The impact of technology across the hotel and hospitality sector cannot be underestimated. It has and will continue to revolutionise customer service, from checking in to in-room bespoke technology and facilitating new ways of consumers finding and planning their holidays. However it isn’t just changing customer interactions – new innovations can also help to keep hotel operations running smoothly and save costs.
We have come a long way in the past decade alone. The arrival of smart devices and the development of more sophisticated IT systems means that the traditional concept of a hotel is being overhauled.
The hospitality sector was born on delivering service to a high standard but the digital evolution has seen the sector struggle to keep ahead of the game, with disruptors and OTA’s impacting market and profit share. Integrating some of these technology disciplines into hotel businesses will enable them to seize the opportunity within particular areas:
• Systems integration
Due to many years of underinvestment in IT systems, many organisations have a myriad or isolated systems that are not fully integrated. This is often derived from constantly looking to provide new services to the client, whether that be a new Spa booking system or online booking system etc. The problem is that without an underpinning IT system strategy these investments not only create administrative overhead, they can actually have the opposite effect of devaluing the guest experience.
• Data management and intelligence
With the multitude of different systems required to effectively manage the different aspects of a hotel there are vast swathes of guest data existing within electronic and paper storage. The hotels that are going to make a difference are those that have their systems integrated and are able to effectively manage, interrogate and utilise their data. Hospitality is about personal service and harnessing this data will enable hotels to enhance the consumer’s personal experience by using data and understanding preferences.
• Personalisation and optimisation
There are many new and emerging technologies that could be deployed within the sector. Many can be taken from other sectors such as retail in terms of loyalty, personalisation and customisation of marketing and purchasing behaviour. When you consider how the hospitality industry has evolved in terms of decentralisation of booking in favour of OTA’s and other accommodation providers such as AirBNB, a common thread appears in that they make the booking journey seamless and frictionless for the end user and while cost is a factor, it typically isn’t the main driver.
So where exactly are we when it comes to consumer centric technology? Self-service technology is increasingly impacting the hotel experience from check in to check out. Denmark’s budget WakeUpCopenhagen, for example, lets guests check in and out minus humans, while London’s Edwardian Hotels uses mobile and online check-in where guests can select in-room amenities or specific floors.
Keyless entry is also on the rise – visitors to certain Hilton, Starwood and Marriott Hotels can collect digital room keys and check-in via apps, removing the hassle of (not losing) a room key.
By 2020 80% of the world’s adult population will own a smartphone and the arrival of 5G data networks will start to drive workplace decisions based on connectivity. This means that many people have access to a wide range of music, films and TV programmes on their devices. In response hotels are beginning to develop in-room technology letting guests stream their own movies and music to widescreen TVs and Bluetooth speaker systems.
Intelity’s ICE application, available at more than 500 hotels, lets guests submit requests including room service, wake-up calls and housekeeping directly to the relevant hotel staff. More than 85 % of hotel guests have used the system during their stay.
We will see this evolve further as technology is used to personalise room preferences and needs. For instance, rooms allowing people to set their preferences for lighting and TV stations and when to draw the blinds. Hotel groups such as Starwood are already experimenting with Bluetooth sensors that would connect to guests’ phones as they approach, displaying their names and room preferences to reception.
We are also seeing hotels start to embrace the mobile apps and website, with moves to ‘mobile first’. Most major hotel chains now offer a mobile service that takes care of room bookings, check-in, room service and check-out and in fact, hotels are projecting that as many as half of their reservations will soon be made through their mobile app. There is an incredibly high adoption rate of the mobile app in the industry, and it’s being used for a variety of services to improve accessibility and convenience.
The soon to open Arrive Hotel in Palm Springs will offer a mobile app that allows guests to use their smartphone or Apple Watch for check in and as a room key—like the SPG Keyless system that Starwood Hotels already has in place in many of its properties. Virgin Hotel in Chicago has a mobile app that also allows control of in-room features like lights and temperature, while Delta Hotel in Toronto has partnered with Samsung to provide guests a complete smart room experience: a smart desk and a smart TV—which doubles as a menu for hotel services—are both controlled from the guest’s smartphone or tablet.
The mobile app is making life easier for the business traveller too, proving extremely useful with large groups who arrive for meetings and conferences. Marriott and Starwood have each introduced a meeting services mobile app to offer 24/7 help access via chat, with other major hotel brands soon to follow suit.
However, customer-facing technology is like fine tailoring; nobody wants an ill-fitting suit. It is important for hotel companies to identify the systems and hardware that best align with their brand and their way of working. It would appear that certain new technologies can have an instantly detrimental impact on a hotel’s carefully-considered aesthetics. For example, iPads in Nineteenth-century country house hotels are not a natural fit. It’s also important that a sector of customers who may prefer face-to-face customer service rather than a smartphone do not feel alienated. A ramping up of technology and app use needs to go hand in hand with maintaining a careful balance of the newest technology with good, old-fashioned courtesy.
Contributed by Kevin Edwards, Director at Avenue 9, part of JLL’s Hotels & Hospitality group