The hospitality sector has adjusted to the digital world, integrating technology across all elements of the hotel experience, but there has been reluctance among some guests who prefer the personal, physical experience offered by human interaction.

This was the point addressed by Meliá Hotels’ senior brand marketing manager Sofía Muntaner speaking at the International Hotel Technology Forum (IHTF) today (17 April).

Discussing how to attract a range of guests, she explained that Meliá Hotels’ opts for a blend of the physical and digital – a ‘phygital’ – approach.

“I like the word ‘phygital’ because I think it’s important to try to be flexible,” said Muntaner. “We are facing different generations, different clients, and offering both options is very important for attracting them.”

This approach is about recognising the capabilities and needs of guests and offering fit-for-purpose solutions. These will naturally involve digitalisation as the majority of the world is now online – 66.2% according to Muntaner, who explained that utilising technology is integral to the Meliá brand strategy.

However, she also warned that neglecting the guest experience in favour of the digitalisation of processes could be a mistake. Instead, technology should enhance the physical experience, a point supported by a recent GlobalData survey, which found that almost 90% of travellers wanted human interaction, regardless of age.

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“It’s true that it is very important to apply these new technologies in hotels, but it’s about consideration,” said Muntaner. “People want simple things. They want to enjoy their holidays. They don’t want more complications. I think maintaining this ‘phygital’ idea is good, and more generations are coming.”

To illustrate her point, Muntaner pointed out: “The top amenity that remains the most important is the Wi-Fi. It is very basic, but, in the end, the client wants a good experience.”

Meliá Hotels’ ambition to utilise its digital offering to provide a better physical experience will, she hopes, help to build customer loyalty.

“We are trying to create this community – a long-term relationship – so it is very important to have sustainable plans,” Muntaner said. “On the technology side, we have the digital check-in and check-out, but we are embracing the ‘phygital’ idea because still not all of the guests are prepared for the full digital part.”