10 Customer Experience Innovators in the Hospitality Industry

Providing a superior customer experience is absolutely essential for gaining a competitive advantage among hospitality companies. Today’s consumers expect the best out of the businesses they engage with, especially when it comes to the airlines, hotels, and eateries they encounter while vacationing. For those looking to learn from the best, we’ve uncovered 10 of the industry’s customer experience leaders and how their innovations are helping travelers make memories of a lifetime. 

The Ritz-Carlton

Its claim to fame: Empowering employees to craft above-and-beyond customer experiences.

In the 1980s, the Ritz-Carlton’s founding president initiated the policy that employees can make a decision worth up to $2,000 in order to keep a customer. While employees need not resort to using all of that discretion, the point of the famous “$2,000 Rule” is to tap into the potential of each employee to do more than what’s defined by their job description. Take, for instance, a curious case from the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai: The resort’s maintenance staff built a wooden walkway down its private beach in a day’s notice, simply to ensure that a guest could join her husband on the beach with her wheelchair. 

The key here isn’t the amount of money a business spends— it’s how much its leaders trust employees to do the right thing, resolve issues well, and think of creative ways to “wow” their customers. This kind of trust empowers the Ritz-Carlton staff to make decisions in the moment that will quickly resolve issues and create memorable experiences, all without having to go through levels of leadership for approval.


Its claim to fame: Leveraging technology to level-up customer safety and convenience. 

YOTEL locations worldwide have gained a massive appeal among the digital generation, and the hype comes down to the group’s mission statement: “We embrace technology to create a seamless experience”. For starters: YOTEL has replaced the traditional front desk with check-in and check-out kiosks, thereby empowering guests to spend less time in queues and more time exploring their destinations. 

While convenience has always been a hallmark of great customer experiences, consumer expectations are quickly shifting in the wake of COVID-19. According to a recent survey by Oliver Wyman, improved health and cleaning is the chief factor impacting guest decisions to stay at a hotel. That’s why select YOTEL locations equip their rooms with autonomous, disinfecting robots as an extension of their operation #SmartStay safety measures. This represents a critical step towards enhancing how hospitality providers protect and reassure their travellers. 

Disney Cruise Line

Its claim to fame: Focusing on the details to turn ordinary encounters into magical moments. 

Outperforming 480 companies in 160 retail categories, Disney Cruise Line recently earned the #1 spot in Statista and Newsweek’s “Best Customer Service Companies 2020”. This may come as no surprise to those who have boarded a Disney Cruise ship and met its Crew Members, who take the time to understand each cruiser’s preferences and provide exceptional service accordingly. 

A defining factor of the Disney Cruise experience is the rotational dining system, which allows cruisers to dine at three main dining rooms and have the same servers accompany them to each one. A dedicated serving team adds a layer of personalization to the evening entertainment aboard the ship: After a single mention, diners can expect to have their likings and unique nutritional needs met every night. Servers remain dedicated not only to remembering each diner’s needs, but also to making impressions that last long beyond the cruise. 

Southwest Airlines

Its claim to fame: Transforming a frequent flyer program into a superior customer experience.

Given the abundance of major American airlines, such fierce competition in the travel industry begs the question: What keeps customers coming back, flight after flight? Southwest Airlines seems to have found the answer with its new-and-improved Rapid Rewards program, which provides a flexible and no-fuss way of making flying worthwhile. 

One major selling point of the Rapid Rewards program is that there are no blackout dates for flight redemption and no expiration dates for accrued points. Beyond that, lower redemption thresholds ensure that the program remains relevant to a broader base of travelers beyond just the core customers. It’s features like these, according to Southwest’s very own Johnathan Clarkson, that “bring an element of ease to a process that many customers associate with friction and confusion”. The engagement that follows is unparalleled, as evidenced by Soutwest’s status as J.D. Power’s “No. 1 Airline in North America”.  


Its claim to fame: Empowering customers to order and pay in a way that’s most convenient for them. 

With avid beverage enthusiasts spending thousands of dollars per year to get their Starbucks fix, just about any outsider would assume this establishment serves magic coffee beans. What’s to credit here, however, is an expeditious customer experience. The Starbucks app has long resolved the two biggest drawbacks of a typical cafe visit: waiting to pay for your drink, and waiting to receive it. 

barista customer experience

Thanks to its “order ahead” feature, the Starbucks app has provided a fast and seamless customer experience that has made it a top form of mobile payment in the US, a close second to Apple Pay. Customers can browse the in-app menu at their convenience, choose a drink, and pay directly in the app. Beyond the purchase, additional “Star” points reward loyalty and personalized drink recommendations keep customers engaged. Order-ahead may be the new normal for food and beverage providers, but this feature’s seamless integration with the rest of the Starbucks experience makes all the difference.


Its claim to fame: Mapping the customer journey to create experiences tailored to the 21st-century traveler.

For a company that offers properties in over 220 countries and 80,000 cities, facilitating a sense of community and trust in such a wide variety of contexts is no easy undertaking. However, carefully mapping the customer journey has empowered Airbnb to provide the customer-centric experiences that have made it a pioneer in hospitality. The process starts with understanding the defining moments of the “Airbnb experience,” and co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk turns to storyboards as the way to do so.

