The hospitality industry loves to coin a term and the latest phrase worrying hoteliers across the region is that of the concept of the “invisible traveller”. This is the guest that wants to book online, check-in online and pay online. They want to manage their hotel booking via their smart phone or tablet, order their room service through a smart TV and close their bill from within the comfort of their room. Or in other words, the guest that just doesn’t want to talk to you, however friendly you are.
It’s a worrying concept for hoteliers, who have built their business around looking after people. Reading body language, understanding tone of phrase and looking for a reassuring smile is what service staff rely on. But if a guest wants to remain anonymous and steer clear of polite greetings, how can you know what they want?
This challenge emerged as a major concern during last month’s Arabian Travel Market 2013, with hoteliers including IHG COO Pascal Gauvin saying it’s the next traveller trend to be prepared for.
“There is one guest we call the invisible traveller, he’s the one who books online through his iPhone. He likes to check in with the key directly sent to his iPhone — it’s not yet available in the Middle East but in the United States it has started working — and open the door of his room. He orders room service and he watches his favourite sports and he likes to check out online as well because he has his credit card.
“So how do you influence him; how do you give him great service?” asks Gauvin.
He suggests that the midscale Holiday Inn chain is the “perfect brand to do this”.
“We are very high on technology and great room service...you don’t need to always have people around servicing you to please a guest,” asserts Gauvin.
Another brand ahead of the game in the US is Starwood’s Aloft, which recently hit a milestone of 10,000 users of its Smart Check-In programme. This allows guests to bypass the front desk and head directly to their rooms. It launched in 2010, is available at five hotels and will be rolled out further this year.
Starwood Preferred Guest® (SPG) members who opt in to this offer receive an enhanced SPG / Aloft-branded keycard which carries radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in partnership with Vingcard. On the day of a planned stay, a text message is sent to the guest’s mobile device with their room number. Once at the hotel, guests can skip the check-in line and go straight to their assigned room, where their enhanced keycard will unlock the door.
According to Brian McGuinness, senior VP, Specialty Select Brands for Starwood, it’s exactly what customers are after.
“Because Aloft guests are tech-forward and time-limited, we expected them to embrace Smart Check-In, but we’ve been blown away by the enthusiasm. It’s evident there was a demand to reinvent conventional check-in.”