Leveraging Technology in Hospitality: Delivery Session with Benjamin Bohnenblust, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Benjamin Bohnenblust has spent most of his career in the hospitality industry, leading marketing and sales teams, driving business strategy, and building consumer experiences in hotels, airports, public venues, and more. So it’s safe to say over the last 20+ years, he’s seen the industry evolve in extraordinary ways as emerging technologies elevated consumer expectations.

Now, as the Senior Regional Manager Digital Experience at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, he’s spearheading the brand’s Digital Guest Experience Program across the brand’s western mountain region in Canada — a collection of storied and historic properties which include four Fairmont resorts, as well as sister Accor property, The Rimrock Banff. We sat down with him to learn all about how they’re leveraging the new tech to redefine guest experiences and offer a level of personalization that’s never been possible before.

Can you share a little about your background within the hospitality world?

I’ve spent most of my professional life in the hospitality world. Even before getting my degree in Tourism, I got my first exposure to the industry as a ski/snow instructor at a mountain resort. After University, I spent 12 years at Booking.com, progressing across Global Management and Leadership roles. I started out in account management and sales in Switzerland before assuming the responsibility as a country manager in Norway to grow the Nordic accommodation market. I then moved to North America as part of the commercial strategy team, spearheading the advancement of our commercial programs and the performance of our products within them, as well as implementing and managing the launches of our cross-initiative platforms.

In my current role at Fairmont Hotels, I’m leading the development and rollout of our Digital Guest Experience Program, which is our new product designed to enhance the digital experience for our guests, from long before they ever step foot on our resorts — and even during their stay. While currently being piloted at Fairmont Banff Springs, this program will roll out across the collection at our other renowned resorts: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, The Rimrock Banff, Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, and Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Tell us more about this innovative digital experience platform.

With a massive portfolio of experiences in our mountain resort properties, from dining, spa treatments, guided tours, and more across each of our properties, this platform offers everything guests need to plan and personalize their trip in whatever way they want to. This internal marketplace provides an exclusive guest journey that starts long before arriving for your trip, allowing you to plan your experiences, and book equipment, activities, and reservations to ensure a seamless pre-arrival and an enhanced vacation from the moment you get there.

In our second phase of the platform’s rollout, we also plan to facilitate the destination experience with third-party providers who offer even more opportunities to explore the area and personalize their trip outside of the property grounds. For example, one of these providers provides 90% of bucket list tours that travelers visit in each of our locations, so our partnership will really allow us to deliver on the desires of our guests across the board.

How has marketing and/or guest experiences changed in this industry as new digital trends and technology emerged?

Consumers will continue to use tech as long as it is simple and user friendly — that includes travelers. From keyless check-ins to digital wallets, they enjoy the convenience of having options at their fingertips, and they want the entire journey to feel seamless across every device. While many people now use mobile to plan their trips, others still prefer the traditional methods of talking to an agent on the phone. You also have guests who may browse ideas on their smartphones while they have a spare minute in their day but wait until they're back at their desktop to actually book. It’s our job to ensure that no matter where or how people are planning their experiences, we’re staying consistent across every touchpoint of their digital journey.

As technology continues to advance, our expectations for more personalized experiences are higher than ever. When we visit a hotel or plan a trip, we want every interaction to be catered to our unique interests and needs. Whether it's a solo traveler or young family, a vegetarian or foodie, people don’t like having to search too long or hard for the information they need, especially if it’s cluttered by details that aren’t relevant to them.

In addition, consumers are increasingly drawn to the self-serve options. We see it in grocery stores and restaurants, often for the same reasons mentioned above. These options allow us to control our consumer journey, move at our own pace, and feel in control. And that’s what we’re striving for with our guest experience platform — a way to make exclusive experiences feel distinctly theirs.

Lastly, there’s the sustainability factor. Today’s consumer is very interested in understanding their carbon footprint. They want to know that when they travel, the properties and service providers that use sustainable practices and are eco-conscious in their offerings. Catering to these preferences is and will be increasingly important to being a brand these guests can trust and support.

How do you maximize your team’s performance and keep up with consumer demands in hospitality marketing today?

In our region, we work in very small teams across properties, keeping us lean and agile in our processes. This allows us to remain close to the various stakeholders and product champions that represent the needs and requirements of each location, while accommodating the needs of our corporate leadership teams. While consistency is super important across our entire portfolio, there are small nuances to consider that make each property unique, so there are a lot of moving pieces that factor into every decision.

And communication is key. By making sure everyone is clear on the expectations and aligned on the plans moving forward, it allows each team to be involved in the bigger picture and contribute to our progress more intentionally.

What are your keys to success in creating elevated guest experiences?

  1. Deliver on Reliability. It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s often more difficult than many people realize. As we began piloting our product, we saw the intricacies involved in these robust types of technology, and there is a lot of room for gaps. But if you can smooth out the bumps to make it reliable and easy to use, you’ll create loyal customers.

  2. Always Make it Personal. Make it easy for people to customize their experiences at every touchpoint — from booking and pre-arrival logistics to planning events and activities that cater to their unique needs. Give them the ability to control their journey and go at their own pace, regardless of the devices they use and experiences they’re searching for.

  3. Work Around Your Workflows. Whatever products you're implementing have to support your current operations. No product value can overcome the challenge of disrupting your existing processes, especially when your properties have several hundred rooms and multiple restaurants and activities. You have to make sure the product fits into your environment for it to be successful.

  4. Be Agile. Like previously mentioned, we keep our teams intentionally small because it allows us to be agile in adapting to changing environments and new opportunities. And we encourage full collaboration across all stakeholders and properties because it facilitates diversity of thought and new ideas.

  5. Listen to Your Customers. Create as many opportunities for user feedback as possible and make it easy to give it. In addition to the usual methods of collecting feedback, we plan to create functionality that allows everyone who books with us the ability to share the reviews and make comments on how we can improve the experiences directly in the platform. We’ll make it part of our process to analyze each one and track certain keywords to see if and how the experience platform is mentioned. The more we can put ourselves in our guests’ shoes, the better we can do our jobs.

What does the future of the hospitality industry look like and how can marketers prepare?

The expectations around digital will only continue to evolve as its capabilities do, and so we’ll have to keep modifying our approach to the ways we use it. Right now, people are responding so positively to our platform because it addresses the fundamental needs of consumers: allowing them to cater to their specific needs at a pace they control.

Unlike many other booking platforms who design their digital experiences to drive more revenue, our goal was to create a product that enhances and enriches the guest experiences, which in turn will benefit everyone. It’s a much harder metric to measure compared to traffic and leads, but as the number of customers who are using these tools to build better travel experiences for themselves increases, we’ll better be able to understand how to improve in ways that will continue to bring them back to our five iconic resorts time and time again.