VIP Travel

As ‘The Age of I’ dawns, the region’s luxury hotel industry is being challenged to create original experiences for guests who demand an ever-greater degree of personalization during their stay, says Bruce Ryde, Head of Luxury & Lifestyle Brand Marketing – Asia, Middle East & Africa at InterContinental Hotels Group

Consumer expectations of service standards have risen dramatically over the past decade, shaped by rapid advances in technology, the development of smart mobile devices and the spread of social media. It’s shifted the balance of power from the seller to the buyer, who can now browse and buy anytime anywhere and then share details of this ‘behavior’ with their own personal community of friends, family and colleagues at the touch of a button.

Following a recent IHG 2016 Trends Report, data confirmed that consumers today want their own personal travel experience but while taking inspiration from other like-minded individuals. In a separate “Traveler’s Road To Decision Report” from Google, it was also found that 83% of travelers surveyed said they found inspiration for where and how to travel on “social networking, video, or photo sites.” Moreover, consumers in the region expect their airline, travel agent or hotel to inspire, excite and entice them with ideas and offers that are ‘made to measure’ based on their previous travel behavior and experiences they have shared online.

This has thrown down the gauntlet to hotel firms particularly in the high end of the marketplace. The challenge? To create original and personalized experiences that tempt new travelers to stay and that keep regular guests coming back for more. The devil is in the detail, as they say. Customers expect luxury hotels like us to know intimate details about their own unique preferences; from their ideal room style to their ideal room style to their top local restaurants, their favorite tea in the afternoon, or even their preferred pillow type.

Establishing meaningful relationships with these guests is of paramount importance. These relationships must be initiated through conversations online and via social media, and crucially, through personal interaction during their hotel stay where the human touch transforms an average trip into a memorable journey.

Yet does this require a step change in the way hotels deliver services, and if so, how?

Personalization in a Community Environment

In IHG’s latest report entitled “Meaningful Membership: Transforming Membership in The Age of I”, research reveals how today’s consumer demands that brands recognize their desire for both individual personalization and inclusiveness. Consumers enjoy being a member of a community where they share opinions and insights about a brand or experience to like-minded individuals, but they also want to maintain their own identity.

Bringing these two divergent concepts together is the real challenge that lies ahead. The hurdle for many brands is to make membership meaningful through the concept of ‘membership communities’.

This calls on travel providers such as hotels to recognize the universal need of the community and also, through personalization, identify what resonates with individual group members – their likes and dislikes, what they need and when they need it. It requires a carefully thought-out strategy to ensure hotels humanize their interaction with their guests, which has led to a new set of rules that can help brands to build membership communities.

As one example, IHG’s research notes that because dialogue is increasingly digital in today’s world, trust develops when communication with membership communities is given a human face.

Additionally, brands must go beyond transactional interaction and establish emotional engagement with their customers in order to stay relevant and maintain trust. For hotel groups, this means generating value for guests, nurturing loyalty through rewards programs, and crafting premium experiences through initiatives such as Club InterContinental and others where the quality is all in the details.

Creating a global membership community that reflects local differences and respects cultural norms of travel, service, cuisine and entertainment is a winning formula for a continent that continues to appeal to business travellers and the high-end vacation market due to its different markets. While South Africa attracts business and holiday travellers due to its range of hotel accommodations, Nigeria continues to see an incumbent of business travellers and Mauritius’ five star hotels primarily focused on the holiday market of resort seekers.

The bottom line is that disposable income affords the luxury of choice in the region. This travelling public can be ruthless and disloyal if brands don’t keep their promises. It is no longer enough to join a hotel database and receive a nominal discount. Guests want a sense of belonging and for both their personal and cultural needs to be recognized. Marrying the concepts of personalization and inclusiveness is the quickest path to achieving loyalty.