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Top Lessons from the 2015 NYU Hotel Investment Conference

The NYU Hotel investment conference is a highlight of the hotel executive’s calendar, with thousands of hotel brand, investment and advisory leaders attending each year.

“Our business begins and ends with two words: guest experience” said hotel magnate Steve Wynn.

You may have heard that in 1979 at the inaugural NYU conference – some things are timeless. But what are the top lessons from the 2015 NYU Hotel Investment Conference? What stood out to me as new this year were two things:

A desire for the brand to engage and serve guests beyond the stay

In a world of rising acquisition costs, earning guest loyalty is more important than ever. And for Accor CEO Sebastien Bazin, focusing on improving the hotel stay itself isn’t enough to do this. “We have to think about how to provide our brand experience beyond the stay.”

The Four Seasons Jet was that brand’s most successful PR activity in company history, and received more than a few mentions at the conference. Looking beyond the glamour, it was the end-to-end service represented that made it so appealing. “We want our guests to ‘live in a Four Seasons bubble’ for their entire trip – not just when they’re on our property,” shared one Four Seasons executive.

But digital represents a much larger opportunity for this for most hotel brands – as it offers many more touchpoints and can be provided to many more people. For Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian, providing great service through digital is “the biggest opportunity in hospitality today.”

An appreciation for the profound disruption technology represents

Whereas AirBnB was seemingly shrugged off in past events, it was taken much more seriously this year by hotel executives. But the conversation wasn’t just on this company – it was the larger trend it represents – how technology can become a game-changer. “Disrupt or be disrupted.”

“The hotel industry has focused on product and brand for the past 50 years. For the next 50, it will be on relationships and databases,” said Ashford CEO Monty Bennett. This is because databases and guest intelligence provides the ability to provide personalized service. As Starwood’s Allison Reid asked, “Today consumers design their own shoes, clothes – why shouldn’t they be able to customize their hotel room?”

Both of these trends depend on guest intelligence, making the collection and use of it key to gaining competitive advantage as we move ahead.

How can we put this into action?

Collect more feedback, more often. Feedback collection can be much more than just a one-time, post-stay survey. Expedia shared their approach for also collecting feedback while the guest is still on property — and how they have collected more than 1 million pieces of feedback this way over the past year, allowing hotel managers to intercept and resolve guest frustrations as quickly as possible. (ReviewPro’s mobile-friendly surveys allow you to do this as well.)

Use this guest intelligence to serve. If memories and loyalty are created by experiences then improving your service is a key differentiator. The more you know about your guests, the better you can serve them. Integrate your guest intelligence data across your technology suite and operating systems in order to enable consistently great service from each area of your company.

Use this guest intelligence to innovate. A “mega trend” in hotel development is building concepts that focus on delivering just what matters to guests – and none of the stuff that guests don’t care about. (CitizenM is a great example). Innovation can also happen for existing brands and properties. Marriott and Carlson Rezidor both shared how “crowdsourcing” innovation is key to their corporate strategy.

Use this guest intelligence to guide your growth. In today’s world there is more capital than ever before, but deals are also more competitive than ever before. When the stakes are higher you need all the information you can get.

How are you going to take advantage of these trends and harness the power of guest intelligence to differentiate your hotels?