In the last years we have witnessed the emergence of new disruptors in the hospitality scene, such as AirBnB. It`s no secret that hotels were left struggling a bit from the effects of these new types of accommodation providers based on the sharing economy. But why is that you might wonder? We did too, so we went out asking travelers about it with the occasion of our 2nd semester project in Innovation Management and eTourism Solutions. So, let´s start from the beginning.
How did we identify the Problem?
For our first steps we implied the Lean Start Up approach to identify possible problems. In this stage we made use of the placemat method and brainstorming. Then, interviews with travelers on the FH Campus and via phone followed. This way we could measure if the problem found by us was also felt by the respondents. Whilst listening to our interviewees, the occurring themes of customization and personalization started to become clear to us with people emphasizing that they do not feel special when staying in hotels. These points were also reinforced through conducting a trend analysis. A 2016 report from Deloitte found that in many categories, including travel, more than 50% of the consumers prefer purchasing personalized products or services and that they would even pay up to a 20% premium for it. Moreover, with the Experience Economy on the rise, personalization is about to become a must for businesses to thrive in the market.
Exploring the Problem through the lens of Personas and Customer Journey mapping
Once we had a general view upon the problem, we started to explore it in depth by creating 2 different personas, Maria – belonging to the leisure traveler segment -, and John – belonging to the frequent traveler segment. We looked at what are the needs and wants of these two personas and how do they feel across their customer journeys. This way we could really see the specific pains of such customers of hotels and learn how to transform them into gains. What stood out was that the guests are not properly welcomed, one of the most important moments when hotels could make a great impression on their guests is ruined by the boring check in, where you have to fill in always the same registration form, show your passport, and for repeat travelers this is indeed a very annoying process. More than that, hotels` rooms are filled with standardized and unnecessary things, such as the minibar, and the preferences of guests are many times not accounted for. Here`s a video our team has developed using Animaker in order to encapsulate these pains of hotel`s customers:
Coming up with the Solution and building an MVP
Once we could really visualize all these pains, our next step was to continue brainstorming for an eSolution which would bring increased value for hotel`s guests. We went through discussions on different technologies and opted for an interactive digital assistant under the form of a webpage, app or web pop-upbased on the needs and possibilities of each hotel.
From this point on, we had to see which features are worth including so that our solution would really address the identified pains. Firstly, we created a prototype by drawing on paper different features and went around the campus with it to ask some travelers what they think of it. Secondly, we pivoted some of the features and tried to increase the innovative character through an interactive interface which resembles a conversation with a friend or an assistant who is trying to help the traveler get a better and more personalized hotel experience.
We really wanted to emphasize this human like character and that`s how the name of Emma was attributed to our solution. After we knew what the personality of Emma would be like and how she helps hotel guests, we went on to design a virtual prototype. Throughout this step we have used www.canva.com for design purposes and www.invisionapp.com for prototyping how the website would work like. At the end of this process, we obtained a good MVP which was tested with a frequent traveler and a leisure traveler as well, receiving very good feedback.
The final form of our solution was a responsive and easily to integrate tool in the form of an app, website or pop-up page. This solution combines useful features such as the personal guest profile stating his/ her preferences, the pre-check in, the “problem manager” and the unique feature “my mini-bar choice”. EMMA has a modern and innovative interface resembling the process of creating a social media profile with focus on the guests` accommodation preferences. It is like a personal assistant which asks the guest what he/she desires and then stores these preferences in the guest`s profile. The guest sets up this profile one time and then the hotels he/she stays at can require access to it once they adapt EMMA. Through a single click the hotel has then access to valuable information which will help them to make the guest feel special during his/ her stay.
Therefore, the customer journey becomes very pleasant for the guest and the process of delivering a qualitative and personalized stay gets faster and more efficient for the hotel.
Beyond the creative and innovative process
So far so good, but many ideas remain just ideas because their developers fail to put together a business plan. We went on to look at our solution from the perspective of the Business Model Canvas. Now we didn`t just have a prototype, but a holistic view on who should be out partners, what is our market and how can we generate revenue streams. You can find more details on our market, competitors, pricing, needed resources and finances here: https://tinyurl.com/y685syur.
And just when we thought the hard part had passed, we discovered what`s one of the most crucial moments in such a project: pitching in front of investors to get funding. We kept hearing in this second semester that we should kill our darlings, referring to those project ideas we are too close to. Even though we pitched our solution many times, it never got easier to defend our “baby” and it really felt like it would have been good to know how to “kill our darlings” in some moments.
But while we live, we learn, and from this project we felt that even though most of the developed products, including EMMA, will never make it to the market, it was a chance to practice the innovation process and further our knowledge about what has to be taken into account in such projects. Our advice: carry on a very extensive market analysis once you get an idea of a solution and don`t be afraid to go further than Google`s first page of results.
If you ever want to start such a project, our team`s tips for you are:
- Be flexible in your focus and don`t limit the brainstorming process
- Kill your darlings
- Make use of all the free tools out there for designing and prototyping: canva.com (design and presentation), www.animaker.com (animated videos), www.easil.com (design), www.canvanizer.com (interactive way to work on the Business Canvas), www.invision.com (interactive prototyping for apps and websites), Business Model Navigator (helpful to decide how you will generate revenue streams)
- Don`t be afraid to also use your hands, paper and scissors to visualize and create your prototype
- Emphasize the story, not the finances in your pitch. If the story is good, the investors will ask for details about the rest in the Q&A. Prepare some extra slides with possible graphs to explain the answers you give
- … & don`t forget to have fun.
Stay inspired & united!