Right now, sitting around a wooden conference table, a team of global hotel companies executives is agonizing over what technology they should be investing in for their future survival.
In this ever-changing marketplace, they will inevitably choose to only invest on the safe bets that are already becoming industry standards or in areas that they easily understand, such as entertainment. This cautious approach will protect the return on investment on the millions of dollars required to roll out new technology throughout all of their key global markets and brands, but it will never change their business model.
Most people will look for almost immediate returns on this investment, so it must either place new customers into a sales funnel, resolve an existing problem, reduce costs, utilize resources better or automate inconsistent human processes before it is even considered. The downside to this thinking is that is just an adoption of only the tried and tested that will not lead to true impact on the customers.
Technology is being developed for what the hotels say they need to offer today rather than looking to the future to see what the business model will be like and working towards that. We should all be considering disruptive technology that may scare us at first, but will ultimately change our businesses forever. If we do not, others will quickly appear in our marketplace who can offer more relevant innovation for our customers.
Your focus should be shifted from what you want to achieve to what your customer wants to achieve, and then priority should be looking for ways to innovate around this. Life is no longer linear; our careers, our lives and our values have all changed. The question is has your business adapted to these changes?
Social changes of tech
Over the last five years, our society has been changed drastically by technology. The rise of mobile devices has integrated technology so deeply into our daily lives that it has effectively changed human behaviors. The way we think, the way we communicate, the shortening of our attention span, and the way we interact on a one-to-one basis has fundamentally changed forever. This is not limited to the Millennial generation but extends people of all ages, who also use these tools on a daily basis. From 8 to 80, we have all become part of generation ‘C’ – the ‘Connected’ society.
New businesses have been born overnight, built on the first wave of mobile adoption by the masses to feed the initial hunger for apps and social platforms. The second wave of business integration is passing, bringing with it an amalgamation of our social and work lives.
These changes have brought to the forefront an open exchange of ideas and values that have aligned us to others across the globe. The stand out change has been the almost addictive emotional need to share our lives with others in our groups: we share our photos, our private moments, and yes, we share a lot of our food.
This rise of the ‘sharing economy’ has allowed us to add our voice to the conversation. We cannot wait to add our two cents worth. We write our own blogs, and we receive more of our news from our social sites rather than traditional media. Even brand loyalty has been torn from the arms of the advertisers and placed firmly in the fingers of our social networks. To understand this seismic shift is quite hard until you actually analyze what you do on a personal level in a day compared to what you did in a day that occurred five years ago. What we need to do is take time to listen, watch, analyze and utilize what is going on so that we can align our businesses to offer a more emotional experience.
The hospitality industry had ignored this, so it was of no surprise to see market share disappear to the likes of Airbnb. They took couch surfing and made it into a multimillion-dollar business, purely by allowing people to connect and share experiences through their platform. Their business model is more about trust and sharing than it is about selling. They even have gone old school to produce a magazine called Pineapple so that they can penetrate the average consumer supermarket with their ethos, which will create awareness about their brand among a new demographic.
The bottom line, if you have not noticed – Today the sharing economy rules!
Quite simply, what gets shared gets attention, and what gets attention gets purchased.
So what direction should hospitality take with technology in the future?
That is the multimillion-dollar question, and no one really can predict the answer as there is constant innovation at every junction. One thing I do know is that the trust of your customers will, for the next few years at least, denote success.
I remember 15 years ago biometric fingerprints were going to allow us to bank, pay for goods, and open hotel room doors, but at the time there was a lack of trust, so traction was lost (although today a scan of my finger allows me to open my phone or computer, enter an office complex, enter countries, and even verify that I am the owner of a Disney theme park day pass).
Technology adaptation is measured as much by trust in the product as it is by the benefits it brings. Mobile has become a central point for many as we have learned to trust our devices because of the amount of time we interact with them, nearly every six minutes of our waking lives.
For the hotel industry, the focal point for investment is quite easy: EMOTION.
The next experience you create for your guests must be exceptional and emotional, so all of your focus should be on helping you to achieve this.
• How does this technology make a person feel?
• Will this investment invoke trust?
• What emotional state will this create?
Then you will have to go to look at every touch point your company has with its customers to see that every area answers these questions. This will be a huge shift for many, as the way we measure ROI will also have to change and not everything in this new emotionally driven society will be clear cut enough to organize in an Excel spreadsheet.
So what about the tech?
