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How to Win the Battle Between Privacy and Personalization

It's hard to believe that 2018 is drawing to a close. It's safe to say that few topics this year have been more relevant than the themes of both privacy and personalization. Hoteliers are swimming in opportunities to learn more about their current (and prospective) guests than ever before. But with that opportunity to swim also arrives the opportunity to sink. Many hoteliers find themselves stuck between the need to personalize their offering with user data and the need to tread carefully within new GDPR rules and regulations. If they don't tap into guest data to curate a more personalized, unique experience, they may not appeal to guests — but if they don't secure data the right way, they're putting guest privacy (and their reputation) at risk.

But the battle isn't as simple as sink or swim. Modern consumers decidedly connect with brands who understand (and cater to them) on a personal level, while privacy concerns are at the forefront of that same conversation. McAfee surveyed 6,400 people globally to learn more about how they handle and protect personal information. The survey revealed that one third of those surveyed did not think they could control how companies collect personal information. In a 2016 global study, unwanted marketing was cited as consumers' top concern about businesses using their personal data (59 percent), followed by their data being sold to third-parties (58 percent) and organizations having unsecure systems (55 percent).

But in that same breath, the personalization guests crave today extends far beyond a hotel just knowing their name upon arrival or their ability to receive targeted and personalized marketing communications. Today, savvy consumers expect their preferences to be saved within systems and devices, their voice commands to be recognized by digital assistants, and their hotels to offer specialized upgrades, room preferences and personalized communications. The modern consumer is fueled by instant gratification and hyper-connectivity; these are all concepts that thrive on the availability of relevant user data to curate a unique experience.

How can hotels (safely) tap into guest data in a way that benefits their guest and their travel experience, without neglecting privacy measures? Ultimately, how can hoteliers can win the battle between privacy and personalization? There is not a single, easy answer.

As most (if not all) of you know, GDPR was brought into effect to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union (EU). Following the longstanding realization that privacy standards are often not sufficient to truly safeguard the personal data, GDPR was enforced to give power back to consumers. This legislation applies to all data about persons in the EU (both guests and employees) and demands that hotels keep clear records and documentation of what personal data they access, where it came from, how it is shared and the consumer-provided consent to obtain that data. Given that hotels operate with the use of online travel agencies (OTAs), PMS, CMS systems, mobile apps, social media and more, understanding how to navigate within the means set by GDPR is ever-important.

However, the GDPR framework was not put in place to limit hotelier's ability to access guest data and utilize that information to curate an improved, personalized guest experience. Rather, it was created with the intent to ensure hoteliers are transparent with their guests as they collect, and best utilize, personal information. So, what's the trick here? Find a happy medium.

Guest data isn't out of reach; it's simply protected. Rather than taking, storing, and sharing without permission, hotels are now required to earn the trust of their guests. Provide your guests with clear communications when looking to collect or store information, attach clarified incentive to the provision of that information, and give them good options. Keep track of who consented, when they consented, what they were told at the time, how they consented and if consent has been withdrawn for any reason.

The work required to get in compliance is not insignificant, but these updates will also encourage more engagement from your prospective guests. After all, a recent Salesforce study found that 63% of millennial consumers are willing to share personal data for personalized offers or discounts, 61% of millennial consumers for personalized experiences and 58% for personalized recommendations. Consumers are willing to share with brands, as long as they're given adequate reason to and can trust that their personal information will be used to curate an enhanced experience.

Establishing guest trust, rapport and winning customer service experiences may require a little more work on behalf of hoteliers, but the reward is worth the return. Instead of sinking against the data, you'll swim into blue waters of a personalized, engaged guest experience.

About the Author:

The capability to understand today’s hotel guest is a priority for Concilio Labs. Terri Miller and her team developed a way to leverage hotel and public data to help hoteliers provide exceptional relevant experiences to its guests. As CEO of Concilio Labs, Terri is responsible for driving the strategic and tactical growth of the company, while ensuring innovation is at the forefront when delivering solutions hoteliers truly need. Her wealth of experience in business, management, and technology guides all facets of the company’s success. Prior to Concilio Labs, Terri was the Vice President of MICROS eCommerce leading the creative, delivery, and technical departments. With a passion for delivering results, Terri continues to grow Concilio Labs with a focus on becoming the leader in developing and delivering smart hotel products and services.