People checking into a Hilton hotel.
Hilton recently launched Hilton for Business, a multi-faceted program that includes a new booking platform, loyalty rewards, and other services geared toward SMBs. — Hilton

Why it matters:

  • Fifty-seven percent of B2C and 75% of B2B customers reported that a personalized experience would make them ‘much more likely’ or ‘significantly more likely’ to remain loyal, according to Forrester.
  • Seventy-six percent of travel and hospitality decision-makers said they consider their personalization program to be critical to their business, per a Forrester report called “Personalization at Scale in Travel and Hospitality.”
  • In turn, hospitality businesses are leaning into personalization strategies to drive business — from Hilton catering to the needs of SMBs with its new Hilton for Business program to United Airlines engaging travelers with a game-based loyalty program that customizes offers based on members’ travel history.

Companies in the travel and hospitality industry are focused on delivering higher levels of personalization for their customers, seeking to make travelers’ experiences more enjoyable, convenient, and efficient.

From empowering guests to have more control over their in-room experiences at Hilton Hotels, to streamlining the ski rental process at Vail Resorts and creating personalized marketing offers at United Airlines, companies are leveraging both customer-facing technologies and behind-the-scenes data analytics to enhance the ways customers experience their brands.

Research from Forrester shows that travel and hospitality companies have room to improve when it comes to providing personalized experiences. For example, less than 40% of consumers give travel and hospitality companies high marks on personalization, according to Forrester.

Meanwhile, 57% of B2C and 75% of B2B customers reported that a personalized experience would make them “much more likely” or “significantly more likely” to remain loyal.

Companies in the industry have begun to embrace the opportunity, according to Forrester. Sixty-two percent of industry decision-makers who are personalizing experiences for customers reported that their efforts have led to customer experience improvements that exceeded expectations.

“Even small [customer experience] gains can have a big effect on revenue,” said Forrester, citing its own CX (customer experience) Index.

In order to succeed at personalization, companies need to ensure that their data is tethered to a single customer profile, so that it can be surfaced across digital channels as well as in-person, Forrester said. “Success with personalization is linked to the company’s maturity in data mastery,” the research firm concluded.

Key opportunities for personalization in the travel and hospitality industry arise during the buying process — where only 33% of industry companies reported having a fully personalized experience, compared with an average of 42% across industries — and when getting help with a product or service, as 32% of travel and hospitality industry companies personalize the experience, versus 39% across industries, according to Forrester.

That might explain why 76% of travel and hospitality decision-makers said they consider their personalization program to be critical to their business, the research firm said.

New Hilton for Business aims to ease and enhance the travel management experience for small and medium-sized businesses

Hilton is sharpening its focus on small and medium-sized businesses, which comprise about 85% of Hilton’s business transient guests (those seeking short stays, often on short notice).

This effort includes the launch this year of Hilton for Business, a multi-faceted program that includes a new booking platform, loyalty rewards, and other services geared toward SMBs. For example, business owners and SMBs’ travel administrators gain access to a comprehensive and easy-to-use self-service travel booking and management system.

What’s more, companies that sign up for Hilton for Business will also receive 7,500 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after any program member completes their first hotel stay.

Other perks for SMBs include discounted rates at Hilton’s portfolio of 7,000-plus properties.

Hilton for Business serves a growing need: Hilton data found that 75% of small- and medium-sized businesses and their employees book their own business trips and manage their own travel in-house.

We’re always looking to improve the guest experience by understanding and addressing travelers’ quickly changing preferences, passions and pain points.

Dan Morton, Vice President, Guest Experience, Hilton

“We’re always looking to improve the guest experience by understanding and addressing travelers’ quickly changing preferences, passions and pain points,” said Dan Morton, Vice President, Guest Experience, Hilton.

In addition, Hilton leverages its Hilton Honors app to assist customers in a range of activities related to their stays at Hilton hotels. The personalization process begins with the guest’s selection of a hotel location and room that meets their personal preferences, Morton said.

“We have worked to simplify the online booking experience for guests by expanding our search filters so guests can find the exact hotel and room type for their individual needs,” said Morton.

The personalized booking process includes features such as the ability for guests to book and confirm connected or adjacent rooms, rather than requesting this configuration directly from the hotel, and in many cases not knowing if the room preference was accommodated until check-in.

