13 – Dreamforce Special Edition

by | November 14, 2018 | Suite Spot: Hotel Marketing Podcast

In this special edition of Suite Spot, we discuss a hospitality keynote presented at the 2018 Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco. The keynote, "The Future of Travel and Hospitality," was a fireside chat with Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson.

In this podcast episode, host Ryan Embree is joined by Anne Sandoval, Travel Media Group’s Marketing Director who attended the keynote. We discuss the key takeaways from Arne's insights on Marriott’s relationship with technology.

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Episode Transcript

Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.

Ryan Embree: Welcome to Suite Spot where hoteliers check in and we check out what's trending in hotel marketing. I'm your host, Ryan Embree.

Ryan Embree: Hello and welcome everyone. This is episode 13 and today we are going to have another special edition of Suite Spot. We do this from time to time being leaders and experts in the hospitality field. We travel across the nation to conferences, trade shows that have to pertain with the hospitality industry. And today we are going to be talking about an annual conference of Dreamforce which is hosted by Salesforce in San Francisco. Now, Salesforce isn't necessarily a hospitality-only vertical. Uh, they work across verticals, but there were some really great insights when it came to the hospitality industry. Just to give you a little background on this conference, this year's conference drew over 170,000 attendees. So it's a very popular conference, people traveling from all over the world to experience this week. And today we'll be talking about the hospitality keynote by Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson. The title of this keynote was the Future of Travel and Hospitality and obviously being in the digital marketing space, we have to be at the forefront of knowing the new technology and future of travel.

Ryan Embree: So we're always interested in talking about that. I have the pleasure to be joined today by our director of marketing, Anne Sandoval, and she had the opportunity to attend this keynote and she is here with me today to share some insights with us. So first and foremost, let me go ahead and welcome you to the Suite Spot, Anne.

Anne Sandoval: Hey Ryan, it's great to be here.

Ryan Embree: So this was a, obviously very popular conference that you attended and you know, as I mentioned, it's not all about the hospitality vertical, but this particular keynote was. It's super interesting, especially when you get to hear firsthand from executives of such a large worldwide global brand like Marriott. And I wondered to first start out, this was kind of something fun that they did. Uh, Arme had mentioned that he traveled anywhere from 200 to 225 nights of the year and they first started off the uh speech by giving his three travel tips. I wanted to kind of get your thoughts on those tips.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, it was really interesting to hear from someone who spends just so much time in hotels and across time zones and all of his tips really had one thing in common, which I know is a theme that's familiar to the Suite Spot, which is to go local. So his first tip was to get on local time and exercise to help keep your routine. Second, to eat the local food and go sightseeing and third was don't let yourself live as if you're still at home. And I think these are really great takeaways for travelers, but I think it's also helpful for hoteliers to know these tips.

Ryan Embree: Yeah. You know, it's it – at the end of the day, we're all travelers, right? And when we talk to hoteliers, it's almost putting themselves in the shoes of your guest and I think that was such an interesting perspective that he took and to get insight from that, because this is the guy that manages hundreds of thousands of hotels across the globe and these were his, these were his takeaways and these were his tips.

Ryan Embree: So I think, you know, for our listeners who are hoteliers out there who either own or manage hotels, think about the way that you travel and what tips would you give your guests coming in. And I think you can get, gain a lot of insight from kind of taking that perspective.

Anne Sandoval: Being in the traveler mindset and knowing, you know, they're gonna be maybe struggling with jet lag or having dealt with some heavy traffic on their way to see you. Knowing exactly what's gonna make them feel comfortable being able to provide those tips on how to get a good and exciting local experience would be great.

Ryan Embree: To my next question, the, you know, what the title, like The Future of Travel and Hospitality, you know, we can't talk about the future without talking about tech and what that brings on the horizon. So the next thing that they kinda got into in this keynote was talking about the future of travel.

Ryan Embree: Obviously we're seeing with these tech conferences, the implementation of things like self-check-in or uh keyless entry into, into your room which can sometimes take away the, that essential human element uh that has been kind of the foundation of hospitality and hotels. So I want you to speak to a little bit of what his thoughts were when it comes to implementing technology, but at the same time staying true to that hospitality and human nature.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, absolutely. So Arne did a really good job of really voicing the changes that we've seen over the last few decades. You know, 35 years ago, our goal as a traveler was just mostly to not be disappointed with where we stayed. If it was clean, if it was comfortable, that was fine with us. And business travel, especially, it was business only, but today we really talk about bleisure travel, blending business and leisure, work and leisure and so whether we're traveling for a work trip or for a personal vacation, we want an experience that is going to reflect the location and you know, we still want to experience the location and really blend work and leisure and so he really stressed the importance of remembering that hospitality is a human-to-human business regardless of what technology gets implemented at the property. You want to preserve that human to human connection.

