HITEC 2016 Highlights: Hospitality Technology Trends to Watch

There was a record attendance at HITEC 2016, and anyone who was present will tell you it was a flurry of sights and sounds. From awesome robots, like Savioke’s Relay the Robot, to a range of upcoming start-ups in the HITEC Entrepreneur 20X showcase, there were a large number of exhibitors at this hospitality technology conference covering a range of products and services, from hotel WiFi to hotel keyless room entry solutions to hotel staff uniforms. With so much going on, it was hard to pick out the dominant hospitality technology trends this year, but here are a few that stood out.

Guest Engagement Technology

This could be considered a very broad category, but guest engagement is the main focus for hospitality right now due to increased competition and dwindling guest loyalty. Hotel technology has become a key competitive differentiator, and there were a number of HITEC exhibitors showcasing ways hotels could improve appeal with guest-facing technology.

Mobile was the strong underlying theme of the majority of guest engagement technology being showcased, which makes sense given that 9 out of 10 modern travelers around the globe reportedly don’t take a leisure or business trip without at least one mobile device with them. Mobile has become invaluable for business to reach customers, regardless of industry.

Using mobile for direct and text messaging guests was a recurring topic of discussion, with hoteliers taking interest in expanded methods of reaching guests through mobile technology. David Temple, CEO & co-founder of Hello Scout (a HITEC Entrepreneur 20X participant), gave a presentation during this year’s HITEC 2016 Tech Talks focused on the benefits of text messaging hotel guests. According to David, messaging apps now have higher usage than social media apps. One of the benefits of hotel guest messaging is the extreme personal connection this enables hotel staff to have with guests, he added.

In-room technology was also a big focus, as touchscreen tablet technology has evolved to the point where there are now models available specifically for hospitality industry needs. Reduced hardware costs and high rates of guest engagement for these guestroom devices makes them an area of hospitality technology investment that could continue to grow in popularity in the near future.

Interest among hoteliers was also in how these guest-facing technologies could provide insight into guest behavior and preferences through a collection of Big Data in hotels.

Hotel WiFi & Connectivity

Strong WiFi has been one of the most important aspects of hotel technology for years, and that hasn’t changed. But as travelers increasingly pack a wider variety of devices, such as smartphones and tablets, it’s put more demand on hotels when it comes to supporting guest connectivity needs.

Daran Hermans, the senior product manager with Zebra Technologies, said, “It all has to do with the mobile devices that guests bring into the hotels. They’ve changed completely. Not only the devices have changed, but they’ve also changed the way the network and the hotel operators have to respond to that.”

Daran identifies the introduction of the iPad as one example of a new technology that impacted connectivity in hotels by altering WiFi demands. Hotel networks weren’t designed to accommodate the use of tablets and mobile technology. Networks had to become more powerful as guests began carrying more mobile devices.

“The trend line is going toward putting one access point in every single hotel room and getting very personal with wireless,” he said.

Mobile technology and the BYOD trend among hotel guests have created other changes in hotel network needs.

Daran said, “Repeatedly hoteliers are saying I’ve got really bad cellular coverage inside my hotel.’ And we all understand that. Newer LTE phones actually don’t work as well, don’t have as good coverage as the older 3G technology did. So one of the trends that have happened to solve that problem is all the major U.S. based cellular carriers are all supporting voice over wireless LAN.”

“So between [these major carriers], your phone calls are now running over WiFi, they’re not even running over the cellular network anymore. That means now you have great cellular voice coverage inside your hotel. Now that’s a great trend. It’s great for me as a WiFi vendor because it really means that now we get to design products that work really well with those voice over wireless LAN type phones that guests are going to be bringing into hotels.”

Hospitality Cloud Technology

Hospitality has got its head in the clouds, and there are a growing number of hotels currently in the process of or interested in migration to the cloud. There are numerous benefits to the industry that come with the shift, including diminished internal hotel IT support needed to maintain onsite systems.

Tom Cook, the marketing manager of Evolve Guest Controls, said he thinks cloud technology in hotels will be a primary focus moving forward. “Trending in hospitality you’re going to see a lot of reduced onsite infrastructure and a major shift into the cloud.”

“It’s slowly making its way into hospitality. Renovation cycles, new construction, and if there’s a way to reduce onsite infrastructure and offer managed services and cloud services, I believe that’s going to be [a trend] in the next five years, in tandem with the Internet of Things and Big Data.”

Hotel Internet of Things

It’s a phrase you can expect to hear repeatedly this year, and it’s possibly the biggest hospitality technology term being discussed at the moment. It was certainly one of the hottest topics at HITEC 2016, with a number of speakers leading sessions on it.

Dr. Ajay “AJ” Aluri, the assistant professor at West Virginia University, presented a Tech Talk about the hospitality Internet of Things, during which he said surveys show that people are interested in value-added experiences in hospitality as a result of the hotel Internet of Things. In time, this trend will create demand for fast, convenient accessibility of automated functions.

He also said IoT will increase the importance of hotel integration between multiple systems in order to have seamless interaction between various devices and systems. If data can’t be fluidly communicated through these hotel system integrations, it could cause disruptions to the guest experience that would potentially decrease guest satisfaction.

In a corresponding special report for HFTP, Ajay wrote this bit of advice for hoteliers wondering about how to prepare for the coming of IoT: “The first step to the future of IoT among businesses is to embrace the Internet and Wi-Fi as the source of valuable consumer data for creating new customer experiences, no longer just for customer personal use.”

A shift is necessary for the hospitality industry. Hoteliers must embrace all the existing hotel technology trends that are widely available, and also become more open-minded and swift when it comes to adoption of emerging hospitality technologies that hold potential to allow businesses to thrive in a modern, connected age of travel.

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