Hospitality is one of the few industries that consumers practice in their own homes. Most travelers have the experience of hosting a dinner party or overnight guests. This builds foundational experiences that inform how travelers interact with hotels. So expectations of “true hospitality” vary, depending on culture, class, age and other demographics.

Defining hospitality through service

Defining hospitality threaded through many discussions at this year’s Skift Global Forum in New York City. During one panel moderated by Luke Bujarski, there was a mention of how accommodations platform Airbnb might create an ancillary revenue stream through in-home merchandising.

In other words, the host would curate a collection of items available for guests to purchase. Similar to the way some hotels offer locally-made snacks or artisanal goods for sale, this merchandising element could further connect guests to the local economy.

This didn’t feel like true hospitality to Frommers.com Editor-in-Chief Jason Cochran. He mentioned this on Twitter, eliciting an illuminating response from Airbnb itself.

Most guests prioritize a memorable stay in the destination. While souvenirs and other items are certainly in many travelers’ budgets, it’s not the reason why a guest chooses a place to stay. It really is about the experience first.

In a follow-up conversation with Sabre Insights, Cochran emphasized this experience-forward approach to true hospitality, saying that impersonal training standards make it “less likely gestures of hospitality come across as geniune.”

Of course, genuine hospitality first comes down to the right people trained well. It then relates to how humans interface with technology. From the training process onwards, technology can enhance and facilitate a greater understanding of the guest and their needs.

Defining hospitality through technology

Like in many areas of the modern world, an unfettered explosion of “tech for tech’s sake” can be detrimental to the very thing meant to be enhanced: the user experience. Technology has an inevitable impact on the experience, Cochran says:

“Many of the innovations in hotels (smartphone keys, in-room streaming) actually have an isolating effect. They enable guests not to have to deal with staff.”

Many travelers prefer to manage certain aspects of their experience without assistance. This means that, even as guests seek out self-service, hoteliers have the opportunity to pursue other touchpoints with their guests. This ensures that the traveler can enjoy the best mix of efficiency and hospitality.

From personalization to retailing, technology can make it both simpler and more complicated to deliver that true hospitality experience. Yet, no matter how the world evolves, the end goal of true hospitality never changes.

True hospitality actually thrives at the intersection of technology and service, says Sarah Kennedy Ellis, the VP of marketing for Hospitality Solutions.

“While some may fear that technology will make their world less personal, technology gives hotels a greater understanding of the guest and helps them turn that knowledge into action.”

Hoteliers that have a holistic understanding of each step on their guest’s journey, before, during and after the stay, are the best positioned to use technology in the most impactful ways.

Learning what a guest wants (without being creepy)

One thing is certain: hoteliers must learn about their guests prior to a trip if they are to truly craft an individual experience. From a technology perspective, this could be done via email, social networks, loyalty profiles or even an old-fashioned phone call.

Push notifications and text messaging are popular channels to communicate with guests about upcoming stays. Messaging fits into the traveler’s schedule without being too invasive while still maintaining a personal touch.

At its core, true hospitality is a truly unique and welcoming experience that won’t be forgotten

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One recent example comes from Sabre’s TripCase, with its new messaging platform for hotels. This communication channel offers a blend of automation and personalization. A non-invasive-yet-personal guest experience requires hoteliers to take a proactive stance with the right mix of tech and touch for their brand. Without that balance, automation can make personalization feel sterile or pedestrian.

Becky Burke, director of marketing at Sabre Traveler Experience, sees this pursuit of balance as a critical part of today’s industry:

“At its core, hospitality is about crafting a truly unique and welcoming experience that won’t be forgotten. Travelers expect hoteliers to know their preferences and anticipate their needs. By sending relevant messages at the most appropriate time, hoteliers nurture relationships with guests from the start. And then delighting guests with high-touch, human service that they want and expect.”

Using all the tools at your disposal

Messaging platforms continue to grow into the next channel of B2C communications and transactions. Especially now that Apple has opened up iMessage with its own App Store, there are many touchpoints for a hotel to reach a customer. As VP of Sabre Traveler Experience, Florian Tinnus sees these direct touchpoints as one of the most personalized channels for hotel guests:

“True hospitality becomes reality when it becomes personal. Direct guest messaging is the ultimate channel to create personal offers, offers that matter to the guest as they are contextual in terms of time, location, and traveler preferences.”

Whether with an app or good-old-fashioned paper notes, hotels must understand each available tool. No two hotel brands are the same and no two guests are the same. By combining an on-brand approach to technology with deep staff training to listen and respond to guest needs in real-time (and face-to-face), any hotel brand can deliver the true hospitality that guests today remember.

As Frommers’ Cochran says, it’s really about understanding the human aspect of travel — and making a human feel at home:

“I think it’s as simple as anticipating my needs even before anticipating my wants. How can they take what they know about me to smooth my arrival, give me a soft place to land when I’m exhausted. It shouldn’t be that hard.”

And it’s not just at one part of the journe, Tinnus says. Hotels can be involved throughout the traveler’s experience:

“We believe travel has shifted from these phases into “moments” and we are and want to be part of every of those moments that compose the total traveler experience of a journey.”

Each of these moments is a potential point of personalization. Hoteliers who thoroughly understand a guest’s motivations can be either a silent or active presence. By balancing modern personalization with classic service, hotels can consistently deliver personalization that is truly personal.