Ryan Embree: He did a really good job of stressing that even though there are going to be changes in the future with technology and when it comes to the hotel industry, I feel like there's always going to be – and he and he feels like there's always going to be – that human element to it. There's just something about coming to the front desk or being able to talk to a real life person. I mean, we're seeing it even, think about the way that you communicate now over the phone. How sometimes in a customer service situation you just want to talk to someone, you know you're clicking that zero or you're saying operator on the other side, you just want to talk to a human being. There's gonna be, there's gonna be a point where you want that, that human connection versus talking to technology or talking to a robot or a prompt or something like that.

Ryan Embree: So I think that's important to know. And then they specifically kind of went into the technology that Marriott is implementing, right?

Anne Sandoval: Arne talked a little bit about how does Marriott determine what technology to implement because they have a brand of that scope has a lot of opportunities to take some bigger risks, but they focus on three things. Customization, personalization and communication. So Marriott is always focused on using technology in a way to make things simpler for the traveler to either connect with experiences to have their room customized. So especially for luxury properties, knowing what kind of pillows or bath amenities you prefer. And then allowing you to communicate with the hotel. So those are some really foundational ways that they focus on implementing technology.

Ryan Embree: And we talked about this off air, but I think it's a really interesting point to look at technology as a whole when it comes to the hotel industry. He mentioned specifically in his keynote that you think about hoteliers or the hotel industry as a whole and when it comes to landlines, this is really the, the only industry that it's still critical to have a landline inside of the room. So he kind of likens that and parallels that to where that the industry is right now where we're still using this technology and it's so difficult with tech because it's so fast-moving to know what sort of a hardware to put into these rooms because in you know, five or 10 years, this could be easily outdated technology. How are you going to implement technology that's standard across the board without it becoming outdated, without having to teach your consumer, um, you know, a, something else like Alexa commands and it being too complicated and you don't want to take away from that customer experience.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah. I think he really stressed adding value to the customer experience and understanding that some travelers are always going to want to talk to the front desk knowing that some will still be comfortable using the landline, but adding things that can make things easier for guests that are a little bit more tech savvy who maybe prefer to do a text message or voice command, but one of the things he really stressed was that personalization, and I think that's really why Salesforce chose to highlight Marriott during this keynote is because they use Salesforce to really understand their individual traveler preferences and know, okay, if this specific traveler or guest is coming to my property, what are they expecting from us and how can we use technology to elevate their experience.

Ryan Embree: I want to keep to that point of personalization because I feel like this is where we get into some murky waters here when it comes to what is too invasive. Hotels always want to anticipate the customer's needs before they actually need it, and I think that is sometimes the magic of a hospitality, right, is having that amenity or having them know something that your preferences before even asking for it. That's that wow factor. That's what's going to give that customer experience something that's going to stick in their head and maybe get you that positive review, but at the end of the day some consumers are not as comfortable with that.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, I totally agree. And Ellen McGirt, who is from Fortune magazine, she was interviewing Arne on stage and she said you knowing me is delightful when I walk onto a property, but it's creepy on Facebook and they talked a lot about walking that line between all the data we have about our guests and their preferences and their online behavior and knowing when to use it to help them have a better experience at your property, but also drawing the line when it comes to targeting them heavily online. I think it's really about elevating their experience in terms of, you know, if I know that this guest is booking with me and I recognize that based on their past booking behavior, they prefer to have rooms on a higher level floor or away from the elevator that I can use that information to have- ensure that they're going to have a wonderful stay with me, but not crossing that line that makes them feel uncomfortable about how much we know about the guest.

Ryan Embree: And we've said it before, even on this podcast. I mean, we're in an age right now in the hotel industry where we have the most data that we've ever had. That's, that's scary for some consumers. But it's also exciting at the same time because hoteliers have this data and they're figuring out ways to leverage it in order to further their business and better their business. And there is a very fine line there because I might walk into a hotel. They were giving specific examples about potentially having someone's flight information and if it was delayed that evening, you know, I might appreciate coming in and someone saying, Hey, uh, I know that you just had a, you just got off a delayed flight, you must be super tired. I got you a room that's a little bit closer to the elevator. Um, so you can get into a room, no worries. Whereas somebody else might find that very intrusive. That's the last thing that you want with all this data. They're really trying to, to use that personalization like you talked about in a positive way, what they want to try to. What I think they should try to avoid is putting people in buckets. I might be traveling for business, but I traveled differently for business than I do on vacation.

