Authenticity and technology - the Millennial essentials

Yossi Zekri By Yossi Zekri
Uploaded 01 February 2016

Understanding the travel behaviour of Millennials is key to boutique hotels' success says Yossi Zekri.

One of the many spheres in which the Millennial generation wields growing influence is in travel and hospitality. They are the largest demographic in the U.S. (currently ages 18-35), and as they enter the workforce in larger numbers, are travelling more frequently for both business and leisure than other age cohorts. Understanding how and why these young people (and increasingly, young families) want to travel will help the hospitality industry adjust their offerings to attract this savvy and connected generation.

Customer expectations have always been high, and are intensifying in the age of the empowered traveller. Millennial travellers seek personalisation, flexibility, and authenticity from hospitality brands. They also expect their travel experiences-like every other activity in their lives-to be made seamless and more convenient through technology. They want to use their mobile devices to research, review, and book their travel, to gain access to their hotel rooms (keyless smartphone technology) and to communicate their needs to hotel staff. 

Millennials have a strong preference for self-service options, and have little patience for waiting in line to engage with a customer service agent. A recent study found that 60 per cent of respondents would be more likely to choose a hotel that allows check-in and keyless entry via smartphone, and 37 per cent are more likely to choose a hotel with lobby technology such as self-service kiosks. Streamlining travel logistics with mobile technology gives hotels an opportunity to stand out in a crowded field, starting with the dreaded check-in process. No one wants to slog through a day of airline travel only to arrive at their hotel lobby and wait in line while a desk agent manually enters their personal information. Many large hotel chains are deploying self-service kiosks to address this pain point, but mobile scanning solutions provide this capability to smaller hotels as well, and the benefits extend well beyond the front desk.

Advanced solutions for scanning and verifying IDs and passports transform the check-in process (at the front desk, at kiosks, and through smartphones) and provide a key link between customers and data-driven, integrated hospitality platforms. With mobile scanning, check-in can begin anywhere (even remotely) and be completed in less time with fewer errors. These solutions quickly and accurately read all data off drivers' licenses, passports, and other official identity cards, automatically populate data records and integrated into existing CRM systems to meet regulatory and security purposes. Upon being scanned, data can be automatically checked against other national databases to verify the customer's identity.

Millennial travellers enjoy personalisation and perks that match their travel style (points-for-dollars loyalty programs often miss the mark), and are willing to give hotels some personal information in exchange for spot-on service. Millennial guests expect to communicate with hotel staff via text and plan meals and activities via apps. These interactions are much more successful-and keep more revenue at the hotel- when the guest's personal data is readily available and can be used to provide more authentic, unique, and timely service.

It is this desire for authenticity that drives Millennial travellers to seek out hidden gems, local food, and community gathering places. They don't want to be tourists, they want to "live like locals" and get off the beaten path. This is good news for smaller hotels, especially those truly connected to local culture and cuisine. Combining local knowledge with data on guest preferences enables hoteliers to create unforgettable experiences, on the individual level as well as for like-minded groups (e.g., young Chinese professionals). Successful hospitality businesses of all sizes are updating everything from décor to concierge apps to chase the dollars being spent by young travelers from around the world.

The globalisation of travel is a major factor to consider when preparing for and appealing to younger demographics. The number of international trips made by young travellers is expected to grow to 320 million by 2020, a 47 per cent increase over 2013 numbers. Case in point: Chinese tourists spent $229 billion on travel in 2015, including 109 million tourists bound for international locales. Well over half of Chinese outbound travelers are in the Millennial generation: according to GfK, half are 15-29 and another 37 per cent are 30-44. And Chinese Millennials have money to spend; two-thirds belong to a high-income bracket and work in professional positions.

Advanced scanning solutions ease entry for these globe trotters and support those serving them. Scanners capture information from passports in both image and text form (using OCR technology); integrated software processes the data and populates records in the hotel's reservations or CRM system. These scanning systems read and process information from passports more accurately than desk agents, helping hotels avoid awkward and frustrating moments between foreign guests and customer service reps, and eliminating data entry errors caused by language barriers. Instead of struggling over spellings, a quick scan sends the weary traveler on to their room with a smile and the sense that "everybody knows their name."

Millennials get their travel information and recommendations from friends and family, often over social media. In turn, they review trips and share travel stories and photos on Facebook and Instagram. Anything that leaves customers raving about their experience pays dividends in return trips and referrals, not to mention happy guests spend more money. Using ID scanning solutions is an accessible approach to capturing and integrating customer data into service innovations, social media connections, and targeted promotions.

Hoteliers will encounter significant challenges and competitive pressure over the next five years. The sharing economy, changing guest preferences, global economic fluctuations, and technological advances will transform travel and hospitality in ways we can only imagine. One thing is clear: hotels must become more customer-centric. Where travelers once preferred standardized rooms and amenities, younger adventurers from around the world prefer flexible, unique places to stay that authentically reflect local culture and customs. Boutique hotels seeking to capitalise on this trend will have to ensure their technology game is on point, from the front desk to farewells, and every personal touch in between.

Yossi Zekri is president and CEO of Acuant, the leading provider of identity solutions. Acuant solutions can be found in many leading hotels including Four Seasons, Le Meridien, Radisson Blu, InterContinental and W Hotel.

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