Technology

Anticipating a Driverless Airport Shuttle Van, But Without Enthusiasm

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Despite some recent setbacks, it appears the first driverless vehicles will hit the streets in California as early as next year. Once that milestone is achieved, how long do we think it will take until the first driverless airport shuttle van begins picking up and dropping off guests at a hotel’s front door?

I fear that it won’t be long, given driverless shuttles undoubtedly will be cost-effective. While the hotel industry isn’t immune to disruption by technology, it is a “people business.” Every interaction is important to creating a positive experience for guests, from front desk agents, to housekeepers to shuttle van drivers.

Each provide a “human touch.” While shuttle service exists to move guests to from airports, train stations and other destinations quickly and safely, we know that shuttle drivers frequently are both the first and last employee to interact with our guests. Their interaction creates the first and last impression.

That first impression depends on the shuttle driver’s personality and helpfulness. If the driver is friendly, warm and welcoming, the initial impression is positive. If the driver comes across as indifferent, that first impression will be negative. If you doubt the importance of shuttle drivers, just check the number of times guests single them out on TripAdvisor — often by name.

Certainly, a self-driving airport shuttle van could welcome guests with an audio recording. Makes you wonder how those recordings will be reviewed on TripAdvisor.

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TripAdvisor Website Brings Transparency to Hotel Guest Opinions

Guest feedback has always been important to hotel managers as a way of measuring the appeal of a hotel’s location, facilities, amenities and quality of service. While guest feedback traditionally was a private matter between the guest and hotel, TripAdvisor and similar websites have made guest opinions visible to all.

When TripAdvisor launched in 2000, many in the hotel industry questioned the motives and credibility of posted comments. The intervening years proved the skeptics wrong. The site’s developer, Stephen Kaufer, had created a powerful tool that gave consumers both a voice and a new way to evaluate hotels prior to booking.

In the pre-TripAdvisor days, hotel managers relied on guests to fill out comment cards provided in guest rooms. Guests could rate their hotel experience and provide open-ended comments. With TripAdvisor, guests post their comments online – positive or negative – in sometimes raw and unvarnished language for all the world to see.

Hotels that ignore TripAdvisor comments do so at their peril. Unresolved complaints can drive future bookings away. M&R Hotel Management feels so strongly about the impact of guest comments that we insist our hotels respond promptly to TripAdvisor comments, particularly complaints and criticisms, with details on how the issue is being resolved.

Our team members provide personal, substantive responses. Authenticity is critical.

As Brent Hnatow, general manager of our Holiday Inn Express Kennedy Airport hotel, said recently, “Consumers know when they’re reading a canned response. It doesn’t ring true and can do more harm to a hotel’s reputation than not responding at all.”

Sometimes our TripAdvisor responses are educational in nature and are an opportunity to reinforce our company’s service culture. For example, limited-service hotels are not equipped with full-service restaurants, but guests will note the absence of a restaurant in their TripAdvisor critique.

So general managers at our limited-service hotels, like Glenda Gomez of our Holiday Inn Express LaGuardia Airport, make sure to point this out in their response. But Gomez is also sure to add that a full complimentary breakfast is a brand standard and that coffee and tea are available through the day.

In addition, she will note that the front desk staff is happy to provide directions to full-service restaurants nearby, offer take-out menus of restaurants that deliver and let guests who order take-out know they’re welcome to eat it in the breakfast area.

In summary, managing customer feedback and online content has become as critical as managing rate and occupancy in peak demand times. Just as lost revenue management opportunities take money off the table, failure to manage customer comments lets money fall off the table because those customers never will return.