Travelers are back on the road and in the air in record numbers, putting the travel industry on the return path to pre-pandemic business. Travel’s comeback has not been without complications, however, as overwhelming demand has strained the under-resourced sector.
According to a new Hilton report, “The 2023 Traveler: Emerging Trends that are Innovating the Travel Experience,” people increasingly want a “frictionless” flow throughout their travel journey in 2023 through self-service options that offer greater choice – convenience and control – while maintaining the human touch of personalized service.
“As people start planning their 2023 travels, they have told us they are seeking immersive and stress-free experiences — with more convenience and personalization than ever before,” said Chris Silcock, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Hilton. “That’s why we’re focused on doing whatever we can to make travel easier by removing friction points that can create frustration and compromise the quality of a trip.”
For Hilton – which was recently named “Best Hotel App” by Global Traveler in its GT Tested Reader Survey Awards and received a 2022 Hotel Visionary Award from Hospitality Technology – that means accelerating its digital innovation efforts to ensure a seamless stay for guests starting well before check-in with online booking options and app-based efficiencies.
At the heart of Hilton’s enhanced online booking options and app-based efficiencies is a newly modernized version of the company’s Central Reservation System (CRS). The updated system, which launched in May 2020 at the peak of the pandemic, made Hilton the first major hotel company to run its entire reservation system in the cloud. An in-house team spent multiple years developing the next-gen CRS, which helped Hilton significantly reduce costs and boost revenue management capabilities while simultaneously enhancing the booking experience for guests through several new features.
For example, Confirmed Connecting Rooms by Hilton – an industry-first feature that allows guests to reserve adjoining rooms at time of booking – has been a big hit with guests wanting to stay close to family and friends. Other new search filters also allow guests to quickly find and book rooms based on their individual travel preferences. Three recently added options— “pet-friendly,” “free breakfast” and “Electric Vehicle (EV) chargers” – were among the most popular filters on Hilton.com and the Hilton Honors mobile app that led to confirmed stays in 2022. The EV charging filter alone resulted in more than 30% of users completing a booking.
Technology expedites the check-in process as well, and helps keep guests comfortable and connected during their stay. Use of the Digital Key in the Hilton Honors app – which ensures a frictionless check-in experience by enabling travelers to bypass the front desk, choose their room and unlock their room door directly from their phone with no plastic keys required – was up almost 45% during the pandemic with about 17 million keys created globally during 2022. A new feature also lets Hilton Honors members share their Digital Key with family members and friends.
Guests also expect technology to deliver the same level of personalized service that they receive from team members, starting with onscreen in-room welcome messages – as offered by Hilton’s Connected Room Experience – or customized messaging via the Honors App.
“Our goal is to provide seamless connectivity that meets guests where they are – whether they want to view content from their favorite streaming platform on their in-room TV, message someone on the app, or send an online request to a team member in the lobby,” said Dan Morton, vice president, guest experience, Hilton.
With COVID-19 ushering in a new era of technology, more people expect convenience at their fingertips – using their phone to shop, pay and navigate their every day – but they also want staff readily available to meet their needs and solve problems.
Importantly, Hilton’s digital innovations free up on-property staff so they can be fully present during in-person interactions with guests, further enhancing the guest experience. “When the pandemic hit, we knew we needed to act fast,” said Mike Gathright, senior vice president, customer experience, Hilton. “We quickly accelerated our efforts to ensure our guests had seamless and contactless experiences around the world – before arrival, at check-in and in their guest room – but in ways that are always connected to the personal touch and warm hospitality of our team members.”