In any decision-making process, customers go through a series of steps to achieve their objectives. In hospitality, the classic path of a customer’s decisions and the journey itself is described as the customer journey. This starts with the critical moment when customers first interact with the property online; the moment of truth comes when the guest arrives at the property and checks in. Guests’ perceptions either match their expectations – or not. Therefore, hospitality has to identify and create various touchpoints along the journey. This will require specific knowledge and a smart deployment of technology. Maximizing guests’ satisfaction at those touchpoints can positively impact their perception. The customer journey involves three main stages: pre-stay, on-stay, and post-stay. However, classic hospitality operations happen between check-in and check-out.

Pre-stay. Before booking transport and accommodation, a traveller will explore all the options available. Previous and ongoing guest experiences thereby influence any subsequent decisions. Customer consideration and awareness as well as retention and loyalty systems are pivotal. To turn a prospective guest’s casual browsing activities into an actual booking, hotels will have to develop a competitive and distinctive hospitality journey strategy. This can be achieved by:

o   using data analytics to identify specific need-based customer segments,

o   understanding the affective hospitality journey for each customer segment,

o   investing in the right technologies to obtain a competitive advantage,

o   developing mobile technologies such as apps offering mobile booking, check-in and room keys, and

o   streamlining the digital booking experience on the web.

These targets will allow hotels to identify the right business opportunities to improve their customers’ experiences.

On-stay. Although all the steps of the affective hospitality journey have an influence on both the perception and experience of a trip, a guest’s stay remains the deal breaker for any decision to return or not. A hotelier’s main task therefore is to make sure that his guests’ stay not only meets their expectations but exceeds them. Any stay begins when a guest checks in. In the future, a customer recognition process will trigger personalized services. For example, upon arrival, «geographic tracking» will allow hotels to precisely schedule the guest’s arrival on-property, and prompt the building systems upfront to prepare customer-specific settings (e.g. room comfort, service preferences, certain security and safety configurations, etc.). Negative stereotypes, such as waiting in a check-in line, will disappear, instead there will be a mobile check-in. Interactive signage will guide customers and authorize them to access their room via smart phone. Personalized information and offerings could be pushed to smart devices or to virtual avatars by the hotel as well as by allied partners to stimulate guest choice and experience. In addition, travel groups could be clustered accordingly in order to provide the most personalized community-related services. Check-out and payment procedures will be mobile, in line with a guest’s individual preferences.

Post-stay. «Recommend, evaluate, share and rank» are the post-stay touch points. If the post-stay experience manages to create such an impact that the trip will be considered a success, the evoked emotions can be transformed into future revenues. In the past, hotels have used several guest evaluation and retention tools: the classic satisfaction survey before check-out, loyalty programs, communication with the guest via mail and e-mail, and incentives for exe­cutive assistants, frequent clients, etc.

In the future, social networks and new mobile applications will assume this function. Any post-stay experience will be connected to pre-stay and on-stay experiences. Guests will share their emotions and impressions in the digital space in real time. TripAdvisor, for instance, already has the same impact as Booking.com or Expedia, and the impact of such rating tools will only increase. Online rating platforms will track guest hotel ratings and trip preferences and manage them transparently. Based on the ID of the guest’s virtual avatar, changes in preferences and interests could be extracted and used by hotels to adapt a guest’s future stay.

The future Avatar. Internet service providers are creating personalized profiles of all users – that is, of all of us. The more data we produce, the more accurately such digital profiles represent our «real» profiles, or, in other words, the more closely our avatars resemble us. Everyone will be able to analyze their own data and monitor changes in their avatar. In principle, an avatar operates like a Google search engine: atomized molecules of information are assembled to generate a holistic picture. The second wave of avatars will create an unprecedented market transparency that guests would not normally be able to reach via manual research. This will force hotel operators to care about their digital reputation. Avatars will become chief brand ambassadors as they unite revenue management and digital marketing at the new digital point of sales.

(This article is an adapted extract from Lausanne Report 2030 http://info.ehl.edu/hospitality-industry-trends

Stay in tune with the future of hospitality at the next think-tank “Window 2 the future”, April 2018 and take a look to www.lhcconsulting.com to see more about us.)

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Ray Inius Director Business Development at Lausanne Hospitality Consulting

Prof. Dr Ray F. Iunius is the author of various academic and professional articles published by journals in the management of services, technology, and innovation. He is also the author of a number of books such as « Industrie de l’accueil », « Hôtellerie de Luxe », « La gestion des spas », “Un Hôtel, un modèle ?” in de Boeck editions and co-author of the “Lausanne Report on the future of Hospitality Industry.”

He is the founder of the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne Institute of Technology and Entrepreneurship (EHLITE), the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (INTEHL), the Students Business Projects (SBP), the EHLITE magazine, and the Chair of Innovation Paul Dubrule.

Ray earns a BSc, MS and PhD in Technical Sciences from the University of Transylvania Brasov and an MBA and PhD from the Faculty of Business and Economics (HEC) of the Lausanne University. He is currently Director of Business Development at Lausanne Hospitality Consulting, an Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne and Swiss Hotel Association company.