As technology continues to evolve, what brand loyalty members want has become more sophisticated. Sources said a fast, free Wi-Fi connection is still a top expectation.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—To accommodate loyalty members’ needs for convenient technology, brands are reinventing their mobile apps and providing fast, free Wi-Fi connections to make sure the hotel stay is as enjoyable for guests as possible.
When asked what loyalty members expect on the technology side when staying at a hotel, sources said free Wi-Fi is a must.
“We know that our Hilton Honors members typically expect Wi-Fi on-property, as well as a seamless check-in experience,” said Joshua Sloser, SVP of digital product innovation at Hilton. “Business travelers tend to know more about the latest travel innovations like digital check-in with room selection and digital key, but these tech amenities are still a novelty for the majority of travelers.”
John Edwards, chief information officer at RLH Corporation, said Wi-Fi is the most important tech amenity for the company’s HelloRewards members.
“Wi-Fi is always the most important, and with our new HelloRewards Wi-Fi solution, we have simplified Wi-Fi for loyalty members,” he said. “We have received consistently positive feedback from guests when they return to a hotel and are just automatically connected to Wi-Fi.”
Being able to use a brand’s mobile app throughout the travel experience is another tech item loyalty members enjoy, and sources said they’re working to make those apps more efficient and enhance what’s offered via mobile.
Michael Menis, SVP of digital and voice channels at InterContinental Hotels Group, said the IHG app is a way for the brand to “engage, recognize and reward loyal customers and guests before, during and after their stay.”
“We constantly update content to give our guests the opportunity to explore new destinations, learn about travel with helpful tips and tools, or even learn useful phrases in a new language via our IHG Translator solution,” he said. “Guests also look to the IHG app as a stay-management tool for selecting and managing their stay preferences.”
To figure out what type of technology guests are looking for when they arrive at a hotel, Menis said IHG surveys guests after a stay.
“We know (guests) are always tied to their mobile phones, so we tried to make everything accessible via a mobile device,” he said. “Mobile is increasing its share of the digital landscape. Smartphone growth has exploded globally, with more than 2.6 billion users, according to TechCrunch.”
He added that more people search for hotels from their mobile devices than their computers.
“We actually have more visitors to our website on mobile devices than on desktop,” Menis said. “In fact, the bulk of our year-over-year revenue growth is from mobile.”
Sloser said today’s hotel guests “navigate their lives with their smartphones,” which is why Hilton wants to make it easy for guests to navigate their hotel stay digitally as well.
“Through our Hilton Honors app, guests can book a room, check in, choose their desired room from a digital floorplan set against Google Maps, request additional items to be in their room upon arrival and even use (a digital key), which turns their smartphone into their room key,” he said. “Members also get free in-room and lobby Wi-Fi access so that they can stay connected as they move about their hotel.”
The world of technology is always changing, which means hotel companies are working to bring their hotels up to speed, especially for loyal members.
”Qualified service responses via AI—machine learning—is something we continue to watch and are starting to test out (at RLH Corporation),” Edwards said. “Loyalty members share a lot of information with us, and they expect us to know what they've told us and leverage the information to provide a better guest experience. The problem now is the sheer amount of information and trying to provide guests with service they expect in real time. Leveraging new solutions that allow systems to ‘know’ a guest and provide service required is more efficient and allows hotel operations to really focus on providing unique experiences for our guests.”
Hilton launched a points-pooling program in April, “which taps into the sharing economy by allowing members to go online and pool their points together (for free) to book rooms at Hilton properties,” Sloser said, and the company has also expanded its tech offerings to in-room fitness.
“The (Five Feet to Fitness) rooms are designed from the ground up to be both functional and enjoyable, and we’ve collaborated with industry-leading partners … to bring the latest, customizable fitness technology and trends to the room,” he said. “These rooms offer a fitness kiosk with a touch-screen display that captures guest metrics and provides a personal, interactive virtual training experience featuring more than 300 exercise formats."*
Menis said IHG is always looking for new ways to enhance the guest experience through technology.
“Last year, we were piloting a robot at our Crowne Plaza Silicon Valley property to assist with room deliveries, for example, and we’re looking at new features for in-room entertainment,” he said. “As part of these efforts, we launched a pilot last year for Amazon Echo …. and we’re testing mobile check-in and mobile key. We want to evaluate guest feedback and make sure any new technologies really provide value for the guest.”
Jamie Russo, VP of loyalty programs and customer engagement at Choice Hotels International, said Choice recently unveiled a “Your Extras” program, which “rewards members with instant perks on every midweek stay right at check-in.”
“These instant rewards are on top of what members earn as part of Choice Privileges and can be selected and changed before every stay,” Russo said. “Choice Privileges members can receive ‘Your Extras’ rewards, which are delivered electronically right when you check in. That way, you can use those credits while you are on your stay. We also …. (offer) the ability to immediately redeem for digital gift cards. (Guests) can redeem for a restaurant gift card, and then immediately use it across the street from one of our hotels.”
*Correction 17 August 2017: This story has been changed to remove inaccurate information provided by the source.