Hotels Confront the Paradox of Personalization

Personalization appears to be the hotel industry’s biggest strategic objective right now, but the reason why it’s so hard to achieve is embedded in the most literal definition of the term. True personalization means many different things to many different people. Crafting an individual experience for every customer is a heavy lift, and hotels should avoid attempting every aspect of personalization all at once or by themselves.

Ultimately, most hoteliers want to give every guest the sense that his or her experience with a property was tailored to the traveler’s own preferences. That sounds simple, yet it’s a very complicated picture that encompasses hotel-guest interactions before, during, and after the stay. It also should involve the marketing, operations, and revenue management departments.

Some brands have built a solid reputation for nailing the on-premise interactions that make a hotel stay feel personalized. These are things as simple as knowing a guest’s preference for foam versus feather pillows, or keeping a certain kind of beverage stocked in the room. One of the most important points on the checklist for a front-desk staffer is to welcome back a repeat guest rather than ask, “Is this your first time staying with us?”


But advances in hotel technology are adding more moving parts to the challenge of personalization. Think of the ways your hotel can reach out to a guest once she has booked a room or after she has completed her stay. Would she prefer to be contacted via email, text, or something new like an instant-messaging app? That alone necessitates a clear mobile strategy, to say nothing of other smartphone-enabled perks, like remote check-in, keyless entry, and mobile booking.

Potentially Personalizing the Booking Path
Individualizing the booking experience has an even higher opportunity for upside, but it’s difficult. Consumers are used to being recognized and having their past purchases or behavior trigger some kind of unique offer or easy-order option. Their Netflix queue, Spotify playlist, or “recent favorite” pizza order can be accessed and enabled with only a click or two. Booking a hotel room shouldn’t be any different.

If a business traveler always books the one-bedroom suite on a high floor and always needs early check-in and late check-out, that should be offered at the top of the sort order every time, with an individualized room rate to boot.

If a property could identify a potential new customer searching on the hotel’s website as a high-earning parent booking a leisure stay with her two children, it could offer that consumer a package of a family suite, a kids-eat-free deal, and tickets to a nearby theme park. Knowing what guests already want or what would entice them could significantly increase conversions and drive direct bookings as well as loyalty.

A Task Too Big to Take on Alone
These days, consumers increasingly will expect every experience in a hotel to be high-tech and high-touch. While hoteliers have built their brands and their careers on the latter, they can’t be expected to lead innovation in technology that enables true personalization in hospitality. For the tailored communications and offers that happen away from the hotel property, a hotel might be more successful partnering with companies focused on innovating there, whether they are technology vendors, online travel agencies, or a digital giant like Google or Facebook.

Partnering for this technology rather than building it themselves keeps hotels flexible enough to “fail fast” until they find the right solution that works for them and their specific needs. Meanwhile, they can focus on the individual interactions that take place on property. Hotels can also take on the personalization problem one piece at a time this way. It is too complex to accomplish in one single initiative.

Each hotel is also likely to find that its path to achieving more customized pricing, service, and marketing is unlike any other hotel’s—which once again is appropriate for the most literal definition of personalization.


About the Author
Patrick Bosworth is CEO and a co-founder of Duetto, a hotel revenue strategy technology company based in San Francisco.