Hospitality. It's a word that defines an industry. The English word 'host' comes from the Latin base hospes, which means 'host,' 'guest' or 'stranger.' Historically, many cultures valued the ability to provide hospitality to guests as of the highest order. For example, the ancient Greek principle of xenia defined the guest-host relationship as a key measure of nobility.
Today, hospitality is one of the few industries that consumers practice in their own homes. Most travelers have the experience of hosting a dinner party or overnight guests. This builds foundational experiences that inform how travelers interact with hotels. So expectations of 'true hospitality' vary, depending on culture, class, age and other demographics.
Defining hospitality through service
Defining hospitality threaded through many discussions at this year's Skift Global Forum in New York City. During one panel moderated by Luke Bujarski, there was a mention of how accommodations platform Airbnb might create an ancillary revenue stream through in-home merchandising.
In other words, the host would curate a collection of items available for guests to purchase. Similar to the way some hotels offer locally-made snacks or artisanal goods for sale, this merchandising element could further connect guests to the local economy.
This didn't feel like true hospitality to Frommers.com Editor-in-Chief Jason Cochran. He mentioned this on Twitter, eliciting an illuminating response from Airbnb itself.
While a missive from a social care team does not indicate a future strategy, the reality is that most guests prioritize a memorable stay in the destination. While souvenirs and other items are certainly in many travelers' budgets, it's not the reason why a guest chooses a place to stay. It really is about the experience first.
In a follow-up conversation with Sabre Insights, Cochran emphasized this experience-forward approach to true hospitality, saying that impersonal training standards make it 'less likely gestures of hospitality come across as geniune.'
Of course, genuine hospitality first comes down to the right people trained well. It then relates to how humans interface with technology. From the training process onwards, technology can enhance and facilitate a greater understanding of the guest and their needs.
Defining hospitality through technology
The reality is that hospitality is powered by technology. From personalization to retailing, technology can make it both simpler and more complicated to deliver that true hospitality experience. Yet, no matter how the world evolves, the end goal of true hospitality never changes. Technology is the conduit rather than the conclusion.
As Sarah Kennedy Ellis, the VP of marketing for Hospitality Solutions, sees it, true hospitality thrives at the intersection of technology and service.
'True hospitality is delivered when you know the unique expectations of each guest and find ways to exceed those expectations, time after time. While some may fear that technology will make their world less personal, technology gives hotels a greater understanding of the guest and helps them turn that knowledge into action.'
Like in many areas of the modern world, an unfettered explosion of 'tech for tech's sake' can be detrimental to the very thing meant to be enhanced: the user experience. Technology has an inevitable impact on the experience, Cochran says:
'Many of the innovations in hotels (smartphone keys, in-room streaming) actually have an isolating effect. They enable guests not to have to deal with staff.'
Many travelers prefer to manage certain aspects of their experience without assistance. This means that, even as guests seek out self-service, hoteliers have the opportunity to pursue other touchpoints with their guests. This ensures that the traveler can enjoy the best mix of efficiency and hospitality.
Hoteliers that have a holistic understanding of each step on their guest's journey, before, during and after the stay, are the best positioned to use technology in the most powerful ways.
Learning what a guest wants without being creepy
One thing is certain: hoteliers must learn about their guests prior to a trip if they are to truly craft an individual experience. From a technology perspective, this could be done via email, social networks, loyalty profiles or even an old-fashioned phone call.
Push notifications and text messaging are also becoming popular channels to communicate with guests about upcoming stays. Messaging slots into the traveler's schedule without being too invasive while still maintaining a personal touch.
At its core, true hospitality is a truly unique and welcoming experience that won't be forgotten
One recent example comes from Sabre's TripCase, with its new messaging platform for hotels. This communication channel offers a blend of automation and personalization. A non-invasive yet personal guest experience requires hoteliers to take a proactive stance with the right mix of tech and touch for their brand. Without that balance, automation can make personalization feel sterile or pedestrian.
Becky Burke, director of marketing at Sabre Traveler Experience, sees this pursuit of balance as a critical part of today's industry:
'Hospitality can have multiple meanings to different people. At its core, it's about crafting a truly unique and welcoming experience that won't be forgotten. Travelers expect hoteliers to know their preferences and anticipate their needs. By sending relevant messages at the most appropriate time, hoteliers nurture relationships with guests from the start. And then delighting guests with high-touch, human service that they want and expect.'
Using all the tools at your disposal
Messaging platforms continue to grow into the next channel of B2C communications and transactions. Especially now that Apple has opened up iMessage with its own App Store, there are many touchpoints for a hotel to reach a customer.
Whether with an app or good-old-fashioned paper notes, hotels must understand each available tool. No two hotel brands are the same and no two guests are the same. By combining an on-brand approach to technology with deep staff training to listen and respond to guest needs in real-time (and face-to-face), any hotel brand can deliver the true hospitality that guests today remember.
As Jason Cochran from Frommers.com says, it's really about understanding the human aspect of travel - and making a human feel at home:
'I think it's as simple as anticipating my needs even before anticipating my wants. How can they take what they know about me to smooth my arrival, give me a soft place to land when I'm exhausted. It shouldn't be that hard.'
By balancing the modern technology with classic service, hotels can consistently deliver personalization that is truly personal.