In recent years, the travel and hospitality industries introduced digital and automated services to provide an edge in our tech-focused world. Yet for all the benefits of these services, customer surveys have spotted an odd side effect: overall satisfaction decreases the more businesses rely on automated services.
To be clear, there are certainly benefits to incorporating automated technology, and every business should have some kind of digital strategy. But in rushing to embrace digital solutions, we might overlook why the original method was so effective to begin with. If you examine certain established travel and hospitality services, you’ll find examples that prove the old adage: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Printed brochures over electronic kiosks
The typical hotel guest is just a Google search away from finding unique and exciting attractions near their location. Despite this fact, printed maps, brochures, and other basic travel guides are still overwhelmingly popular. According to one survey, 88% of hotel visitors preferred printed in-room documents over an electronic kiosk. Meanwhile, 87% of front desk staff reported that guests still read brochures even if the hotel didn’t provide them.
Study after study shows that hospitality guests happily accept printed guides, prompting hotel staff to make them a priority. The benefits are obvious. Picking up a brochure from your room or the front desk is quicker and more convenient than typing out directions on a phone. Printed maps are also useful visual aids for front desk assistants providing directions, which guests can take with them afterwards.
Hotel and travel companies should always offer printed brochures and guides, whether designed by the hotel or provided by local businesses. They are demonstrably essential resources that travelers can review in an instant, making for a more enjoyable stay.
Guests prefer personalized interactions with front-line staff
Hotels have adopted a range of digital services that increase efficiency, such as automated check-ins. Such processes are generally less prone to error and free up staff to focus on more pressing tasks. The trouble arises when hotels go a step further and try to digitize all customer service interactions, such as voice-activated concierges or robotic housekeepers.
Whatever efficiencies digital services may offer, guests still prefer a human touch. Studies have shown that guests appreciate and prioritize “authentic personal connections with front-line workers” over automated processes. Human staff can better respond to specialized needs of guests, quickly address follow-up concerns, or simply engage in human conversation. Even when digital processes like automated checkouts are available, many guests prefer to speak with a human being. This option also allows visitors with unique requests to obtain assistance. For an industry that prides itself on hospitality, the human factor shouldn’t be overlooked.
Travel agent expertise saves customers time and money
At this moment, you could use your smartphone to book a discounted flight that will take you anywhere in the world. Yet strangely, many customers still prefer to hire a travel agent to plan trips and arrange bookings — one survey found that 92% of travelers who previously used an agent would contact one again in the future. While some of these agents are OTAs (online travel agents) who arrange bookings through a digital interface, a personal touch still carries immense importance to many people.
Online bookings through travel sites like Expedia can be completed quickly, but planning a highly personalized trip like a vacation or honeymoon usually requires additional effort. Travelers spend up to 30 hours researching a single trip, and visit 38 different sites on average before making a final decision. This time can be dramatically cut down by a travel agent who can customize the unique experience some customers are searching for.
In some cases, relying on agents ensures that passengers will obtain a cost-effective travel option. While many customers balk at travel agent fees, they’re often mitigated by a final booking price up to $1,000 cheaper than direct bookings. Agents can also offer insider knowledge that casual travelers aren’t aware of — like which cruise ships might allow children, for example. Finally, travel agents can resolve problems that occur during a trip, saving customers the struggle of navigating a digital system.
Digital technologies have improved hospitality and travel in myriad ways, and we should expect even more changes in the years to come. But simply adopting digital services because you can is not enough — the needs and demands of customers should always be at the forefront of your business strategy. Sometimes that means non-digital options like printed brochures, guided travel bookings, or otherwise emphasizing that personalized customer service interactions in these industries will remain largely in human hands for the immediate future.