|Attendees and suppliers navigate the HITEC show floor Thursday morning.
Let me just say it: Walking a tradeshow floor for two and a half days straight usually isn’t my idea of fun. And I’m not a woman, which means I don’t even have to do it in heels.
However, I can say with all honesty that HITEC offers a really fun tradeshow. If you talk to the right people and position the questions correctly, you really can get a sense for what next big technologies will impact the hotel industry.
So what was the one big technology that stood out at HITEC 2012? It’s a question I field a lot, and it’s a question that’s really hard to answer because there never is just one flashy, effective, time-saving, badass product. There are revolutionary products that will wow the guest, products that will save hoteliers operating costs, products that will drive revenue and products that will simplify the guest experience. Comparing them all is apples and oranges, and I’m sorry to report that I can’t identify one industry-altering product that will turn hotels upside-down.
One product that would shell shock the hotel technology space if it went away, however, is the iPad. Certainly bringing tablets into the hotel space is nothing new, but it was amazing to me how many vendors have adapted their product to work on Apple’s device. There are entire companies built on an iPad-only platform. Lots of them. And I’d venture to guess that 60% of the exhibitors at HITEC use the iPad platform to deliver their product or service.
It all left me wondering: What happens if the iPad goes away?
Certainly mobile platforms and tablets are here to stay, but technology evolves. And it evolves fast. Is some new technology we haven’t seen yet going to make the iPad obsolete? I can say with confidence, yes. How long until that happens? If I were a hotel technology supplier that built my entire product and company based on the iPad, it’s certainly a question that would be at the top of my mind.
That’s not to say I don’t love what hotel technology suppliers are doing with the iPad. Mobility will make the front-desk obsolete as there’s no need for a clerk to be hiding behind a bulky desk and computer.
In fact, my crystal ball doesn’t show check-in clerks greeting you in the lobby, tablet in hand, walking you through the process. It shows cocktail tables with built-in touchscreens where guests check themselves in. At the time of check-in, guests will have the opportunity to choose room types, explore different rate plans, pick exactly which room they want via a mapped floorplan, add wake-up calls or dinner reservations, and of course, share their location with all their friends on the various social-media sites.
The opportunities the iPad brings to the guestroom are long overdue. How inexpensive do tablets have to get before hotels install them in every guestroom? The in-room tablet should eliminate the annoying paper directory book, make ordering room service, setting wake-up calls, adjusting the temperature, changing channels and finding local attractions substantially easier.
There are a lot of companies today that turn the iPad into a digital concierge, and hotels should seriously evaluate which one is the best fit for them. If the technology is able to interface with the property-management system, that provides an additional incentive because billing is automated and the hotel can collect and analyze the ever-important guest data, which marketers can use down the road.
Of course iPads require an Internet connection, and the lack of affordable bandwidth in hotels remains a concern. New evolutions in that space allow for hoteliers to monitor what actions are hogging the most bandwidth and cap and control them—not just down to the individual guestroom but down to the individual action. If hoteliers see that guests streaming movies from Netflix is eating up 80% of bandwidth, they can put a cap on the amount of bandwidth Netflix can occupy. And supposedly they can do so without affecting the guest experience.
Technology is playing a larger role in the guest experience each year. No hotel owner could afford to install all the latest and greatest products seen at HITEC this year, but I encourage you to weigh your options and find one that best fits your target guest. With minimal investment in just one of these guest-facing technologies, it can provide a real differentiator from the hotel next door.