Timico 30 January 2019
Traditional brands in the hospitality sector are under increasing pressure to innovate. Technological advances have placed the power squarely in the hands of customers, who now have more options than ever before - and this is levelling the business playing field.Challenger brands that previously couldn't compete on size are now focusing on customer-centric business strategies as their business differentiator - which is helping these firms increase sales. By revolutionising customer service, improving the user experience and making transactions seamless, they are taking market share from older, legacy brands that haven't yet embraced a fully digital and immersive business model.To avoid falling by the wayside, established brands must now enhance the user experience using digital transformation strategies and innovations to improve their offering.One example is AR, which has the ability to deepen a customer's experience, making it truly unique and immersive. With AR, digital information is presented in forms within the environment, so it enhances and deepens what the customer is already experiencing - for example, for a hotel stay. An app can let a guest view a hotel's premises through a phone camera, and then overlay links and images to create an in-app tour of the area, keeping the customer informed of the facilities during every minute of their stay.AI is also proving to be a game-changer when it comes to revolutionising the customer experience. Virtual receptionists installed in hotel reception areas, and interactive bot concierges, are just some examples of how AI is effectively being utilised by hotels. Virtual receptionists can greet customers who have booked their hotel stay through an online account, by name, and even suggest activities and trips to the guests based on their pre-chosen preferences.Bot concierges are increasingly being used too, as 'chat-bots', by large companies such as Marriott and Hilton. This enables them to liaise with customers, or potential customers, through automated messenger systems. Some brands are even utilising Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, and having them manned by interactive bots, to enable 'always-on' customer service - the key to keeping customers happy around the clock.Booking.com and other online booking services have become so powerful because they offer choice, and often make the customer feel that they are finding bargains. Decisions can be made in an instant with the use of a mobile device - which is where hospitality brands must continue to place an emphasis on, as over one third of people now use a mobile device to book a hotel room.Digital is the future, with every new generation becoming ever more dependent on it. The opportunity to flourish is here, but only if the sector can rise to the digitalisation challenge.