Using tech to affect consumer happiness

The Huffington Post Canada reports on a race "to unveil the latest and greatest in futuristic finds and impress even the most tech-obsessed guest" and suggests that on the high-tech anvil are hotels that feature robots that take luggage (already there in the Yotel New York), retinal security locks, in-room body heat sensors and on-tap O2."  The underlying presumption is that customers' contentment, particularly among millenials, is driven by technology.

 However, if technology is a proxy for materialism then it appears that it falls short more often than not. That at least was a point of view at the Happiness Summit in New York City earlier this month. The event featured speakers from academia, live event production companies and
medicine sharing their knowledge of marketing experiential, rather than
material, purchases was covered in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal. Speakers suggested that "experiential" rather than material purchases had a higher probability for satisfactory outcomes among consumers. 

The viewpoint from academia was that material purchases stokes a me-too race to the bottom while experiential purchases "free up consumers from keeping up with the Joneses".  Experiential purchases, such as a visit to a museum almost always results in happier outcomes for consumers as they "prefer to be defined by experiences rather than brands." Further, "people generally enjoy conversations about what they've done more than
those about what they've recently purchased."

 The notion that experiences boost happiness levels far more so than tangible purchases was also echoed by industry players one of whom hoped that "more companies will champion the school of thought that technology
should be the servant, and not the master, of its user. On average  smartphone users check their devices every 4 minutes and 48
seconds."

Apart from contributing to pervasive levels of attention deficit syndrome,  it is unclear if sticking  more devices inside a hotel room such as a television that doubles as a bathroom mirror is going to leave a hotel guest feeling more satisfied much less more efficient: shaving and/or applying make-up while watching TV probably calls for a level of double tasking that likely will leave the consumer more unsatisfied with both. This does not take into account technological obsolescence that gets accentuated with millenials due to their tendency to BYOD (bring your own device). That will drive capital costs to unsustainable levels in short order.

At a clinical level, an oncologist at the summit spoke about prescribing family experiences to provide an
escape from cancer and increase patients' happiness. Hotels and resorts surely can and do contribute to patients' and their relatives' happiness by providing a platform for togetherness in locales; that will do far more for the happiness quotient in consumers than any gizmo.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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