I attended the 2017 edition of the ILTM Conference in Cannes. Over the course of the program, I sought out numerous hoteliers and hospitality experts to discover the latest themes and challenges facing the luxury hotel industry today.
One challenge that emerged from the conference was how hotel groups chose to approach increasing competitive pressures from online travel agents (Booking.com, Expedia, Kayak, etc.) and sharing-economy sites like AirBnB. I was curious to learn more about how different luxury hotel groups chose to approach these issues.
I was lucky to run into Neil Jacobs, CEO of Six Senses Hotels & Resorts. A passionate believer of wellness and health, Neil described how his group approached the issue of digital technology in his hotels.
What is your vision of digital technology in terms of the guest experience?
Our approach has traditionally been ‘low-tech high-touch’, but the evolution of the company in the past few years has been to take it more into ‘high-tech and high-touch’. The digital technology doesn’t have to replace the high-touch; the two live together. We think that it is essential to have the right kind of digital platform. We’ve invested money into this. This year, we are rolling out our mobile app. We’re late compared to the ‘big guys’, but this year, we’re doing it. We have a whole CRM program being rolled out, and the two connect so that we have the CRM platform and the mobile app, so we will know who you are and exactly what you want from a global perspective rather than just from an individual hotel perspective.
For the room service, you will have a tablet, and you will see every option on it. Our standard for new hotels going forward is to have the tablet air conditioning, lighting, etc. It also allows you to talk to us through a tablet in the room. Ultimately, rather than having the tablet in the room, ultimately you’ll be able to do that through the mobile app. That’s where the vision to me is. Your phone will open the door, and that becomes your device. If you’re on the app, they’ll know where you are. Book room service through your own app rather than have to go through the tablet. This will be maybe in 2-3 years. We’re just starting the mobile app.
Another thing is retail e-commerce. It’s kind of obvious. We have a whole department on retail, and we do a lot of very cool retail things, but as yet, you can’t buy our retail online. We need to change that, too. As we develop the mobile app, which is being developed now, and even the upgraded website, I’m hopeful we will have an e-commerce portal that’s not just about buying the room, but buying the pajamas we put in the room or the Six Senses branded lifestyle stuff that obviously help to reinforce the brand.
It will take a while to get there. It’s easier with the new hotels because you start from nothing. Sometimes we have difficulties with our owners because sometimes they say, “Well we’re in Bhutan, why do you need this here?” It’s not about needing to turn the lights off. Turning lights on and off is nice, but that’s not the point. The point is the ability to market and the ability to provide service and understand who your customer is and what they want and how then to create a product around that and give them a channel to buy it. Sometimes it’s hard to convince people.
How do you involve digital technology in the promotion of your hotels?
We’ve done a huge amount of training this year and over the last three years in social media for many of our employees. We actually have a social media academy. We’re in year 3 of this. It’s run by Aspire Group out of London. There are monthly modules and exams at the end of every month, and so we’ve created a way more consistent approach to social media and consequently digital marketing than we had, say, 5 years ago.
So the short answer is that yes, we might be a little late to the party, but we’re running very hard to catch up and be present in all these channels. The customer is telling you where they want to function, where they want to play, and how they want to book their excursions and activities. We’re about to redo our website, but in many ways, the website has reached its peak and people will go through other channels rather than the corporate website. It’s hard to keep up. We’re catching up, but we’re focused on a multigenerational type of approach because it’s also about who your customer is. We’re focused on that, and we’re spending money.
If, for instance, I am a guest in the hotel room and I decide I want a toothbrush, do you think it is better for me to be able to call the reception to order a toothbrush to order it through digital technology?
I don’t think there’s a better or worse option. Some customers, particularly older customers, want to talk to someone, given the price they are paying, they. Those customers can pick up the phone and say, “Send me this toothbrush”. And they’ll come. Other customers don’t relate it to the price of the room. They just want the ease of the technology. If I don’t want to talk to someone, I just want the toothbrush and it will come. It’s not one or the other for me. It’s how you integrate both those platforms into the experience.
Is artificial intelligence important to your company?
I think it’s early days. Everybody’s talking about wanting robots, etc. I haven’t got my head around that yet. All I do know is that we need to make it easier without making it impersonal. So much of what we talk about is connection: connection to yourself, to people, to the world—because we think people are disconnected from all these things. The social piece of this, we believe, is important. The ability to talk to someone, to connect to someone, to a real person, is very important.
But if we can get data out of AI that help us better conceive and provide by using that data that is the result of a good data AI platform, we need to be with that, too.
It’s a Brave New World, but it’s not going backward. It’s only going forward. You either get with it and choose, curate, and design around it, or you’re going to be left behind.
#ILTM #luxuryHotel #delportehospitality
Known for his international expertise on luxury hotels through his magazine, Laurent Delporte shares his vision and experiences in the world of hotels on his site DELPORTE Hospitality. He decodes the behind-the-scenes action in the sector: from food and beverage facilities, accommodations, architecture, to the quality of services. He offers interviews, advice, and articles as pragmatic resources that industry professionals and private individuals can refer to in their search for information.