“One of the biggest challenges facing the hospitality industry today is technology,” says Shawn Olmstead, Hotel Manager at the Intercontinental Barclay in New York City.
Despite the constant hype from technology companies and service providers with sights on the grail of digital expectations, there is an undeniable trend that makes the focus on travel tech unequivocal. With converting tech-savvy consumers as the revolutionary principle, every travel industry genre does have a genuine imperative. So, to help hoteliers flex in an ever-changing environment, we need to identify the critical trends associated with the travel industry enterprise.
When all is said and done, hoteliers are not wrong in assuming that “technology is technology,” and that travelers and guests are merely consumers of their products and services. By simplifying definitions, as marketers and sales professionals, we can more readily seek and understand the latest consumer technology trends in our niche. With simplicity in mind then, here are five synergies your business cannot afford to ignore.
AI, VR, and AR: The State of Smart Hotels
“Almost a third (29%) of global travelers say they are comfortable letting a computer plan an upcoming trip based on data from their previous travel history and half (50%) don’t mind if they deal with a real person or computer, so long as any questions are answered. Over six in 10 (64%) of travelers say they would like to ‘try before they buy’ with a virtual reality preview, while 50% find that personalized suggestions for destinations and things to do encourages them to book a trip. Taking all the hard work and stress out of decision making, in 2018 technology will continue to guide us seamlessly to find the best stays and experiences for us,” according to findings by Booking.com
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) are the most talked-about trends this year, both overall and in hospitality. From automated guest services like chatbots to VR destination assistants, satisfying the digitally-empowered customer is no longer optional.
The most recent studies indicate the digitally-impatient guest now expects AI-type engagement. Traveler communication expectations, cutting smart-edge services and tools, and expanded mediums of communications dominate the travel-tech discussion. While overzealous marketers hammer out the idea of deeper and more meaningful guest engagement as a product, guests do expect these advancements.
After understanding how trends and feasibility intersect, it’s easy for us to predict that AI and VR are still in the experimental stages where hotels are concerned. AR, however, is already being widely adopted to serve guest expectations. AI, for instance, is at a stage that disruptive technology experts like Andrew Burgess describe as “naïve” intelligence.
Interpretation here tells us that all the current applications of AI are input-dependent to the point of being too limited to serve a broader spectrum of business needs. As for VR, most experts agree that this technology is “so far” best suited to gaming, etc. While edgy experiments like Reel FX VR at Hilton Hotels and Resorts promise guests a kind of virtual reality vacation preview, the guest expectation of genuine usefulness is not yet met.
Augmented Reality (AR) on the other hand is already providing those “WOW” moments for guests. A good example of this is the AR beacons hotels provide to assist guests using low-energy Bluetooth connections to communicate with smartphones and tablets. Furthermore, this technology has been with us a few years and has now become the norm. We’re not going out on a limb in saying “AR is already here to stay.”
Finally, just as AR was “far out” tech for hoteliers a few years back, AI and VR will eventually take their places. Look for more AR at more hotels in 2018, and a more extensive range of experiments in AI and VR by industry leaders. This discussion of intelligent hotels leads us to our next trend.
Connected OPS: The Hotelier’s Best Friend
Any time we discuss the integration of technologies with hotel operations we visualize the super-busy director’s eyes rolling when presented with a new connection tool. We’re sad to inform these hotel executives that the industry has not yet reached a critical mass where connected ops are concerned. The smart building replete with a host of gadgets will only see adaptation for 2018 and beyond. And if we focus on efficiency, costs savings, and another benefit for the hotel business, then this will help hoteliers learn to welcome intelligent connectivity, and all innovations bring.
From super-effective water management innovations in the maintenance sphere to smart hospitality tools that make for reductions in a hotel’s bottom line, the sky seems to be the limit from 2018 onward here. This presentation by the staff at ALICE - Hospitality Operations Platform for a recent Expedia conference on the future of connected hotels speaks volumes for the hotelier out there who wants to get ahead of this trend. Without plugging the ALICE platform conspicuously, this company and others now serve tens of thousands of properties and hundreds of thousands of guests on a weekly basis.
Further evidence of this trend comes from tremendous players like Cisco, where connected ops help huge players like IHG integrate everything from guest connectivity to workforce productivity. Clearly, this is a trend that will continue to accelerate adaptation wise.
“We’ve seen unprecedented double-digit increases in guest satisfaction scores since implementing our IHG Connect platform,” explained Jeff Eckard, VP of Global Hospitality Technology at IHG.
Beyond Space Odysseys: Robots at Hotels
Robots have been the subject of human fascination since antiquity, but after the 1950s when Hollywood made science fiction real, the mechanized lifeform has inserted itself into the psyche like never before. Baby Boomers may recall Robbie, Speedy, Cutie, and others, from the stories in I, Robot (1940–1950) by the legendary Isaac Asimov? Then the main antagonist in Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey series, Hal 9000 was the sensitive but callous intelligence that ran spaceship systems a little too clinically. Fast forward past the Will Smith film I, Robot version to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, and robots are everywhere.
As an example, the Serving Robot by LG is supposed to deliver meals and drinks to guests and customers at hotels and airport lounges – and it does it with great flair at least at the Luma Hotel Times Square in New York City where the robot butler is in high demand.
The Sheraton Los Angeles San Gabriel Hotel uses no less than eight Aethon TUG robots, and Japan already touts the world’s first robot-run: Henn-na Hotel. The list can go on. From “bell-boy” helpers to receptionists, robots are strong contenders to humans in hospitality.
The API Revolution Arrives
APIs will emerge in 2018 as one of the most empowering of hotel technologies. The vison of hotel technology vendors being more connected has arrived, and hoteliers will increasingly be able to take advantage. That ecosystem of shared information which seemed a pipe dream a few years ago, it will transform many aspects of the hospitality industry. Connecting through API registries like the one being set up by HTNG, hotel technology partners will connect for providing the most efficient and economical solutions for hotels. The ensuing level of integration will cause a paradigm shift in the way providers serve their clients.
One example of how this integration of vendors will change the landscape can be seen in the application of a single API put in play by Travolutionary. In the example they provide 80 vendors are connected via a single API that allows for geometric data sharing and business customization. APIs utilized for such cross connectivity will soon be used for everything from room mapping to advanced marketing and guest engagement. For 2018 the creation of API registries will help consolidate relative information that will dramatically improve the guest experience from their first search for a destination and accommodations.
This report from Science Direct discusses how API mashups will help accomplish this by transforming mostly “descriptive” API functionality into “prescriptive” and intuitive functions. In short, expect APIs to boost your hotel’s operational flexibility dramatically starting this year.
You Better Watch Out for GDPR
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will become enforceable as of 25 May 2018. What this means for selling rooms to EU residents is that hotels will have to reinvent strategies. GDPR essentially forces hotel marketers to get permission for each explicit marketing purpose. However, constraining this law may seem though, it also means hotels will gain a far more engaged customer audience as well. Once GDPR goes into effect, the big winners will be hotels that can create the best possible digital user experience while presenting all the new compliant information as transparently as possible.
For those hoteliers who are not up to date on GDPR, the new rule not only applies to organizations inside the EU, but it will also apply to businesses outside the European Union which provide goods and services (or that monitor the behavior of) EU citizens. The data collection and use clause make the GDPR enactment one of the most crucial trend-setting facets of the hospitality industry to watch. This is true if for no other reason than the fine for organizations in violation, which can reach 4% of annual global turnover, or a maximum of €20 million euro per instance. Like we said, “you had better watch out” to see if your marketing efforts comply.