5 Emerging Technologies That Are Digitizing The Hotel Industry

18th Apr 2017

The human touch is the edge that lets us stay on top of machines. Which is why even in the days of driverless cars, chatbots and VR teleporting, the hospitality industry still manages to retain the economic moat of providing comfortable environment for guests and meeting their personalized requirement, a task primarily fulfilled for humans by humans.

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This does not mean that the hotel business will not use technology, or is not already using technology. They will, however, use it to complement the efforts of their staff rather than replace them. The hotel industry thrives on excellent ‘guest services’ and when it comes to personally attending the needs of guests, nothing can do it better than a real person. The hotel industry will only triumphs if digital technology can embraces and compliment physical guest experiences and not work to replace it. So while the hotel industry, like any other, will experience some dramatic changes, the crucial difference will be that that the hoteliers of the future will be primarily interested in information, not a more efficient laundry room or robotic waiters.

Bearing that in mind, let’s look at some of the interesting technologies that can help hoteliers get the ‘information’ they need in order to elevate their guest experience.

1. Predictive Analytics

History is littered with disasters that could have been prevented through better and more timely analysis of facts. Though there was enough information available to anticipate these disasters, all of it remained fragmented.

If hotels are planning to effectively harness emerging and maturing technologies, they should be focusing on expected business results rather than which comes in the shiniest packaging. It’s best to invest in software and systems that won’t just tell what problems they had yesterday, but also which are likely to appear tomorrow. If the hotel systems are fit for purpose and integrated, machine learning and predictive analytics will help them deal with problems they wouldn’t have known otherwise.For example, what if a hotel knew to order more fish for Friday during Catholic Lent, or hire more French-speaking staff during school holidays in that country.

On a more granular level, technology will be able to suggest which individual guests should be targeted for promotions on spa treatments or meals, and what minimum percentage discount will  influence their spending behaviour. Discrete sensors will take notice of how long a guest spends in the gym and whether he stops in front of the florist, and advise the hotel management accordingly. If a hotel has multiple revenue centres on its premises, is part of a chain or generates a high level of repeat business, it cannot ignore this individualised aspect. This will both boost profitability and improve services; best practices are already shifting from optimizing the revenue from a particular bed, to a particular guest.

2. Wearable Tech

The vast majority of hotel guests will arrive with a smartwatch on their wrist or an iPhone in their pocket. And that all hotels are not yet taking advantage of this fact is shameful. Certainly, one’s website should be responsive (meaning, designed to display well on mobile devices), and one should have a dedicated app that keeps track of loyalty points, serves customer satisfaction quizzes, orders room service and more, but that is only the tip of the mobile iceberg.

Already, most high-end establishments have realized that few arriving guests want to wait in line, announce that they’re called Smith and that they really did mean to make a reservation for three nights, just so they can be handed a key. Using digital encryption and electronic room locks, all of this can be handled in less time than it takes to find a porter. Two hotels in Ibiza have already enabled their guests to access their hotel rooms through a smart bracelet. It also allows them to make payment via PayPal system and share their experiences on social networks through the numerous tactile screens.

Using wearable tech is convenient for guests and also decreases the peak-time load on front desk staff; but the benefits do not end there. The client will now probably have his “room key” (smartphone, Apple Watch, or your own RFID card) with him everywhere he goes in the hotel, which means the management can effectively track all the moves of their clients. Location sensings’ potential is still undervalued in the industry, but combining information on how guests move with other data will give hotel management a holistic picture into their clientele’s requirements. For example, if a group of guests left the hotel at 8 a.m. the last two mornings, it might be worthwhile making sure a car is ready for them. Combining numerous such data points can help one make better short-term staffing decisions, and so on.

3. Chatbots and Better Communication

10% of all questions asked on a hotel website and at the concierge desk are likely to make up 70% of actual queries. “What time does the kitchen close, is there a Chinese restaurant nearby, can I get a wake up call at 7?”If all these questions could be answered without having the staff involved, it would leave them with a lot of time to focus on other things.

Judging by the eagerness with which chatbot start-ups are being bought up by larger companies, many fewer of these routine enquiries will soon need to be handled by human workers. Chatbots, while not yet able to parse complex queries or act as true brand representatives, are improving at an alarming rate, already finding applications in niches such as giving financial advice based on someone’s bank records and spending habits, or in a variety of customer service applications. As the underlying technology continues to mature, guests will be able to ask increasingly complex questions and get reasonable answers – whether in German, Hindi or Tagalog.

4. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

VR and AR are still in their infancy as far as their full range of applications is concerned, which only means that early adopters are going to enjoy a huge advantage over their more lethargic counterparts. Marriott, which is already ahead of the curve, launched VRoom Service, “a first-of-its-kind guest service that allows guests to order inspiring virtual reality experiences to their rooms.”

When it comes to brands, “immersive marketing” is soon going to be the phrase on everyone’s lips. Internet marketers have fumbled around for years in finding an advertising model which can be compared to television or radio adverts: something that entertains or at least doesn’t bore and frustrate the viewer, something that can’t be tuned out the way we’ve all learned to do with web pop-ups. Virtual reality seems to be it. Pictures are insipid; VR tells a story that potential guests will be happy to listen to.

5. Energy Management

There was a time when the only motivation to use technology was financial. But now the motivation is also social. A lot of hotels will be looking at deploying energy management techniques to earn the label of an ‘eco friendly’ hotel. It’s about time hotels imbibed the virtues of sustainability. After all, everybody is aware of the dangers of global warming and environmental degradation. This move will certainly help in attracting guests who are eco-conscious.

All categories of hotels should be investing in smart and wireless energy management solutions. For example – New York’s InterContinental Barclay has already upgraded to energy-efficient windows as part of the hotel’s $180 million renovation. Although an expensive undertaking, this is one of those projects which offer a long-term return on investment.

Intelligent in-room sensors will help monitor and report on energy consumption. They’ll tell you when it’s time to turn the HVAC on or off. Occupancy Sensors, Door Switches, CO2 Sensors, and/or Window Switches – all of these will be playing a major role in the hotel industry and in reducing the world’s carbon footprint.

The Digital Wave – Ride It or Be Ridden

Hospitality is one of the oldest, and in some ways the most traditional profession around. Staff proudly wear uniforms that went out of fashion a century ago, people are called “sir” and “ma’am”, and a hotel that opened in 1900 almost automatically claims higher status than one constructed yesterday. It is also a type of business that requires a staggering amount of capital to start, which means that planning takes years rather than months.

But now that the digital era is upon us, hotels cannot afford to ignore the technology that comes with it. Establishments which can afford to implement the best of what is currently available will enjoy an immediate advantage, but those who can’t should certainly have a digital migration strategy in place. Whether you’re in London or Lusaka, your guests won’t tolerate dropped Skype calls or slowly loaded Netflix films (and their virtual reality equivalents), and bandwidth needs alone are going to go through the roof. 2017 seems to be a tipping point in a number of ways. For hotels, the IT wave is here , and you will either ride it or be ridden.