When did we decide that having a high spec HD television in our hotel room was no longer sufficient for our needs? Is it now essential that it allows guests to also control the heating in the room, message the hotel staff and open the curtains?
Fuelled by technology and the immense power of the Internet of Things (IoT), consumer expectations are growing. This is true within every industry and in none more so than the hotel sector. In an industry where customer expectations for a positive experience run particularly high, technology may just provide the means for overcoming this challenge.
Technology for consumers means an easy life and our appetite for this lifestyle is insatiable.
With every new app or connected device, we shift the goal posts for the-art-of-the-possible and, in turn, we raise customer expectations.
IoT shows us that we no longer need to manage expectations because technology means anything is possible.
High tech hotels
A recent report by Oracle Hospitality surveyed almost 3,000 US and European travellers to better understand the importance of technology for a hotel guest experience and it makes for interesting reading.
To meet the challenge of growing customer expectations, the hospitality industry is turning to technology. Innovation will enable hotel operators to stand out from the competition, fulfil every guest’s expectation and attract new custom.
A positive experience will not only impact a guest’s stay but it will also influence their behaviour and online reviews after their trip. The impact of word-of-mouth remains very high and should not be underestimated, despite all the clever marketing tactics.
Whilst doing research into the topic of IoT and technology in hotels, I was blown away by the technological explosion taking place in the industry. So, here’s what I learned.
Technology to improve efficiencies
Back in 2014, a PWC report already showed hospitality as the fifth industry with the highest investment in sensors. Judging by reports and industry news, this investment today is critical to ensure positive customer experiences.
Automating check-in and check-out
In an effort to improve efficiencies, hotels are looking to automate the check-in (and check-out) process.
Mobile hotel check-in and check-outs may well become the norm soon, enabling staff to focus more on guest experiences.
Hotels will need to work hard to strike the right balance between technology and personal interaction.
Keyless entry is expected to accelerate over the coming years
Unpredictable swipe cards will soon be obsolete, replaced by an app on your smartphone, which will be the ‘key’ to your bedroom.
The Hilton hotel is leading the charge for keyless entry. Having already introduced the Hilton Digital Key app back in 2015, Hilton now aims to install keyless entry service in 2,500 hotels by the end of 2017.
At some point in the future too, facial recognition software may also be available to unlock guest bedrooms.
Creating a more personal experience
Personal data is fast becoming the number one commodity for organisations. With all this data come a wealth of insights, which can help hotel operators deliver a ‘personal touch’ for every guest.
Just consider, if the hotel knew their guest is a fitness fanatic or had a food allergy. They could offer a free gym pass, or provide a basket of ‘free-from’ treats upon arrival.
How about if the guest could control the temperature and lighting in their room through their smartphone? Or even set a playlist to start at a specific time?
Technology can play a huge role in the effort to make your stay as easy and hassle-free as possible.
Technology to save energy
Many hotel operators are committed to environmental sustainability programs and reducing energy. Starwood’s environmental goals were launched in 2009 and pledge to cut energy use by 30% and water use by 20% by 2020 globally.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide uses “daylight harvesting” to adjust indoor lighting, based on the amount of natural light coming in from outside.
Thanks to motion sensor technology, lighting can be turned off automatically or temperature reduced when a room is unoccupied.
The robotics trend in hotels
Travel Weekly recently reported on the Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS), where predictions were made for the growth in hotel robots to deliver guest amenities and clean rooms.
If predictions become reality, you might just find Maidbots cleaning your hotel room in the next five years. Investment into these types of technological innovations are fuelled by decreasing technological costs, which at the same time provides hotels with the opportunity to reduce operating costs.
According to the Oracle Hospitality report, room cleanliness is still very important for overall guest satisfaction. Technology can help operators in this area if they are willing to invest:
It seems many travellers feel that technology is very effective for serving guests. Watch out for Botlr then — robots delivering in-room items like water bottles, pillows or toiletries.
Whilst they may be a novelty right now in select high-end hotels like the Marriott, there’s no doubt robots will become common in hotels. You’ve seen Back To The Future 2, right?
In Japan, robots in hotels are not just a novelty but a reality. Henn na Hotel opened in 2015 and is the world’s first hotel staffed by robots.
Technology to improve experiences
Technology already plays a huge a role in the travel lifecycle. From the moment you see a TV ad for a vacation or when you are blasted with a remarketing ad whilst idling on Facebook, the connection with technology to find, book and review your hotel/travel experience is made.
The emergence of more and more travel sites like Expedia, Kayak, Booking and of course Airbnb are making it even easier for consumers to find the very best deals, the best adventures and the greatest experiences.
These sites are great news for travellers but present stiff competition for hotel operators, who are turning to technology to innovate and differentiate themselves.
Once arrived safely at your hotel, and now as a captive audience of your hotel operator, technology can play a key role in setting great, first expectations.
To satisfy growing needs, arriving guests could and perhaps should be given the opportunity to select a specific room.
Once inside the hotel bedroom, guests are already able to access in-destination activity choices thanks to hotel TV software, but could this go a step further?
What if the hotel TV could also make local restaurant recommendations and perhaps even make a dinner booking? Sounds too good to be true? How about the ability to message hotel staff, if, say, the hairdryer is missing from the room?
Instead of using a clumsy TV remote control, how much better would it be, if you could do all this, and more, through a phone app?
This may paint the picture of a very demanding hotel guest, but the Oracle Hospitality report states these as top initiatives, which guests would like to see in hotels:
- capability to select specific room locations (45%)
- means to share information about in-destination activities (41%)
- the check-in/check-out process (39%)
- ways to make service requests (36%)
Demand for data analysts and scientists
In recognition of the power of technology to provide invaluable data, it is not just the hospitality but banking, retail and other industries that are also seeking to recruit programmers and other techies, previously the exclusive talent pool of tech companies like Google.
To truly understand their guests, hotel operators are increasingly turning to data scientists to get ‘under the skin’ of their customers.
To meet consumers’ high expectations, hoteliers need to know their interests, likes and dislikes to help deliver a unique, and very personal experience.
This can make a long-lasting impression and provide that sought-after memorable experience.
Whilst there is no doubt that technology has a huge role to play in shaping the hotels of the future, there are some things it can never completely replace: the human touch.
The reality is that whilst human interactions are becoming less and less common, when they do take place they are more precious than ever before. Hotel operators must remember to still provide a positive human interaction.
We’ll have to wait to see if this is still the case in 40 or 50 years time.