Future hotels: more personal or sold as commodities?

Do hotels need to focus more on offering a personalised service to secure guest bookings in the future, or is the shift more to selling a ‘bed in a box’?

Hotel loyalty cards
Hotel room or commodity?

A recent report from the InterContinental Hotel Group says that post-recession, hotels must focus on offering an individual service to guests in order to be rewarded with their loyalty.

The results of the report are based on a survey of around 7,000 international business and leisure travellers, plus interviews with travel experts. It argues that the advent of personal technology and the concept of ‘always with me’ devices has created a demand for service that is tailored to their individual preferences.

What that personalisation should be varies depending on nationality. UK travellers value the ‘little touches’ in their rooms for example, whereas Americans regard choosing their exact check-out time as more important.

Hang on, just where are they going to get this information?

The sceptics among us are likely to respond that this is just another way for establishments to justify gleaning information about our consumer habits through ‘spying’.

Does this mean hotels will be researching us on Facebook and Twitter after we book? Will they take it from Aunt Bessie’s birthday party photographs on Flickr that I have a particular weakness for chocolate cake? Surely this is just a bit creepy.

Of course hotel loyalty cards can do a lot to record guest preferences, but they can only do so much. And you have to get the guest to sign up in the first place.

But if more hotels are becoming commodities, do we need to be worried?

At the recent Master Innholders GM Conference 2014 in London, the great and the good of the Hotel world debated whether hotels are being increasingly viewed as commodities.

The rise in popularity of OTA’s (Online Travel Agents), flash sales and price-driven discount sites means that guests’ perceptions of hotels’ value and services are changing.

Mark Lewis, managing director of Hotel Rez, commented: “Working with the likes of Groupon is a strategic decision but it does lead to commoditisation of your property and quickly leads to dilution of margins.

Stuart Johnson of Browns followed with: “We have to be very careful at the luxury end. Now at the three-and four-star level, we certainly are seeing commoditisation, especially in fast-moving hotel companies in which the guest basically gets a box and then seemingly has to buy soap, towels, Wi-Fi, service and so on.”

If this is the future for the hotel industry, do we need to be worried about our personal data?

Horses for courses

As is the case with many things in this world, it will depend on the hotel you choose, and the kind of experience you’re after. You wouldn’t find a boutique 5-star hotel charging you to use their soap (or you’d hope not). Nor is a 3-star city centre chain hotel likely to hand you a bottle of your favourite red wine on a repeat visit.

It’s likely that we’ll see a growth on both sides of the coin. You’ll just need to decide which side you’re on in a particular weekend.

Oh, and make sure you review your Facebook settings, just in case.

Read more about the debate ‘Are hotels commodities?’ here.