When David Esseryk, VP of Guest Technology and Innovation at AccorHotels, approached Professor Ian Millar about a consultancy project for his division, Millar knew exactly where to take it. Our EMBA Class of 2015-2016 had just kicked off the intensive one-year program, and we were at the beginning of a course on Hospitality Technology.
Millar saw this as an opportunity for the EMBA students, who come from varying backgrounds within and outside of the hospitality industry, to gain industry immersion and, early on, begin to apply the lessons from the classroom to real-world scenarios. Clara Donaint, Project Manager of Guest Technology, met with the EMBA class to present the project and lead the charge.
The Guest Technology division focuses on all aspects of guest-facing technology. The AccorHotels team asked the EMBA class to look at the current offerings and challenge them as to what the “hotel of the future” looks like from the guest technology perspective. To break this down, the class was divided into six groups, each focusing on a different segment of AccorHotels’s brands: Economy, Midscale, and Luxury; across the business and leisure segments.
Nothing was off the table, from robots to mobile check-in, but the key was to understand how AccorHotels can best deliver forward-thinking solutions to meet and exceed customer needs. In regards to technology, it is often seen that many people do not know exactly what they want, if for no other reason than they simply do not understand the benefits that properly deployed technology can bring. As Donaint’s division is guest-facing, the challenge became to provide AccorHotels with solutions that would ease and delight the guest during their stay, allowing them the perception of being catered to while also feeling at home.
Research was conducted in various ways across the different groups, ranging from site visits, interviews, questionnaires, and secondary research. While some aspects of the guest-technology interaction were more heavily considered for luxury brands than economy brands or more suited to leisure travelers versus business travelers, a few common themes emerged throughout all six segments. Namely, it boiled down to the “always-on connected traveler”.
What we found was people’s desire to stay connected, which could previously be viewed as a luxury, has become a necessity for travelers today. This translated into a few non-negotiables, such as free – and high-speed – WIFI across all segments and power, whether with international charging stations in lobbies, USB plug-in options to avoid adaptors for international travelers, or placement of outlets by bedside tables to enable access to one’s mobile or tablet while recharging.
Other technologies popular across all segments were self check-in options, either by mobile or kiosk. The insights we gained were simple: guests want options. Technology enables brands to provide guests with such options, allowing them to dictate the type of experience or interaction they would like to have with the hotel. Many businesses fear technology, as its implementation is too often seen as a “replacement” for employees. However, technology, when implemented properly, can add great value to the guest experience, and it does not necessarily mean less human-to-human interactions. Instead, it allows hotel employees to concentrate their energies on tasks that are unique and value-adding in their own right. Technology should be a tool that people employ to enable and advance the way that they work.
In the hospitality industry, this could mean using technology, such as mobile check-in, that streamlines a guest’s arrival and departure process, freeing up employees to tend to guest needs in ways that a computer cannot. Or creating a system allowing a guest to control the lights and music in their room to perfectly construct an ambiance they desire. Such capabilities were not possible before, yet today implementing such systems enables the guest to personalize their experience.
With our work on the AccorHotels project focused on the guest-technology relationship, we discovered that this relationship is a complex one. However, the main purpose of the technology should be to assist and advance the guest’s capabilities, creating ease and pleasure in their interactions and transactions with the hotel. AccorHotels, in surveying more than 6,000 guests, reconfirmed these conclusions: Technology must enhance the guest journey by giving guests options, while simultaneously keeping implementations simple and intuitive. Though specifics of how technology can be best utilized in each brand segment and between business and leisure guests differ, common themes run throughout, implying some previous “desires” have transitioned into necessities or non-negotiables for today’s connected traveler.