Part 2: More hype or substance: Are these 6 technologies poised to truly transform hospitality?
This is part two of a two part series on busting through the hype to find substance in six buzzed-about technologies. Last week we reviewed three technologies and this week we close it out with another three.
Emerging tech goes mainstream, part 2
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.
Machine learning is already facilitating millions of dollars of transactions every hour. Out of all the technologies that have impacted hospitality, machine learning has had the greatest impact in the shortest time.
Machine learning is when algorithms continuously improve by adjusting to new inputs into the system. This continuous improvement means that the machine is learning, improving predictions as it process new inputs. A chatbot is a basic form of this process, whereby the chatbot chooses from a set of outcomes (phrases a chatbot can answer with) according to whichever uncontrolled inputs it gets from the user.
How machine learning works for supervised learning. A great overview is here.
When it comes to machine learning, most pundits agree that we have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible. It’s still early days, as the most sophisticated machine learning technologies still have a prohibitive cost for many hoteliers.
This is already changing. As processing power increases and training algorithms improve, impressive results from the technology generate more awareness among hotel management. That creates a virtuous circle, with vendors stepping in to offer machine-learning-as-a-service, empowering revenue managers to run predictive modeling on their own data.
As more companies start using supervised learning, which uses known outcomes to craft a model for predicting future outcomes, the natural evolution is to start deploying more unsupervised learning, where the machine uses inputs to predict future outcomes and define relationships between variables.
Data-driven decisions are becoming the norm in hospitality, defining much of the future of hospitality investment, revenue management, and operational excellence.
Verdict: Of all the technologies here, this one has already completely changed the way that hotels run all aspects of their operations. Chatbots are already reducing workloads on call centers, routing customers more quickly to the right information. Machine learning makes it feasible for hotel pricing algorithms to take various factors into consideration when pricing rooms, such as demand forecasts and local events. Machine learning also can inform a variety of other decisions, such as where to place a hotel or how many staff to schedule.
Artificial Intelligence: Robotics
Whether it's Pepper the Robot, a robotic bartender on the high seas, or a hotel front desk staffed entirely by dinosaur robots, the industry’s robot experiment is in full swing. In this phase of experimentation, robots can be used as clever marketing hooks or as dutiful always-on concierges.
One of the most obvious use cases for robots is to take over certain repetitive tasks that can be hard to staff for. Tasks such as delivering room service or bringing a toothbrush to a guest room are easily replicable by robots.
And, given that hotels struggle to find reliable staff, these tasks don’t always deliver the highest level of employee satisfaction. Savioke has stepped into this area, putting robot butlers in hotels all over the world. Hilton has invested heavily in a robot concierge named Connie that combines the physicality of a robot with machine learning that helps it personalize suggestions to travelers.
There’s clear substance to the value robots can provide in reducing costs and increasing guest satisfaction. Even so, hospitality requires thoughtfulness to be delivered well. Surely robots can be thoughtful, but they may not be the right fit for every hotel brand. Hoteliers should carefully consider what parts -- if any -- of their guest’s experience could be enhanced by robots.
Verdict: Certain use cases are especially intriguing for robots: the Savioke robot can reduce the need for humans to deliver items to rooms. This can either save auto money or allow it to redeploy existing resources elsewhere. While that helps the bottom line, it’s the promise of robots that has not quite delivered. It remains to be seen whether guests prefer human interactions over robots, or if the desire to streamline the experience without a human.
Biometrics are here to stay. Apple's recent launch of FaceID shows that consumer adoption of using biometrics for identification is only a matter of time. Whether it’s a fingerprint or a face, consumer technology has prepared users for a post-password future driven by biometrics.
IBM’s recent Future of Identity Study shows that consumers are ready to use their faces and other biometrics for authentication. Surveying 4000 people, the study emphasized just how far consumers are on the adoption curve when it comes to biometrics.
In a separate study, Visa found that 86% of consumers are ready to use biometrics for payments. It can't really get more mainstream than that! And as consumers are used to paying for things with their own personal identifiers, the concept of using the same biometrics to access a hotel room becomes a realistic expectation.
Travelers will increasingly become frustrated that hotels aren’t matching the level of technology and interactivity found in the home.
Verdict: Complete integration of biometrics into a hotel would be transformative. It could reduce the need for check-in and check-out, eliminate the frustration of lost or de-activated key cards, and streamline payments across larger properties. Just as RFID is used by brands like Disney to foster seamless guest experiences, biometrics are poised to do the same for hospitality. Traveler comfort and adoption are the only hurdles -- and even those don't seem like hurdles any longer. Biometrics are soon to be table stakes for hotels!
This was the second part of a series. Read the first article on emerging technologies here.