I attended the International Hospitality Information Technology Association (iHITA) Annual Conference last week. This is an event where industry professionals, educators and researchers get together to share their knowledge and new ideas.

At this conference, I heard from Lyle Worthington, the global vice president at Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals, that the hospitality industry is calling for more user experience research. Worthington suggested businesses should focus on consumers' "wholly experience," which will "dictate" product developments and product designs.

To borrow the total quality management (TQM) concept from business literature, I would refer to this "wholly experience" approach as "total experience management," or TEM. Indeed, companies in the hospitality industry and the service sector are competing against one another with the memorable experience they create for customers.

In the hospitality and tourism industry, for example, TEM should begin with a good understanding of what the target customers want. Then, innovations and product developments/redesigns should be structured according to the needs and wants of the customers. Here are some examples:

Understanding what travelers want

Observations and survey studies should be conducted for a better understanding of what customers want. Besides hiring "researchers" to sit in a hotel lobby doing observations, as Marriott is doing, companies should also refer to those survey studies conducted by marketing firms or researchers when making a business decision.

The following, for instance, is a brief market report about the travel experience millennials want:

  • 86 percent want to experience new cultures; 67 percent are all about eating, and 66 percent about making new friends. Partying (44 percent) and shopping (28 percent) are not considered as important anymore.
  • 46 percent like the social atmosphere of hostels; 22 percent want a hotel room. Such results provide a good explanation of why more travelers are choosing hostels or Airbnb over the traditional lodging products.
  • 59 percent only update their social media accounts a few times a week during a trip; 10 percent do not update their social media accounts.
  • 39 percent use smartphones for pictures; only 2 percent do not take any pictures. As we know, a picture is worth a thousand words, and more people will use smartphones to take photos and instantly share updates with photos.

Developing new products

After a better understanding of what consumers want in terms of travel experience, CEOs with an entrepreneur mindset will develop new products to ensure their business is delivering "memorable experience" to customers. A good case in point is the Botlr (robotic butler) concept debuted in the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, California.

The Botlr service allows the Aloft Hotel to provide innovative service that responds to what target customers want. With the support of technology, today's travelers may actually prefer to deal with a machine rather than a real human being (e.g., searching for a hotel on the road, making reservations online or with a mobile app, and requesting Botlr to deliver service items with a text or tweet).

Additionally, as minimum wages continue to rise, businesses are finding innovative approaches to cut labor costs. Then, the introduction of Botlr can serve the purpose of lowering labor cost.

Redesigning the operating procedures

As consumers heavily rely on social media and like taking/sharing photos during a trip, hotels and restaurants are actively seeking ways to respond to such changes.

I made a specific recommendation about two years ago that hotels should consider replacing their call centers for central reservations with the new "mobile service centers." I was glad to hear at this year's iHITA Conference that Marriott has launched a third M Live Studio as the company’s global marketing real-time command center.

In Marriott's M Live Studios, the staff will engage travelers in real time on social media platforms. The conversations among the hotel staff and travelers on social media platforms can be captured and analyzed for trends, performance and reputation management.

What's next for TEM?

Just like TQM, TEM also requires continuous quality improvements, evaluations and controls. I believe TEM will be the engine that drives the service industry for transformational changes.

What I shared in this article, however, are just some of my preliminary thoughts about TEM. I would like to encourage other industrial professionals and scholars to join my discussion of TEM.