Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting. Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting.

For years, hospitality brands have spoken of the need to personalise the traveller experience and hotel journey. Numerous developments have taken place, from clever digital marketing that taps into specific travel desires among target audiences and booking platforms that enable travellers to piece together their dream holiday, through to in-room variations, from pillow menus to playlists, that enable guests to tailor their accommodation experience.

However, aren’t most of the developments we’ve witnessed more to do with customisation than personalisation? The two words are often used interchangeably, but when applied to the hotel guest, I believe the difference between them can make a big impact.

Customisation gives the power to the end user; for example, the ability for a guest to take more control of their hotel stay by pre-selecting the room packages and options they feel are most suited to them.

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Personalisation, on the other hand, is the responsibility of the hotel brand to actively identify the guest, from remembering the guest’s name to discreetly observing behaviours and ideally, approaching the guest based upon these. 

The two most likely go together, but for me, the latter goes a lot further in making a hotel experience special and memorable. These acts of personalisation can be ever so subtle, such as the provision of extra teabags or toiletries based on the guest’s use or the prompting of a breakfast order, following previous dining patterns.

As for the most basic form of personalisation, that of greeting a guest by name, I don’t think the impact of this should ever be underestimated.

This has been highlighted to me over recent months as I’ve started a new job, this time in the fitness industry, a sector I’ve dipped in and out of over the past 15 years. The brand I work with is not big or fancy by any stretch; in fact, we revel in being quite the opposite. But our approach to people, driven passionately by the company owner and adopted wholeheartedly by every one of the trainers he selects, is one of the best ‘customer-facing’ philosophies I’ve experienced in any brand, in any sector.

As a new instructor teaching my first fitness class, I was tasked with using and remembering all of the 33 names of the members that showed up that day. I had 75 minutes but I hit the target and I, and every other trainer, take exactly the same approach in every class we teach. Walking into a gym can be daunting — just as walking into a vast hotel lobby can be confusing after hours of travelling — and the way those tired, nervous faces visibly brighten as we welcome them warmly by name, shows the power these greetings have.

I’ve also noticed that this particular fitness brand’s approach to first-timers, or ‘newbies’ as we call them, goes above and beyond any other I’ve experienced. In a matter of minutes, we learn the newbies’ names, and their children’s names; we find out their jobs, their hobbies and their goals. We call them the day after their first class and make ourselves available on email or Whatsapp to support them as they embark on their fitness journey. We want them to enjoy the experience and genuinely care more for their health and happiness, than we do for money in our pockets. And it’s an approach that pays off for everyone.  

In hotels, why is it then that new guests are often ignored, with the standard approach being to recognise and reward only those long-term ‘loyal’ customers? What would happen if we flipped this on its head? Is it time to put our faith in the power of personalisation?

After all, isn’t that really what the art of hospitality is all about?

About the author: Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting. Email: louise@in2consulting.com