The travel industry is experiencing a seismic shift as hotel technology reshapes everything from Booking to guest experience.

Peter Strebel, president of Americas for RateGain, a prominent travel technology provider, sheds light on how technology has become more advanced and prominent, transforming the hospitality landscape, and what the future of hotel technology looks like.

From voice channels to the digital age

Gone are the days of impersonal voice channels and bookings through travel agents. The pre-internet era saw guests navigate the labyrinthine world of hotel reservations through phone calls or complex global distribution systems (GDS).

The rise of online booking giants such as Expedia and revolutionised the industry, forcing hotels to adapt. They responded by building a robust digital presence with user-friendly websites and loyalty programmes, solidifying the digital space as the dominant channel for hotel reservations.

AI ushers in the era of hyper-personalisation

Strebel emphasises the transformative potential of AI. RateGain is at the forefront of this revolution, leveraging AI to automate tasks, gather guest data and personalise to an unprecedented degree.

AI can tailor content to a brand’s unique voice and create highly targeted audience segments for marketing campaigns. This allows hotels to move beyond traditional demographics and reach guests with laser focus, crafting experiences that resonate with their specific preferences.

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“Back in the day, you had 30 or 40 groups that you marketed to. Now, there’s an infinite number of groups we can market to […] it has gotten so sophisticated and that’s really where I think the next generation is – how we take everything digitally and enhance its capabilities with AI,” says Strebel.

Balancing convenience with privacy concerns

While acknowledging the undeniable convenience of online transactions, Strebel recognises the importance of data privacy.

Consumers have grown accustomed to the ease of online booking despite lingering security concerns. However, he believes the benefits of speed, efficiency and easier access to information outweigh privacy apprehensions for most travellers.

“I think [it’s] the convenience of doing business and transacting online. I mean, how many times do you give your credit card out and your security numbers? I just think it’s the way it is. We’re being very smart about password management, but I feel that to the consumer, time is so important that convenience outweighs security.”

The rise of direct bookings and brand loyalty

Strebel observes a significant shift towards direct bookings through hotel websites and apps, driven by a desire for security and brand trust.

This trend is fuelled by the consolidation of hotel chains such as Marriott, which offer a vast portfolio catering to diverse needs and preferences.

“I look at the online travel agencies like Expedia and Booking like grocery stores. I look at them like the malls where they can introduce you to products. But the brands are working very hard to get you to be very brand-centric, and to trust in the brand and use their brand,” explains Strebel.

“Through Marriott, Hilton and brands like Wyndham, they really have enough distribution to satisfy all of your travel needs.”

RateGain’s multi-faceted approach to hotel success

Recognising the importance of direct bookings, RateGain has diversified its offerings beyond its traditional focus on GDS and over-the-air connectivity.

Through its strategic acquisitions such as BCV, MHS and Adara, RateGain empowers hotels with a comprehensive suite of tools:

Social media savvy: BCV’s social media marketing expertise allows hotels to leverage the power of social media for sales and marketing, reaching new audiences and fostering stronger guest relationships.

Laser-focused targeting: Adara’s data-driven audience targeting capabilities empower hotels to develop highly targeted marketing campaigns that resonate with specific guest segments.

Data-driven strategies: MHS’s digital advertising agency services provide hotels with marketing strategies, ensuring they optimise their marketing spend and reach the right guests at the right time.

The irreplaceable human touch

Despite the rise of automation, Strebel believes human interaction remains a cornerstone of hospitality.

Guests value the emotional aspect of travel, and hotels cater to special occasions such as family reunions, weddings and business conferences where a personal touch matters.

The impersonal nature of self-service kiosks hasn’t replaced human interaction, highlighting its irreplaceable value.

“Human interaction is still important because people go to hotels for a lot of emotional reasons. They go to conduct business, they go for family reunions, they go for weddings, they go for birthdays, they go for sightseeing, they go for vacations. So, there’s a lot of personal touch and emotions that are involved in hotel stays,” says Strebel.

Sustainability: marketing tool or genuine commitment?

Whilst Strebel highlights the importance of sustainability, he emphasises that right now it is not necessarily a deal-breaker for most travellers.

“I’ve seen that it’s important but it doesn’t affect the decision to buy,” he notes.

Loyalty programmes that emphasise charitable giving haven’t gained significant traction, suggesting guests prioritise core hotel experiences over environmental initiatives. However, hotels are expected to remain mindful of sustainable practices as eco-conscious travellers become more prevalent.

A blend of tech and tradition

The hotel industry stands at the precipice of a significant transformation driven by technology. AI, robotics and augmented reality hold immense potential to personalise the guest experience and streamline operations.

Successful hotels, however, understand that the human touch remains a vital differentiator. Striking a balance between cutting-edge technology and the irreplaceable value of human interaction will be paramount.

The hotel industry is on a fascinating journey. Technology is revolutionising everything from booking to guest experience, creating a more personalised and efficient travel landscape. As AI, robotics and other innovations continue to evolve, hotels that embrace these advancements while preserving the human touch will be best positioned to thrive in the years to come.