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 emerging themes and challenges in the luxury hotel industry.

One theme that has fascinated me over the years is the subject of digital technology. It is a controversial term in the luxury hotel universe, which has traditionally centered around human touch and would thus ostensibly resist the digitalization of the unique service that defines luxury hospitality.

During the show, I was eager to discover how different brands chose to approach the issue of digital technology. I was lucky to run into Filip Boyen, when he was the CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, one of the hospitality leader with whom I have previously discussed the art of welcoming in his hotels. Filip keyed me in on his group’s approach to digital technology in everything from marketing to the guest experience.

How do you involve digital technology in the promotion of your hotels?

Digital is fantastic. It is very important for the hospitality business to understand what digital can do in function of increasing personalized service. Social media is extremely important, especially for the millennials, because certain channels such as Instagram capture how they communicate. That’s how they explore destinations and find out the visual aspect of where they want to go, and that’s why they are attracted.

Of course, on Instagram, the importance is on the level of photography that you put on there. If you don’t do that, don’t waste your time. On Facebook, we’re starting to get some bookings through the platform. On Instagram, we have the highest level of following amongst all our competitors, so we have more than Leading Hotels, more than Preferred, more than Relais & Châteaux. We have a 25-year-old girl named Abby in London who is a master at Instagram.

We also do blogger events, and inferences are extremely important. This year we did London, New York, Hong Kong, and Paris. We did 4 big bloggers events, where we invite 5-6 bloggers with great followers, and we bring them to all of our hotels. We did breakfast in one of our hotels, then we go to another hotel for morning coffee, visit the hotel, do lunch in another hotel, afternoon tea in another hotel, drinks in another hotel, and then dinner in another hotel. It’s a very intense program. We saw that in two days, we reached 450,000 people with the posts of those bloggers.

The problem with bloggers is that they have a sense of entitlement. It’s very difficult now to get bloggers for free. The good bloggers start to charge, which is normal because they know what their value is, and it’s business. Before we gave them free accommodations and meals—that’s not enough anymore. That’s something we need to take into consideration because it’s going to cost money in the future. It’s better this way, though, because if we pay, we can demand quality.

Is digital technology important for today’s generation of travelers?

Digital is absolutely necessary because even though I’m a believer that millennials are not yet our clients, we still have to appeal to baby-boomers. It’s proven that in America, 75% of all wealth is owned by baby-boomers. Baby-boomers—people my age—have worked hard, they’ve made their money, and most of them have retired now, so they have all the time in the world. It is absolutely clear that baby-boomers are as curious and as adventurous as millennials. All you hear is millennials, millennials, millennials. We forget that there’s a whole generation there that is ready to travel. My point is that we shouldn’t only focus on millennials; we should focus on baby-boomers because, to be honest, 80% of millennials are poor. They don’t have the money yet. They’re too young. They will be our clients in 20-25 years’ time, so let that evolve. But for the moment, Let’s take our time and focus on the market that is there and ready to spend money.

So my take on digital is that it is absolutely necessary. Use it to your advantage, but don’t only focus on digital. You see here at ILTM that it’s all based on relationships. 75% of my booking are coming through travel agencies, not digital. They’re booking through the GDS, and if I don’t know them, if I don’t speak to them, and if I don’t sell SLH to them eye-to-eye, I’m never going to get these bookings through GDS. So digital is great, and I want to improve that, and I want to get more bookings on our website—I want all of the above, but don’t lose focus on what is really important.

 

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What is your vision of digital technology in terms of the guest experience?

My answer there is very simple. For me, modern luxury is about simplicity. Our lives are crazy, we’re running, we’re traveling, we’re working, we’re all over the place. When you go on holidays, you want your lives to be simpler. The first task of the hotel is to simplify the lives of everybody who is there and who stays there. That doesn’t mean fantastic service, but simplified service.

For instance, I stayed in our hotel in Perth, COMO The Treasury. I arrived at 1 o’clock after a long flight from London. This is a very good example of how lives should be simplified. It’s 1 o’clock in the morning, I’m tired, and I get into the hotel. They know what I want. They sit down with me, “Please sign here.” Immediately, they take me up to the room, no questions asked. I arrive in the hotel, and already from the other side, the guy is there with my luggage. We go into the room. The guy says to me, “Mr. Boyen, I imagine that you don’t want a room orientation at this time. I imagine you want to shower and go to bed. Have a good night. I will call you tomorrow when you wake up, and then I will give you a room orientation.” That is simplicity. Instead of having to sit down and put all my details on paper at 1 in the morning, which I would hate. It gives you a great feeling because it gives you the feeling that people understand what you need, when you need it, and that they make your lives as simple as possible.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the guest experience. I’m not saying not to have that functionality in the hotel, but make sure that everyone can operate it, not only the millennials but also the baby-boomers. So many of these technologies take an hour to figure out how it operates—and that’s not the idea. The idea is to make the technology in function to what the client wants, and the client wants simplicity. If I’m lying on the bed, and there is one switch on the side of the bed, it needs to switch everything off except for the TV and the air-conditioning. How many hotel have understood that? How many hotels do I have to make a trip around the room to switch off all the lights manually? It’s crazy. Before we get there with all the digital technology, let’s at least get that right: simply switching off the lights. It’s crazy—even new hotels. So where do they get their feedback? Where do they get their advice from?

I’m all for technology, but it has to be useable. We are not in the business of frustrating people. We are in the business of making people’s lives a little bit better. That’s our business. That’s why we are in the happy business. Make their lives a little bit better, and they will be happy.

Is artificial intelligence important to your company?

Data is important. We have just installed a new loyalty program called Invited, and we’ve also installed Salesforce and Salesforce Marketing Cloud. These are important because if you’re a member of a loyalty program, the last thing you want is to be bombarded by emails every day. If that happens, within a month, you’ll cut your card in half, and it will go down the toilet.

What does data allow you to do? We have a client who has been skiing in our different ski resorts for 4 years. I know that the client likes skiing (even a Belgian can understand that). I know when that client likes skiing, and I know when the client books his ski holiday. When the booking time of that client comes, I send him 1 or 2 emails, no more, and I say, “Dear Mr. Jones, I know that you have been skiing in our hotels in France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. As you are such a wonderful skier, we want to introduce some other ski resorts to you. We have a new ski resort in Val d’Isère, we have a new ski resort in Canada, etc. Consider that, and let us know what you want to do.” It’s personal, with the name, and sent at the right time because that’s when he books his holiday, and no bombardment. He will immediately open his email saying “Wow, that’s personal. My name is there, and they know when I book”. And he feels impressed rather than frustrated by email after email after email where he’s not interested.

Good data allows you to make a journey personalized, and that’s what it’s all about today. People want to feel like they are the only ones we are talking to. Mass emails? Forget it.

#ILTM #luxuryHotel #delportehospitality

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