Why Hotel Owners Are Turning to the Cloud To Improve the Guest Experience
I’ve spent most of my career in the travel and hospitality industry. For those of you who have done the same, you know that has meant a lot of ups and downs—9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these challenges, the accommodations and lodging industry always bounces back. In fact, Skift Research estimates that the total US accommodation sector will grow 13 percent this year compared to 2021, reaching $360 billion.
What is different about this recovery is that both travelers and hotel owners have drastically different expectations today than they had 2 years ago. Guests want a personalized, seamless, mobile-first experience. Hotel brands and owners now understand the importance of the agility and scalability that the cloud offers after watching demand plummet and rise again, costs increase, and the labor pool tighten.
I believe 2022 is the pivot point in which hotel brands and owners realize the value of investing in digital transformation and can justify it thanks to growing volume.
True personalization starts with accurate customer data
Personalization has been a hot topic for years, yet some accommodation providers are still only grazing the surface. The shifts in guest behavior over the past 2 years has made those efforts even more difficult, requiring hotels to rethink and redefine their “best” customers.
Pinpointing the ideal customer, personalizing communications, and delivering them through the right channels starts with data. Hotels have data, but accessing it from the various systems and apps, integrating it, and cleaning it to have a single view of guests or a master customer profile is necessary to extract the insights needed for true personalization.
That process typically starts with a data platform, a repository that can handle first-party data (data you collect in CRM, PMS, and other systems), and third-party data—data about weather, economic trends, and more that can be purchased from the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Data Exchange. A customer data platform (CDP) from AWS Travel and Hospitality Competency Partners, like Amperity, mParticle, Reltio, or Tealium, can be built upon the data platform to identify ideal customers and deliver personalized messages.
The value of both data platforms is that you can use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to continuously evaluate and adjust your models to become more sophisticated and improve results. In today’s constantly changing environment, you don’t have the luxury of waiting for someone to spot a trend in the data and then act. You can use this wealth of data across your entire organization to steer operational and financial decision-making as well.
Is high-touch hospitality a thing of the past?
Prior to the pandemic, the hospitality industry made strides to improve the booking experience, investing in better websites and apps. But when it came to service, the industry still very much believed that high-touch, direct interactions with hotel staff was the best way to serve guests.
Let’s face it, in 2022, no one really wants to touch anything, and that’s not going to change. In a recent study published by Skift, 40 percent of guests said contactless is their number one must-have at hotels. Those services born out of the necessity to address health and safety concerns provided guests a faster, easier way to check in and out, to order and pay for meals, and to request services.
Self-service felt counterintuitive to brands built on offering guests a break from reality, but 73 percent of guests surveyed said they’re more likely to stay at a hotel that offers self-service technology to minimize contact with the staff and other guests. At a time when labor continues to be a significant challenge, self-serve options give guests the control that they want and provide hotels a solution to alleviate labor shortages.
Accommodations providers are also exploring technologies to streamline the customer experience. Wynn Las Vegas is using Alexa Smart Properties for Hospitality to empower guests to control lights and curtains, set the temperature, request housekeeping service, and more using Alexa voice prompts, just like they do at home. Alexa Smart Properties can integrate into property management and customer management systems so you can offer guests complete experiences.
Hotels, like airports and retailers, can offer guests frictionless experiences using Just Walk Out and Amazon One. Just Walk Out uses computer vision and ML so guests can purchase food or other items without waiting in line and checking out. Amazon One provides a convenient way for guests to use their palm as an identification. With Amazon One, they could simply wave their palm to enter their rooms or pay for in-room drinks or snacks, with the charges going directly to their folio.
Customer service anytime, anywhere
Everyone wants to control their own experience with self-serve tools—until they don’t. There are times when guests will want to connect with someone to solve a problem. But those expectations are also changing, with guests expressing a desire to be able to reach someone by chat, text, or phone. The challenge is providing that level of service at the property level when hotels are not fully staffed.
Many hotel groups are turning to cloud-based, modern contact center solutions like Amazon Connect and Amazon Lex to solve for these challenges. Amazon Connect, an easy-to-use omnichannel cloud contact center, makes it easy for virtually any business to deliver enhanced omnichannel customer service at a significantly lower cost. With built-in AI and ML features, hotels can automate interactions, understand customer sentiment, authenticate callers, and facilitate capabilities like interactive voice response (IVR) and chatbots.
Amazon Lex is a fully managed AI service with advanced natural language models to design, build, test, and deploy conversational interfaces. Working with Travel and Hospitality Competency Partners, such as NLX, you can add multichannel conversational AI capabilities to combine voice, text, and app to simplify the process further for the guest and help drive them to adopt full self-service apps for future interactions.
Best Western International, which licenses over 4,500 hotels worldwide, migrated all of its contact centers to Amazon Connect in 45 days. Doing so empowered agents to work remotely, which can alleviate the challenge of hiring in specific locations. The move also reduced Best Western’s annual telecom expenses by more than 40 percent because of the complete removal of all local provider circuits and associated hardware. Likewise, Hilton Hotels & Resorts rolled out Amazon Lex chatbots to support its Amazon Connect call center, resulting in a better customer user interface (UI), updated and more relevant content, and a 34 percent increase in automated responses.
Innovation starts with the cloud
Whether high-touch or contactless, on property or off, travelers and guests want to be taken care of quickly and efficiently. The most effective way to deliver that experience is through cloud-based infrastructure, systems, and apps. Without the cloud, the cost and timeline to innovate is just too great at the property level. Likewise, the cost of not innovating is too great not to consider migrating.
Recently, Scott Strickland, executive vice president and CIO at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, shared the benefit of choosing single software-as-a-service (SAAS) solutions that they could standardize on, including digital, central reservations, property management, and other systems across the enterprise. They also chose a single cloud infrastructure partner. Doing so reduced the time needed for internal sources to train, support, and keep up with new features of the systems. As a result of these efforts, Wyndham was able to reduce costs, facilitate new functionality for franchisees, and introduce new guest functionality.
Moving to the cloud might sound daunting—especially at the property level—but it isn’t as out of reach as it sounds. AWS has multiple resources to help customers migrate data, apps, and infrastructure to the cloud, including the AWS Migration Acceleration Program (AWS MAP), a framework based on our experience migrating thousands of customers to the cloud. AWS MAP provides tools to reduce costs and automate and accelerate implementations combined with professional services support.
AWS also has multiple Travel and Hospitality Competency Partners. This program is designed to connect our customers with the technology and consulting partners that can build and accelerate the delivery of cloud solutions on AWS. It includes partners that specialize in system integration, revenue management, property management systems, and more.
The last 2 years were a wake-up call to the industry—it can’t continue to depend on outdated technology and systems that don’t meet hotels’ or travelers’ expectations any longer. Every brand and property needs the ability to scale up or down to better serve customers and reduce costs.
We need to use cloud-based technology that facilitates innovation, personalization, and seamless experiences. And we need to be agile and to adapt to whatever comes our way, whether it’s a labor shortage, rising costs, or growing demand.
Learn how AWS solutions and services can help you meet your guests’ needs.