Thinking out of the digital box…Welcome to the new world of guest autonomy

Think about the Hospitality Sector for a moment, and the image that comes to mind is probably of battle-weary soldiers, marching on hopefully with their heads high. And whether that’s hotel owners, operators or industry workers, the Pandemic has left no one untouched: forcing tough decisions to be made requiring adaptability and a willingness to embrace radical transformation, just to survive. A hugely important leviathan industry, once so resistant to change, now finds itself leading the way towards constructive disruption with a startling sense of agility and resilience.

Basic procedures of meet, greet and fond farewell now evoke a sense of discomfort, instilling a determination to radically change communication and engagement structures. Digital technology now dominates the new vocabulary, with ‘virtual meeting’ ‘screen sharing’ and ‘contactless solutions’ now commonplace in a fresh sense of corporate strategising. And that all puts the Hospitality Sector front and centre for radical change, shaping all our futures. So what exactly will that future look like? Let's take a look…

As any parent of a teenage child will tell you, talking without listening isn’t any kind of engagement at all: and the same goes for Digital Engagement. No matter how state of the art the device might be, however glossy its box, digital hardware without engagement is just another (expensive) fashion item. And there’s no better example of that to be found than in today’s hospitality sector, where enhancing the overall guest experience, means increasingly much more than just handing out a WiFi password at reception.

Just take one mundane example to illustrate the point: providing a hotel guest with an optical scan of a passport might require digital technology (which it does for those in doubt), but the scan doesn’t in any real sense enhance the overall experience at all because the guest can just read the original anyway, or show it to whoever it has to be shown to. The service enhancement of the scan is precisely zero (no matter how fancy and expensive the digital scanner might be)

This is why we need to think out of the digital box…we need to think about Guest Autonomy.

Instead of giving the guest a scanned map of local places of interest, a smart hotel will provide a digitally enhanced digital document for use on their smartphone: cross-referenced and complete with online correlations, right click definitions and translations into their language of choice. Executives attending a business conference will be pleased to receive smart phone access to a list of other delegates (and, of course, potential new clients), and the hotel itself will be able to reverse engineer the data from a single dashboard to process payments, check registration and confirm room information. Savings in time, added cost and commercial opportunities as well as simple convenience efficiencies are enormous on both sides.

This is what Guest Autonomy means…and this is why the Digital Guest Experience has become a paradigm for all customer service models in our new century, as well as a paradigm model for the hospitality sector in particular.

An autonomous engagement of this kind isn’t just important as a business model in its own right, it's also hugely important in the post COVID world: paper based reception services across the world have traditionally required a relatively close level of contact between the guest and reception staff, something which has now become highly problematic as we become increasingly accustomed to the new realities of social distancing. Autonomous digital engagement is a way of getting around that problem, enabling ever more remote contact to take place between the guest and hotel staff.

The same goes for ordering a meal in the hotel’s restaurant: using autonomous engagement means there’s no need for a waiter to take the order at table, the guest can do that from a remote device, and the menu can be kept constantly updated with real time purchase details being used to provide the kitchen with valuable information from which to manage its inventory. All of it channelled from the guest’s own smartphone.

Key information on allergens can also be collected and processed on check in, so that potentially dangerous choices can be removed from individual digital menus. There’s no need to rely on busy waiting staff remembering to point out the allergy warning on a paper menu.

And, of course, recent research tells us that environmental impact is now pretty much top of the list for all travellers when it comes to deciding which hotel to stay at in the first place. Digital engagement can provide a full roster of information not only on the hotel’s but also on the guest’s own carbon footprint. What’s not to like?

In short, the entire guest journey is now capable of being digitized for the benefit of consumers and hotels alike…welcome to the future.


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Red Ribbon Asset Management is the founder of Eco Hotels, the world’s first carbon neutral mid-market hotel brand, offering “green hospitality” as part of a progressive roll out across India which intended to take full advantage of current market opportunities on the subcontinent. 


Article also published in the Economic Times.