Microsoft Exec Shares Xbox Lessons for Hotel Owners

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Microsoft sees a future where everyone has a personal AI assistant and a digital ID, and travel companies with permission can tap into that data to create personalized experiences.

Xbox could teach the travel industry a few things about the customer experience.

That’s why Microsoft, which owns Xbox, is applying strategies from the gaming industry into next-generation tech products for travel clients.

Shane O’Flaherty, Microsoft’s global director of travel, transportation, and hospitality, shared the company’s thinking during a presentation at the HITEC hospitality tech event this week. 

“[Xbox is] probably at the tip of the spear around digital engagement with the consumer,” O’Flaherty said. “The idea is they track every player’s movement on the planet, and they’re constantly presenting them with content to make their journey a better journey.”

It’s all about driving emotional engagement with consumers instead of focusing only on transactions like upsells. The former elevates the overall experience and creates memories, he said — more likely to drive repeat business

That approach could work for specialized events, for example.

In gaming: If Marshmello, the DJ, joins the video game Fortnite as the host of a virtual event for 20 minutes, the number of players on Fornite explodes. (Besides the fighting game, Fortnite is a metaverse with multiple places where players can meet and attend events.)

How that translates to travel: If a hotel knows that 40 of its guests love whisky, the hotel could create an impromptu tasting event and send a note about it to those specific guests. “And all of the sudden, 12 people come down, and you’re creating this emotional connection with your brand and creating a community in your hotel,” he said. 

Progression unlock — in other words, completing tasks and getting rewards — is another gaming tactic that travel companies could apply. 

It could be as simple as prompting a guest to take a selfie on a hotel balcony and post it on social media in exchange for a certain number of points. 

“As we rethink what we’re doing around customer journey, the focus in the future is all around content and community,” he said.

First, Data

For hotels, access to very specific guest data is key before that level of personalization is possible.

That’s where Microsoft and others are helping travel companies create easily-accessible robust digital profiles for guests.

It’s a similar model to the customer app that Starbucks has built. If a customer orders or pays for an item through the app, data from that sale is stored to the user’s profile, and then Starbucks can make relevant offers in the future. 

“This is low hanging fruit in our industry,” he said. 

Microsoft spent $50 billion on research last year, all focused on AI, O’Flaherty said, and the company will likely spend that much or more again this year. Microsoft has invested billions in OpenAI since 2019, which it where it sources its generative AI tech. (Read: How Microsoft Is Deploying OpenAI’s Tech in Travel)

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