Don’t Be Creepy: Best Practices When Using Guest Data

Consumer using devices and exchanging data

Consumers in today’s connected world are more frequently and freely sharing their personal information. Even the most ordinary tasks—posting a photo, writing a dinner review, checking in to a location on social media, or signing up for a delivery or ride sharing service—require or result in an exchange of data. That information is being collected and analyzed by marketers looking for insight into consumer habits. Tapping into this sea of data can be an invaluable tool for hoteliers who want to learn more about their guests and develop strategies to better serve them. However, aggressive use of data can potentially turn off—and creep out—guests.

Founder and CEO of Absolutdata, Anil Kaul, has been working in advanced analytics, market research, and management consulting for more than 22 years. His decades of experience have taught him that guests’ comfort level with data that’s been collected about them correlates highly with how hotels are using that data. “As long as you use the data to provide value to the guest, they don’t mind that data collection,” Kaul says. “Data collection that does not translate into a better experience but rather just uses some information about the customer that they’re not willing to share—that is where the creepy piece comes in.”

What hoteliers should keep in mind is that sharing data is an exchange that must be perceived as fair to the guest. Kaul recommends that hoteliers consider the following three principles when using guests’ data to add value to their stay.

Be Judicious and Relevant
Guests are more comfortable with data that is used to make offers relevant to what they like. “If I send you an email and say, ‘by the way I noticed that you used our spa and this is what you did,’ that sounds a little creepy,” explains Kaul. However, that same information can still be used to make offers based on a guest’s behavior. “How you’re communicating the information that you have and what you’re using it for becomes really important.”


Kaul gives an example from his own experience—an airport hotel wanted to send an appealing offer to “one-and-done” customers that had a single stay at the property several years prior. Even during one stay, Kaul and his team had information into the guest’s behavior—how long before they booked, what time did they make the booking, and when did they check in and out. They found two distinct customer groups. One group made a booking well in advance, checked in late in the evening, and checked out early in the morning—most likely leisure travelers catching an early flight that they booked at the same time as the hotel. Another group booked late, checking in very late, and left around breakfast time—most likely business travelers. “Based on this information, I can now send two different offers to these two customers for whom I only had a one-stay information,” Kaul explains. “When we actually did that, what we found is that we were able to get a 51 percent increase in bookings because the offer was much more relevant.”

Give Guests Control
Despite its ubiquity, the boom of big data is still relatively new, particularly in the hospitality industry where technology and the digitization of data is enabling hoteliers to collect information that was previously unavailable. Beacon technology and sensors are now integrated into products that traditionally had no tracking capabilities. For example, digital room keys can clue hoteliers into when guests are coming and going. Guests should be made aware of the data that is being collected, and given the option to opt in or out. “Having the ability to control this actually has meant that people are not uncomfortable anymore,” Kaul explains.

Another aspect of giving guests control is using big data to tailor experiences based on guests’ preferences. For example, a leisure traveler arriving in the afternoon may welcome a complimentary drink and a greeting by name during check in, while a business traveler arriving late at night may want automatic check in to head straight to their room. “There are times when guests like a high-touch experience. There are times when guests like a low-touch experience,” Kaul says. “What big data does is it enables you to let the guest get the kind of experience they’re looking for.”

Use Common Sense and Respect Privacy
Just because a certain capability exists doesn’t mean that hoteliers should use it. For example, hotels may have the ability to tap into video feeds from cameras around a property to track guests’ movement. “We are moving into a world where you can literally collect any kind of data about anyone,” Kaul says. “Don’t do the kinds of things that you would not be comfortable with if someone was tracking you.”

The analytics space may have once only been accessible to big brands with the teams and resources required to collect and interpret data. Today, more user-friendly and affordable tools are allowing independent and boutique properties to leverage this kind of information to enhance their guests’ experiences. Kaul adds, “I think big data is a friend to the hospitality industry and something that makes the hospitality industry better and more effective if done right.”

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