve your guests.