A new report, unveiled by Marriott and Hurun Research at the annual International Luxury Travel Market in Shanghai this week, sheds some light on the travel tastes, habits and expectations of China’s rich kids.
Chinese tourists spent $215 billion in 2015, so it’s no surprise that the industry is interested. “Millennial travellers are expected to comprise more than 60 per cent of our business over the next few years,” says Anka Twum-Baah, VP of Customer Loyalty and Content at Marriott International in Asia.
Over 500 respondents, aged 18 to 36, took part in the survey. According to the findings of the study, these wealthy young consumers research their trips via a series of websites and third party apps, with WeChat emerging as the most popular source of official and peer-to-peer information.
Here are three ways in which mobile is becoming an increasingly central part of travel and hospitality.
1. Hotels are using WeChat to talk to their guests
A growing number of hotel chains, including Marriott, Hyatt and Sheraton are turning to WeChat (which currently has over 700 million monthly users) as a channel for customer communication. Marriott is by far the most active hotel brand on WeChat, cultivating an entire customer service ecosystem on the platform and using it to notify members of offers, events and openings, and to share general travel tips. Essentially, fishing where the fish are.
The hotel group has also found value in using WeChat for internal marketing; the Marriott Careers channel was created to hire, empower and retain employees.
2. Seamless smartphone service
Another insight yielded by the Marriott-Hurun study is that young luxury travellers prefer to use interactive guest apps on their smart devices than deal with traditional customer service representatives, and they expect their personal preferences to be remembered.
This isn’t exclusive to Asia; the same is true in the United States. “Your guest might not want to check in at the desk; they might want to go straight to their room,” says Alyssa Waxenberg, Vice President of Mobile at Starwood Hotels & Resorts WW.
Starwood has invested in technology to make the check-in process as frictionless and “magical” as possible, delivering a mobile keyless system to members of its preferred guests programme through the SPG app. Customers simply receive a push notification directly to their smartphone or smartwatch informing them of their room number, and they can simply scan their device at the door to unlock their room.
3. The real magic happens when humans and technology work together
One of Starwood’s subsidiary locations, the Aloft Manhattan Downtown Hotel, has taken its mobile customer service experience one step further: guests can communicate with staff solely using emoji. While on the surface this might seem like novelty or kitsch for its own sake, it could also be argued that emoji communications offers real value to international guests, by removing the language barrier.
More and more retail brands are exploring the commercial potential of chatbots, and hotels won’t be far behind. But technology need not necessarily take away the human touch that can make a hotel stay truly memorable. Rather, being able to request fresh towels via a messaging app or order room service via emoji should free up valuable human hours, so that staff can focus on helping guests celebrate their honeymoons, anniversaries and other special occasions.