My aim with these articles is to cover some of the most important needs in hospitality and explore how brands can use digital touch points to deliver.

In the first of this series of articles I covered the need for recognition and in this article I’d like to focus on personalisation.

The Airbnb service experience (moving from Helsinki to London)

I recently relocated my whole life from Helsinki to London with family and all our personal possessions in tow, it was hard work I can tell you.

A few weeks earlier my partner had booked a temporary Airbnb as a stopgap, while we waited for our new London apartment to be refurbished. At the time I hadn’t realised but the wonderful thing about Airbnb is the variety.

London, of course, has more choice than many cities, but it was less about the number of apartments to rent, more about the interiors of those apartments and the visual quality of the web experience. I remember my partner sitting happily for hours on end, looking at different places like she was perusing World of Interiors magazine.

Airbnb's unique visual experience online


One of the great things about the Airbnb experience, is that you’re in total control.

The photos of the apartments allow you to see small details that strum your emotional heartstrings. For example, a David Bowie picture on the bedroom wall or a kitchen table like the one you had in your grand parents home, the old scruffy teddy bear sitting on the bed in the kids room waiting for a hug.

These items are personal, they have a story and you relate to them in your own way. They draw you in and create a strong sense of belonging that makes you feel like you were always meant to stay here. 'This is my kind of place'.

The next step of the service experience is even more compelling; you actually get to talk with the owner of these objects and this beautiful apartment. You get a chance to ask about certain details and in the best cases you actually feel like this total stranger is a friend, someone who is there to listen and make every little thing feel just right.

In our case, when we turned up at the apartment we booked, we met a guy called Dorian who was waiting there for us patiently, even though we were late. He gave our tired family a big smile and happily carried our insanely heavy luggage up two flights of stairs.

Dorian showed us around our “home away from home” with great pride and passion. He gave us complimentary gifts, one white wine and one red wine, some bread, cheese, milk and chocolate biscuits for the kids. And to top it all off, after he left he sent us a long list of recommendations for breakfast, dinner, family friendly bars and more. Amazing!

Now that’s what I call personalisation and one reason why established hotel chains are feeling the pain. Companies like Airbnb have blown the traditional market wide open and the most amazing thing about this service is that it owns no assets apart from a really well-designed, digital service.

How can hotel chains compete? 

So how can hotel chains compete? Well it’s simple; they need to up their personalisation game.

As well as re-training staff to increase levels of systematic and ad-hoc personalisation, they can also design new digital tools that do this job for them in multiple different ways and channels. 

Take for example what the automotive industry has done recently when it comes to choosing the right car to buy. VW has developed a fun, immersive web experience where car buyers can literally build their car from scratch, choosing model, engine size, colour, wheels, trim and interior.

VW's 'car builder'

vw website 

Personalisation is huge and everywhere and can be big business. The whole iPhone/app concept is built on this foundation.

The phone is not your iPhone until you fill it up with your apps. Everyone’s iPhone is different. 

Christian Lunden, Head of Future Business for Nordic Choice Hotels, has seen some interesting examples around the hospitality industry when it comes to personalisation. 

Personalisation is what separates a good and a bad hotel experience. When done well, guests will hardly notice. For them, everything just feels right.

It can be anything from being offered a lower floor room in the hotel because the staff are aware you don’t like to use the elevator, to your having your minibar stocked with the ingredients for your favourite drink.

Many things can be done without asking because a hotel should know who their returning guests are, but it should also be possible to customise a stay based on how guests feel right there and then in the moment.

An example of this is the walk-in closet Nordic Choice has in the Clarion Collection Tapto in Stockholm. In a room, guests are given a selection of their favourite clothing brands to try on. If they find something they really like, they can add it to the bill. has delivered a very similar solution.

nordic choice 

Wouldn't it be great if your room was exactly how you like it, every time you stay? 

Imagine entering a hotel room set at the right temperature, the music you had playing in the car is now playing in the room, the lighting responds to your presence and you slump into a perfect mattress and pillow with your favourite TV programs, Instagram feed and social media services easily accessible on the HD screen.

A few of your favourite candies are next to you on the bedside table. In the morning your preferred newspaper is ready to download and read.

To be able to achieve these levels of unique personalisation hotels need to know guests much better. Digital channels, especially mobile, play a key role in this development, allowing guests to profile themselves and provide rich, contextual information.

This takes us back to the need for recognition as the clear starting point for many of these value-added benefits. Digital channels are really the only way to develop deep and systematic recognition of guests and the only way deliver back personalisation at scale in both digital and physical channels.

The key to getting guests to provide more personal data and preferences is being able to clearly show the benefits and rewards of doing so. For a start it helps if your brand is strong and appeals to your guest in more ways than one. Communicating a clear set of values helps the guest to find and relate to you in the first place.

The rewards can come in all shapes and sizes and more so now than ever before it’s not enough to offer the traditional “member points” or free night stay.