Ryan Embree: Or I might be at a stage in my life where I don't have a family right now, but in five years I am going to have a family and I'm going to start traveling differently. So I think you also have to be very cautious with how deep you get into that personalization.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, and I think Arne was really clear about his feelings on how do you personalize the experience for millennials and the way millennials travel or boomers and how they travel. Marriott's stance is really that all of these peoples are people are individuals, they're all different from each other, so it's really not about understanding what these different generations want, but it's how, how can we understand individual travelers and make their experience special. You know, one of the bigger technology investments that Marriott has made, as we've talked about before, are voice activated devices. Um, and they have those implemented in rooms both from apple and Amazon. Sometimes customers say to them, I have a privacy concern about this. I, I'm not sure I want it in my room. That's not necessarily a generational thing. It's something that happens person by person and Marriott has this unique opportunity to understand like what society is comfortable with. Are we comfortable with having these types of devices everywhere or is that somehow going to cross a line and be something that we're not interested in as much? So I think travelers of all ages have unique preferences and so we don't want to put someone into too much of a box or a bucket.

Ryan Embree: I agree completely and I think, you know, with this data we're going to start to see just like we have already an evolution of comfort level, right, throughout. So as this technology is here longer and longer, you know that comfort level of starts to rise and with access to that data, Marriott's got countless number of customers and in that database they can start seeing customer preferences and customer trends to see if that's shifting in a way where people are becoming more comfortable with this technology and they can start to implement it and overall it's going to be better for their business. Very interesting, very insightful topics when it comes to technology. I wanted to end today on - I thought was one of the most interesting points of this keynote and that is with the disruptor of Airbnb. And, it's always fascinating to hear the big brands talk about Airbnb. I think that they're a little intimidated by them because they have been growing at such a fast rate and they're clearly a disrupter, but it was interesting to hear what Marriott's doing when it comes to competing with Airbnb.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah. I thought this was completely fascinating and as soon as I left the keynote, I was Googling to find out exactly what Marriott was doing and interested in booking this type of experience. Because Marriott recognizes that Airbnb is a completely different product from a hotel room and the research shows that a lower cost stay is a huge deciding factor when someone is choosing an Airbnb. So Marriott isn't really interested in in providing the cheapest accommodation, but they recognized, especially for larger families and group travel that sometimes a whole home option is appealing for travelers. So Marriott is testing a whole home rentals service and they started out in London by curating a collection of properties with multiple beds. But one of the things that they're doing that I think is really exciting is taking away some of the risk that comes with booking through a service like Airbnb. By ensuring that there's a 24 hour a day person available to check you in to that whole home rental, they are adding optional amenities that you would get, like housekeeping, bath amenities that you could count on from brands like Marriott. And what I think is really going to be exciting is that they're connecting it all to the loyalty program. So you're getting this whole home rental experience but with a brand that you trust from Marriott. So I think that's going to be really appealing to travelers and you know, they started in London, but they're growing into other markets. Like I think Rome is one of those options and Paris as well.

Ryan Embree: And it's, it's a great idea. It's the best of both worlds, right? You get that niche market, that local experience that Airbnb can provide, but you also have the standards, amenities and service that a brand like Marriott can, can, uh, provide consumers as well. I think this is a great opportunity and I think it's an awesome idea and I'm curious to see how this works for them or to see even if other brands are going to be doing this, so having something like this in your portfolio can really change the game when it comes to those travelers that are maybe looking for some bigger accommodations but aren't willing to sacrifice the service and are loyal customers still. It's going to be very, very interesting to see how this experiment works and to see again, if this is something that other brands might jump on.

Anne Sandoval: Yeah, absolutely. I would be especially interested to see if this is something that could move into the domestic market. If we could have these whole home rentals that are backed by brands in the US. I mean that would be a game changer I think for the US traveler and uh, it's interesting. I wonder if it'll be Marriott or if it'll be another brand that really starts that trend over here in the states.

Ryan Embree: Yeah, absolutely. So, fascinating stuff, Anne, I'm thrilled you got the opportunity to get out there and listen to this keynote and thank you so much for taking the time today and for your insights. Thank you for listening as always, and we will see you next time on the Suite Spot.

Ryan Embree: To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a 5-star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group. Our editor is Anne Sandoval with cover art by Bary Gordon and content support by Amber Wojcek. I'm your host, Ryan Embree, and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

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