Future technological innovations will become smarter as devices become more capable to listen and record our interactions with them. In the hospitality field, this will be prevalent on many levels as we look to innovate and adapt success from other industries to place within our services.
The guestrooms will become personalized extensions of your guests
Guestrooms will become a personalized oasis of familiarity.
Computers will store the guest’s preferences based on previous visits in relation to temperature, decor, and lighting. As they check in, the room will automatically reset to their default previous settings.
A guest’s eyes will control their passwords. One flick of their eye across a screen sensor will allow them access to all of their social media channels through your screens. A playlist will appear so they can choose what plays in their room.
Voice-activated concierge systems will control the in-room amenities as well as answer guest questions and suggest possible solutions. This is ‘Siri’ on a grand scale.
Innovations in new fiber technologies will be adopted by companies such as Nike to create breathable, anti-bacterial, waterproof furniture fabrics, finishings, and mattresses that never need a deep cleaning.
New materials in bathrooms will reject debris, thus reducing the use of cleaning chemicals.
Simple charging pads that can suit all a guest’s devices will sit atop a desk. No more cables, no more adaptors, just a charging pad to leave the device resting on so it is ready for a guest to grab and go.
Back-of-house areas will go green
Biodegradable packaging for delivering foods to the hotel and to the guests will be standard. Property management systems will control everything from lighting levels to electricity usage, thus controlling the strain on global resources. Blank roofing spaces will be filled with mini-farms to grow usable herbs and flowers for the hotel. Payments will be accepted both in peer-to-peer virtual currencies as well as through traditional banking systems.
Banquet rooms will all connect securely to all of the guest’s devices to allow presentation sharing straight from a phone, tablet or laptop. If a presenter is stuck in an airport lobby miles away, then they can still log in and join. They can interact with the presentation, add notes, and highlight it in real time just by moving their hands over their tablet as they sit waiting for their plane. Remember this is not an option; this will be a standard as these are already available in offices.
The value in every conference or meeting is never the technology on show; it is the connections made or ideas shared. The easier the technology is to use the better.
Virtual conferences will be turned into 3D visions as you allow conference organizers to sell more virtual seats. Your venue is limited by its physical size, so offering a virtual 3D platform will be beneficial for both you as a hotelier and the meeting or event organizers. I want to feel like I am in the room, not just watching on YouTube, so investment in 3D technology cameras and software that can link to a virtual headset on the other side of the globe will be beneficial. Questions can come in live form the 3D hub in the center of your meeting venue.
Health will be paramount
The health of loyal customers will take center stage as we are connected virtually to our health professional networks. Information, such as food allergies or disabilities, can be communicated automatically by individual guests and travel through your systems from property to property, which will populate in F&B POS systems upon check-in so no mistakes are made.
Updates on your guest’s fitness programs can also be sent from their phone to your fitness center. Their regime can then follow them as even fitness machines will adopt the resistance of the equipment to their personal settings as the guest swipes a smartwatch across a sensor.
Wearable tech is already here and will appear slowly within the hospitality space. Virtual product tours and guided show rounds through VR headsets, such as the Oculus Rift, will become the norm. You can take guests on a virtual tour of your hotel from the comfort of their home or office so they can make decisions about whether to book.
Social integration of your business
Honesty and integrity from businesses will increasingly be placed front and center in all areas of life as consumers rely more on social channels to publicly communicate experiences and resolve issues.
Hotel reviews should be featured on your websites, not on third-party sites. Guests who have to move to another site to read them may never click back to your hotel website. Keeping guests on your channels will allow them to see how you reacted to issues expressed in other guests’ reviews.
Guest comments should be monitored and flagged for response. Not just the ones sent directly to your staff, but also those sent off guest devices into the social universe. They will expect you to listen and answer even though they did not directly contact you.
How you treat your hotel employees is already being shared on social media channels. If employees respect the brand and deem you a fair employer, guests are more likely to spend money with you and view the brand positively.
Your future: The bottom line
The ways that hotels have traditionally attracted and served guests are changing, so look now at what you wish your business to be and how technology can help you get to this place faster. Your future business will be defined by the adaptation to and use of technology.
The decision you have to make now is whether your future will be a result of your proactivity or if you will passively wait until change happens to you.
Robin Hawksworth, Director of RDHawksworth Hospitality Consultants
This post is part of a new Guest Feature series that we will be posting to our blog. The views expressed here do not reflect those of Intelity and are intended to provide diverse commentary on a range of topics relevant to the technology, hospitality and travel industries.