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How technology is changing the hotel industry and the impact on guest experiences

When did we decide that a high-spec HD television in our hotel room was ‘to be expected’? Is it essential that same television screen now allows us to control the heating, open the blinds and order room service?

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 industry.

In a sector 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, the goal post shifts on what is ‘possible’ and in turn, we raise our expectations as customers.

High tech hotels

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 an interesting read.

64% of U.S. hotel guests said it is "very or extremely important" for hotels to continue investing in technology to enhance guest experience

Creating the Coveted Hotel Guest Experience, Oracle Hospitality

To meet the challenge of growing customer expectations, the hotel industry is turning to technology. Innovation enables hotel operators to stand out from the competition, meet customer expectations and attract new custom.

A positive experience will not only impact a guest’s stay but also influences their behaviour and online reviews after their trip. The impact of word-of-mouth remains very high and should not be underestimated. Despite all clever marketing tactics, a customer’s genuine satisfaction and recommendation remains the most powerful.

Whilst doing research into the topic of IoT in hotels,  I was blown away by the technological explosion taking place in the industry. Here is what I learnt:

Technology to improve efficiencies

Back in 2014, a PWC report already showed Hospitality to be the fifth industry with the highest investments in sensors. Judging by reports and industry news, this investment today is critical to ensure positive customer experiences.

Automation of check-ins and check-outs

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 soon become the norm, enabling staff to focus more on creating a unique gues experience. With nearly 60% of guests however, still prefering to speak with hotel staff in person, hotels will need to work hard to strike the right balance between technology and personal interactions.

Nearly 60% of guests still prefer talking in person with hotel staff at the front desk or the concierge office

Creating the Coveted Hotel Guest Experience, Oracle Hospitality

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 businesses. 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 was a fitness fanatic or had a food allergy; they could offer free gym passes or provide a basket of free-from treats upon arrival. And what if guests could control the temperature and lighting in their room through their smartphones? Set a playlist to play at specific times? Technology can play a huge role in shaping that home away from home, making the hotel experience as comfortable and hassle-free as possible.

Technology to save energy

Many operators in the hotel industry 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, offering hotels with new opportunity to reduce operating costs.

According to the Oracle Hospitality report, room cleanliness still remains highly important for overall guest satisfaction. Technology can help operators in this area if they are willing to invest:

35% of guests said they would like the ability to schedule room cleaning and 26% said they would like to receive a smartphone notification to show if their room was being cleaned

Creating the Coveted Hotel Guest Experience, Oracle Hospitality

It seems many travellers feel that technology is effective and suited for serving guests. Watch out for Botlr robots delivering in-room items like water bottles, pillows or toiletries. Whilst they may be a novelty in select high-end hotels like the Marriott for now, there is no doubt robots will become increasingly common in hotels.

Technology to improve experiences

Technology already plays a huge 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.

Online bookings

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 too turning to technology to innovate and differentiate themselves.

On arrival

Upon arrival, technology can play a key role in setting great, first expectations. Could guests be allowed to select their own room? Which is the best Italian restaurant in town – local and not too pricey? Is there a turn-down service? What time and how do I check out?

While this may paint a picture of quite the demanding hotel guest, 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.

Conclusion

Whilst there is no doubt that technology has a huge role to play in shaping the hotel industry in 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 positive human interaction.

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