A variety of stats shows consumers' willingness to exhange data in exchange for relevance or rewards.

consumers willing to share personal data

millennials stats   

Recognise and reward

Guests want rewards that align with their lifestyle and are more meaningful. For example, discount on the clothing brands mentioned earlier, access to exclusive content or events, even spontaneous gifts every now and again go along way to build guest loyalty and up re-booking rates.

Only after hotels recognise guests are they able to personalise in a meaningful way that begin to compete with likes of Airbnb. Hotels should not be pushing the panic button just yet, the industry has a variety of opportunities ahead of it by embracing digital and putting personalisation at the top of its must win battles.

Anton Schubert

Published 21 March, 2016 by Anton Schubert

Anton is Head of Design at Futurice and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (8)

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Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

I was involved in setting up a group of airbnbs last year, so I know this field - and "Dorian" in the article is doing it right by providing these extra touches that don't cost a lot but that customers appreciate. A good airbnb room is similar to a good "boutique hotel", but at a lower price point because you've not got the overheads.

However this is not personalization because he does the same for everyone. Where hotel chains must actually compete is in *consistency*, so you get the same adequate service wherever you are in the world and can book in 2 minutes - because the weakness of airbnb is that often all the affordable top-rated room are full and booking takes ages as you choose between the dodgy ones.

over 2 years ago

Anton Schubert

Anton Schubert, Head of Design at Futurice

Hi Pete, good comments. I think personalisation comes through the fact that airbnb guests can see into other peoples apartments and connect to certain items and objects. By doing so they attribute personal significance to these things and therefore the end result is that airbnb guests feel they are getting a much more personal experience. However Dorian did leave chocolate biscuits in the flat because he knew we had two kids:-) Now booking a room that's a different story altogether!

over 2 years ago


Brian McLauchlan, General manager at V6B 2V6

I manage a 47 room boutique hotel in Vancouver, Canada. I listed one of our economy rooms with AirBNB and within 24 hours had over 2 thousand dollars worth of reservation requests. I then listed a second room and quickly realized the amount of interactive customer engagement required was extraordinary. When consultants talk about the need to personalize the relationships with millennials, this experience has taught me exactly what they mean. The amount of time and effort to properly administer multiple AirBNB listings is substantial and requires both capable communicators on staff and a structured strategy to handle the 24/7 demands of the millennial travelers. If a traditional hotelier chooses to test these waters, they will be introduced to the world's best customer service travel site, exposing millennials to their product while compelling the hoteliers to make a genuine commitment to customer engagement. One will also see that AirBNB is a tremendously effective distribution platform by which distressed inventory can be sold off with commissions of just 3%. AirBNB is your classic disruptive technology that simply isn't going away. There will be years of lobbying before tax and regulatory changes ever get introduced, if at all. So, the sooner the hotel industry recognizes how to take advantage of these services, the sooner they will reap the benefits.

over 2 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Brian, interesting story.
> One will also see that AirBNB is a tremendously effective distribution platform by which distressed inventory can be sold off with commissions of just 3%

I remember a travel event a few years back: where Expedia was considered a scary giant.
A wise guy said that: travel operators need to be savvy as they are just middlemen and distribution can change fast, but companies that own the real assets (hotel rooms), will always have a business no matter what.

Expedia did recently buy HomeAway, to have a story to match AirBnB.

about 2 years ago

Anton Schubert

Anton Schubert, Head of Design at Futurice

Hi Brian, thanks for your comment and yes it's true, I know the feeling myself having put my own Helsinki flat on airb&b. It's a lot of work but I think it also forces you to have a meaningful interaction with the guests in a much more user centric way and it's evidence I think of the lack of it with large chain hotels. You can bet that the guests have many questions that they would love to ask but are not able to with current channels in the traditional hotel biz. Of course this mean that if hotels want to offer more personalisation they also need to be prepared to radically change many of the back of house processes and staff training etc. And I agree with Deri hotels that own physical assets will always have a business but they may need to look for new ways to make money from those assets or more importantly reduce guest churn and improve brand loyalty so rebooking rates increase.

about 2 years ago


Lena Grosse, International Marketing Manager at Nosto Solutions OY

Hi Anton, very interesting article. When I think of hotels showing a high quality of customer service, I think of the well-known examples like the Ritz Carlton, where the employees are able to help the customers ad-hoc. But not everyone can do this and I agree that personalisation through digital channels is a key component to improving the customer experience. Hotels will have to adapt their communication from showing the basic room and breakfast area photos to become more meaningful.

about 2 years ago


John Thomas, Parnter at Anyone Can Thrive

I think WorldVentures is moving in this direction with the SmartCard coming online later this year. They are creating a travel "ecosystem" with thousands of curated vacation, dozens of other travel and dining related benefits and the ability for the SmartCard to be you room key and to communicate your saved preferences with hotels and restaurants.

about 2 years ago


Rajesh Sood, CE) at FocusMCS

Hi Anton
Airbnb helped me move out of cramped hotel rooms to spacious apartments where families can stay together and cook food to their liking. (Home away from Home - The Brand tagline). Basic key purchase driver/s - No hotel with any level of personalisation can match this. The question therefore is - Are we looking under the wrong carpet to find hidden gems.

7 months ago

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