Emerging tech goes mainstream
In discussions about hotel technology, it's always a challenge to distinguish between what is actually considered “emerging” tech. At what point does something actually become mainstream? And do we need to wait for some sort of critical mass before we can pass judgment on the technologies utility for the hospitality industry?
Let's take a look at some of these often-covered technologies through the lens of their ability to actually transform the hospitality/guest experience.
Amazon benefited from a glowing press cycle around its launch of an Alexa version just for hotels. There was palpable excitement, I journalists from global outlets covered the connected hotel room.
There're many benefits for hotels: Reduced call volume to hotel staff (room service, housekeeping, etc), an increase in the quality and scope of information provided to guests, and controlling other smart devices are three of the biggest use cases.
As long as the accuracy improves, the technology will make hotel rooms much more like the environments many travelers enjoy at home, as Marriott’s Tracey Schroeder, vice president of global consumer public relations, explained to USA Today:
“Our guests regularly tell us they want the same conveniences they have at home to be present when they travel – and deploying Alexa for Hospitality in some of our properties is one way we are responding to that point.”
Given the comfort of most consumers with Alexa, this move makes complete sense. A voice assistant can become a guest’s personal concierge, available 24/7.
Verdict: Voice has the potential to completely change the way guess interact with the hotel room. However, as we all know in our daily interactions with voice assistants, there's a lot of work to be done. Having guests in your hotel who are frustrated and yelling at a device is not good. Hospitality should still have a human touch, so we need to balance efficiency with accuracy to ensure that the guest experiences preserved.
The Internet of Things
Outside of the guest experience, the core driver for hotels to adopt voice technology is to act as a brain for the connected devices that have proliferated across hotels.
Small sensors can provide information that hotel operators never had access to before. These sensors can directly in for maintenance schedules, prioritize work, and help hoteliers make data-driven decisions.
And as the cost of these sensors become negligible, exposure to new data will empower hoteliers with information that enhances profitability through smarter operations and an improved guest experience personalized to individual guests. The Internet of Things will affordably transform static hotel operations into dynamic portraits of real-time activities. A connected hotel operation can be optimized by hotel management, as long as management is willing to operationalize the results.
Verdict: Just like in other areas of travel, the Internet of Things surfaces information that's helpful to companies looking to better manage maintenance across the property. Embedded sensors also help understand guest flow and more accurately schedule workers and even tailor marketing promotions. Combined with artificial intelligence, the internet of things is a powerful force for hotel operations.
On the consumer-facing front, augmented reality has yet to make a splash. For larger properties, there's an opportunity to use the technology to help guest navigate spaces.
For some properties, such as casinos who might want to promote a specific game to people walking by, there are opportunities that will grow with consumer adoption of augmented reality technology.
In the near-term, augmented reality could provide staff additional information layered onto their existing views. Housekeeping could simply hold up the phone to her room to see what needs to be accomplished and when. Maintenance could provide faster service at lower experience levels by using augmented reality repair manuals.
Statista plots a consumer survey on enterprise adoption of VR.
Virtual reality could help properties train staff more efficiently, putting new hires in specific situations with guests within a virtual context. Using wearables in this way allows hotels to quickly train staff -- especially important as finding and retaining staff becomes an issue for many hotels.
Outside of simulated training, virtual reality is ideally suited for marketing. Consumers have a proven desire to “try before they buy,” using the VR headset as a way to experience a destination before making the big ticket purchase.
Thomas Cook has leaned directly into this trend, crafting an in-store experience that used virtual reality to immerse potential travelers into destinations. Yelp’s Monocle has been layering digital information on the physical world since 2016.
Another brand using the technology as a marketing channel is Kayak, which recently launched an app that encourages travel exploration. Called Kayak VR, the app for Google Daydream to is “a research tool that lets you try a city on for size before booking.”
One criticism of these efforts is that it actually discourages travel because people will have already “experienced” a destination virtually. Most travel professionals feel this undersells the tangible magic of physically going to a place. Kayak agrees, saying: “nothing beats actually touching down in a new city and experiencing it for yourself.”
Kayak recently released a VR app focused on the ‘try before you buy’ advantage of VR.
Verdict: At the enterprise level, the technology is not quite ready for primetime in hospitality. While other industry verticals, such as aviation, have been experimenting with augmented reality as a guide for maintenance workers, the use case in hotels is developing. Virtual reality remains more of a marketing hook. There’s value here to the hotel ecosystem; it’s just not clear that the value proposition has been defined by vendors serving hospitality.
Distribution is a hot topic for hotels. But optimizing inventory, pricing, and channel mix, Hotels are able to gain more micro control over the economics of each day. As part of the distribution conversation, the cost of commissions and other hurdles from working with third-party partners become evident.
Yet there is still no blockchain-based solution that solves these issues. Your projects in the works, but this technology is still far from making the impact that it promises. Judgement should be reserved until some time has elapsed with actual solutions out in the marketplace.
Verdict: Still working on defining a clear benefit across the value chain. It will take a critical mass to move the blocks in from early adoption to a more mainstream approach. One area that the blockchain might see more success is with loyalty and rewards. Is the popularity of loyalty programs has expanded, so how has the administrative burden of managing these programs. Certain solutions built on the blockchain could expand how these programs develop their relationships with customers while also managing the costs associated with such programs.