Back to Business: Why Frictionless Travel is a Necessity for Today’s Evolved Traveler
If you packed a suitcase at some point in 2022, you’re far from alone. Following two years of restricted travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans took to the air and streets in droves this year to an extent never-before-seen. While the return of travel was whole-heartedly embraced by both the hospitality industry and travelers, it also prompted unexpected friction points as travel demand outpaced travel recovery.
In a recent Hilton Trends Report surveying the world’s travelers, 84% of consumers told us they expect in 2023 to travel as much – or more – as they did in 2022. Those same travelers will be in search of efficiencies to ease the perceived challenges of traveling. In fact, more than half of respondents (56%) confirmed they are most concerned about having an easier travel experience in 2023.
Going into next year, the hospitality industry will be responsible for both providing a reliable and friendly stay, as well as reducing friction associated with the travel experience. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, customer-centric innovations, such as digital check-in and contactless payment options, have the potential to ensure guest’s expectations are exceeded while also providing needed support to on-property staff.
Solving friction points for guests and hotel staff
Finding efficiencies that streamline the travel experience should begin at the start of the planning process, well before check-in. The introduction of new booking filters, including for electric vehicle chargers or to confirm connecting rooms and pet-friendly hotels, offers guests the flexibility to easily identify what is important to them to elevate their stay. In 2022, EV chargers and “pet-friendly” were among the top search features on Hilton’s website as travelers looked to make decisions about travel based on changes in their own travel routines adopted during the pandemic.
Another example is the continued expansion and adoption of Digital Key. Rolled out broadly beginning in 2015, Digital Key allows users to bypass the front desk and head straight for their room, not only promoting a seamless check-in for guests but also reducing lines at the front desk. From January through September 2022, more than 7.9 million Hilton Digital Keys were downloaded globally. Since the launch of Digital Key, we have continued to add additional benefits to the technology such as Digital Key Share, which provides guests with the option to share their room key with family members and friends.
Hotel restaurants and bars can also help reduce friction points through enabling technology that helps ensure consistency. The use of QR codes and contactless ordering and payments, for instance, can allow for more personalized, rather than transactional, interactions with property staff and drive efficiencies.
Guests’ desire for personalization delivered via technology or personal service is another emerging trend. According to Hilton’s survey data, nearly 9 in 10 (86%) respondents will look for at least one thing to be personalized during their travel experience and interactions, and 26% anticipate hotel technologies will be important to them for a seamless stay.
Providing guests with connected rooms that allow for in-room TV streaming of their favorite media which they can control from their mobile device, for instance, establishes a more customized customer experience akin to what guests may use at home. This personalization is also important for travelers who skip the front desk with Digital Key to ensure they are provided the same warm welcome they would experience upon check-in with customized welcome screens in each room.
No matter how busy our digital world becomes, we’re continuing to see that guests are consistently looking for human connections and solutions that make them feel truly cared for. While they want to adopt digital efficiencies to accelerate transactions, they value when the time saved is used to fuel more personalized interactions.
Meeting the needs of the evolved business traveler
Business travelers’ expectations are also changing following extended periods of work-from-home, which has allowed individuals to further reflect on their company’s – and their own – priorities. These travelers will seek out not just travel efficiencies, such as self-booking, but also the adoption of sustainable practices that will allow them to impact their company’s ESG goals.
Sustainable travel is an area that has become increasingly important to travel and event planners alike. According to another co-branded Hilton and American Express Business Travel study, there is a strong demand for carbon neutral meetings and ESG reporting globally, but 86% of survey respondents have little to no knowledge of hotel-level sustainability programs. By providing planners with the tools needed to track the environmental and social impact of an event hosted at a participating hotel, we are positioning them, as well as the companies in which they work for, for success as they work toward their own sustainability targets.
Event planners are also interested in a simplified approach to researching and booking small events, so introducing a self-booking option that includes the necessary search filters and account access to track group bookings and customization is needed to meet the preferences of today’s business traveler.
As we continue to get accustomed to today’s new normal, it is important that we remain in tune to the wants of our customers and leverage concepts and solutions that will address market needs. Those brands that are receptive and able to exemplify their commitment to personal service coupled with technological innovation will be well positioned to further prove to customers that it matters where you stay.