What makes a holiday memorable? Increasingly, a personalized experience is key. After a trip ends, it’s the little things that stand out in a traveller’s mind. A welcome card from the staff. A chocolate on the pillow during the first night. And a hand-written farewell and thanks on the last.

Research carried out by Forrester for Sabre Hospitality supports this. It found that nearly twice as many travellers prefer to stay in hotels that know them, as opposed to those offering anonymity.

But, despite its increasing importance, many hotels still aren’t using technology as effectively as they could to offer guests a personalized experience. This is why it was high on the agenda at the International Hospitality Technology Forum 2017 in Paris.

Good service is a powerful way to personalize a customer’s travel experience. But paired with the effective use of data and technology, hotels can make travelers’ trips truly memorable.

Capture customer information – the earlier, the better

Hotels take customer service seriously. It is something they invest in heavily; teaching new employees how to ‘wow’ guests.

However, the reality is it’s only possible to offer a truly personalized experience if you have rich information about them and their preferences. Some of this you can pick up in person. For example, you might detect an accent, and ask if they have travelled far.

But, to truly surprise someone, you need to be tooled with information that can’t be picked up just by looking at someone or having a brief chat. And, the earlier this information is obtained, the more you can do with it.

At best, hotels can capture this information at booking, collecting details about why they’re travelling, and if they have any special needs. This is hugely powerful. Hotels can then use this information to, for example, allocate business customers quieter rooms, or give families rooms with larger bathrooms.

Of course, it’s only possible to get this type of rich information if your customers are booking directly on your website. If your customers are coming through intermediaries, not only do you not own the data – which means you don’t have the right to use and access all this information by default – but you don’t have the power to ask more questions to make their stay more meaningful.

A personalized experience goes beyond the bedroom

Increasingly though, a truly memorable travel experience is one where personalization is added at every customer contact point.

This means personalization has to extend beyond the bedroom – to the restaurant, bar, spa, activity centres, and much more besides. This is more powerful in surprising and exceeding the expectations of customers. If a couple travels for their anniversary, the restaurant staff can provide complimentary drinks or a more private table.

It is often not possible to capture all this very specific information in advance, nor is that desirable as it would mean longer booking forms which will frustrate customers.

But this information can be gathered when the customer makes a restaurant booking. Hotels can ask, much like they do for rooms, the purpose of dining, and if they have any special requirements.

The big problem, though, is that many hotels still do not have robust online booking services for restaurants and other additional services. This usually means that the customer either just turns up, and the staff are flying blind without any detail to personalise their experience. Or they book through an intermediary where, once again, the hotel has no ownership over the data, and no control about the questions that are asked.

360° view of your customers

Delivering a personalized experience is also about delivering a joined-up experience; knowing what customers have been doing in other parts of the hotel, and sharing information across different hotel departments. This gives hotel staff the opportunity to anticipate their needs.

For example, if a customer has been on the hotel tennis court all day, the restaurant staff may be able to suggest a healthy meal that complements their activity. The guest is provided with a holistic customised experience.

For many hotels however, delivering this level of service is challenging because customer information often exists in siloes: the restaurant operates on one booking platform, the meetings and event team on another, and the spa team on yet another.

Hotels should endeavour to make sure that all the data they collect on customers, regardless of which department is collecting it, is fully accessible across the whole hotel group. So if a guest visits the New York property and they ask for a certain spa treatment, the same treatment will be offered when they are visiting the London property.

Personalization is a powerful tool for hotels to make visitors’ trips memorable, and differentiate themselves in a market where competition is fierce – and may get fiercer. But to take personalized experiences to the next level, hotels need to make sure they are using data to its full potential. And that means both getting hold of it as early as possible, and sharing it across the hotel properties.