According to Blecharczyk, a typical Airbnb storyboard “depicts the different steps someone goes through from the time she first hears about Airbnb to the time she leaves post-visit feedback”. This collection of frames feeds into “a roadmap for figuring out what a customer expects in each of those situations, what we were doing to meet those expectations and where we had an opportunity to create a ‘wow’ moment.” Whether it be building products for its users or perfecting the services of its hosts, the Airbnb team prioritizes tasks based on which frame of the storyboard each one serves. What follows is just the right set of experiences for Airbnb customers, which serves profound functional and emotional effects.

Proximity Hotel

Its claim to fame: Upholding sustainable practices to make guests feel good about where they lodge. 

According to research by LoyaltyLion, 89% of consumers would switch to a business that’s associated with a good cause, given similar price and quality. Those seeking environmental change are voting with their wallets more than ever, and the case of Proximity Hotel is no exception: As the highest-rated “green” hotel and restaurant in America, this luxurious establishment generates loyalty with exceptional guest offerings and environmentally-conscious practices to match.

Proximity Hotel uses 40% less energy and 30% less water than similar hotels, all thanks to its exemplary structure and 70+ green initiatives. Recycled building materials, wide expanses of solar panels, and high-efficiency plumbing fixtures provide just a taste of the Proximity difference. Such initiatives enhance the company’s positive image and generate savings that can be put back into the guest experience. In fact, almost half of the respondents of a recent case study said their decision to stay at Proximity was influenced by the company’s sustainable practices. This goes to show that social responsibility is a new defining factor of the customer experience, one that drives loyalty and revenue alike.

Chick Fil-A

Its claim to fame: Rethinking traditional management approaches to serve each community’s unique needs. 

Putting the Ritz-Carlton and Chick Fil-A in the same list may raise some eyebrows, but this seemingly ordinary fast-food establishment couldn’t have topped the American Customer Satisfaction Index without serving some stellar hospitality initiatives. Great tasting food gets people in the door, but it’s the personalized customer experience that keeps them coming back. 

fast food customer experience

The “secret sauce” to the Chick Fil-A experience is its bottom-up management structure, which encourages each operator to become invested in the restaurant’s local environment. Khalilah Cooper, Chick Fil-A’s director of service and hospitality, credits these operators for “pouring an extraordinary amount of care into their team and to their customers each and every day”. Not only that, but they’re also empowered to share innovative ideas with the corporate support center and watch them filter out through the rest of the company. It’s thanks to this localized approach to the customer experience that Chick Fil-A has made cookie-cutter storefronts a thing of the past.

Emirates Airlines

Its claim to fame: Using biometrics to move passengers through airports quickly and effortlessly. 

We’re all (unfortunately) aware that the traditional airport experience is riddled with inconveniences, ranging from understaffed checkpoints to long queues. In 2019, Emirates acknowledged this customer experience gap and introduced One ID as a way to bring some peace of mind back into traveling. This new system uses biometric facial recognition technology to replace each passenger’s personal documents with a unique digital identity. In addition, the Dubai International Airport even offers a “Smart Tunnel” for Emirates flyers, which uses a similar system to complete passport control procedures in seconds. 

These innovative travel solutions enable passengers at select airports to efficiently move through check-in counters, passport control, duty-free stores, and boarding lines without having to take out their passports and boarding passes. In the wake of COVID-19, enabling similarly streamlined and touch-less journeys through public spaces is the most important way for hospitality providers to show they care for customers. Innovative safety measures may just become a prerequisite for an exceptional customer experience, and Emirates is ready to check that box.


Its claim to fame: Delivering “white glove treatment” with elevated self-service and customer analytics. 

hotel customer experience

Hilton has made a name for itself in the hospitality industry by keeping its customers in-charge and in-the-know at every stage of the travel experience. Members of the Hilton HHonors loyalty program can personalize their stay with the Hilton app, which allows them to select the room they’d like, check-in, order meals ahead of time, and even unlock their rooms using a digital key. With Hilton’s series of “Connected Rooms,” guests can also use the app to control the TV, lighting, and temperature of their rooms as soon as they check in. Even better, the app will save each customer’s preferred in-room experience and automatically apply it to future check ins. 

Giving guests more control over their rooms is just the first step in providing an innovative customer experience. Hilton uses past purchase behavior and learning engines to anticipate guest’s service needs and provide intelligent recommendations for future bookings. These recommendations address anything from rooms with great views to nearby activities that suit each customer’s interests. Hilton’s revamped remote controls and digital concierge ultimately streamline processes for itself and its guests… that’s the ultimate win-win for CX!

Upgrade Your Customer Experience

Feeling inspired? Look no further than RSVD. Whether you’re a hotelier looking to safely manage capacity or a restauranteur looking to get more people enjoying your meals, our reservation technology will empower your business to provide a better customer experience. Learn more about how RSVD can help you manage demand, improve customer satisfaction, and market smarter.

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