The app also allows guests to access Digital Check-in and Digital Key, which enable them to bypass the front desk, choose their room, unlock elevators and their room door, and access any other area of the hotel that requires a key, directly from their phone.

Guests can also use the mobile app and the Hilton Honors platform to optimize their in-room entertainment experience. Hilton’s Connected Room Experience welcomes guests by name on the TV and allows them to select their favorite TV stations and streaming apps, such as Netflix and iHeartRadio.

“We will continue to enhance the on-property experience by making the Hilton Honors app more personalized and easier to use for every part of the customer journey,” said Morton.

 Person skiing down a snowy mountain.
Vail Resorts' My Epic Gear membership platform seeks to streamline the rental process for skiers and snowboarders, and offers recommendations to help customers find the right gear. — Vail Resorts

Vail Resorts seeks to personalize skiing experience: ‘The traditional model of gear ownership and gear rental has not changed in decades’

Vail Resorts, which operates some three dozen ski resorts around the country, is testing a new model for ski and snowboard equipment rental that allows for a high degree of personalized service.

The My Epic Gear membership platform seeks to streamline the rental process for avid skiers and snowboarders, while at the same time elevating the level of customization they can enjoy in the process.

“Having the right gear is essential to the experience of every single skier and rider, and that need is dependent on everything from a skier or rider’s experience with the sport, to the terrain they prefer to the [ski] conditions on a given day,” said Laura Bonfiglio, Senior Manager, Global Media Relations at Vail Resorts.

The My Epic Gear winter pilot launch offered gear from leading brands and more than 50 of the most popular and latest ski and snowboard models available, according to Vail Resorts, along with personalized recommendations to help customers determine the right gear for their individual needs each time they make a reservation. Customers also have access to high-quality boots with custom insoles to help ensure the right fit, Bonfiglio said.

Customers can also use the app to specify whether they want to have their gear delivered to them at the resort or to the base of the mountain.

“The traditional model of gear ownership and gear rental has not changed in decades,” said Bonfiglio. “My Epic Gear reimagines gear ownership and gear rental, whether a guest wants the certainty of their gear for the season or wants to try something new each visit.”

Vail Resorts’ experience selling and renting gear, the data it has accumulated over the years, and the relationships it has with vendors and Epic Pass holders leave it well-positioned to offer this service, she said. (Epic Pass is a membership that allows access to multiple Vail Resorts locations.)

“The goal for the pilot program is to ensure a great experience for members that can be scaled across our destination resorts,” said Bonfiglio.

 United Airlines flight in the sky.
United Airlines uses data from its MileagePlus loyalty program to personalize the experience for its customers while also creating more opportunities to drive added sales. — United Airlines

United Airlines engages travelers with gaming program that personalizes traveler offers

Personalization is also a marketing tool that travel companies leverage to drive incremental revenues, in addition to providing more customized experiences for consumers. Among airline companies in particular, loyalty programs provide a platform for personalization.

United Airlines, for example, uses data from its MileagePlus loyalty program to personalize the experience for its customers while at the same time creating upselling and cross-selling opportunities to drive added sales.

The company uses machine learning to generate personalized offers for revenue sources such as seat upgrades, partner programs, priority boarding, flight changes, entertainment, and more, according to a case study from marketing services firm Epsilon. Using Epsilon’s Agility Loyalty, United executes personalized offers automatically across multiple channels, including web, email, text, mobile app, call centers, and check-in kiosks, at the rate of 70,000 personalized offers per day.

Epsilon said the efforts have resulted in double-digit gains in several metrics, including a 12% increase in web conversions, a 62% increase in email click-to-open rates, and a 10% boost in conversions at the airport.

United Airlines also recently relaunched Mile Play, a game-based program that offers loyalty members bonus reward miles as incentives for completing certain tasks, such as booking and taking flight within a certain period of time. The offers are customized based on customer travel history, so that an infrequent traveler might be incentivized to book a single economy flight, for example, while a more frequent traveler might be offered incentives for booking multiple flights or for upgrading to business class, for example.

Mile Play has been successful in engaging younger consumers in particular, said Praveen Sharma, the former Vice President of Digital Product and Analytics, at United Airlines, in a presentation for Amazon Web Services, which helps power the machine learning used to help tailor the offers.

Overall, engagement with the games was higher in general than for other promotional offers, he said.

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