During the first of my carefree college years, my freshman dormmate, Kyle, left our room for only three reasons:
1. to occasionally go to class;
2. to occasionally visit the dining hall on the off nights he didn’t order food; and
3. to frequently use the restroom.
For the other 21 hours each day, he confined himself in our phone-booth sized cell of a dorm room, firmly planted within the warm glow of his then-state-of-the-art, 17-inch, flat-panel computer screen. This self-inflicted house arrest would have rendered the most stable of personalities certifiably nuts, yet good ol’ Kyle remained as jolly as Santa Claus on his way down a chimney.
I’ve encountered such unabashed optimism in other technophiles throughout the years, something I’ve attributed in part to the dulling effects of long-term exposure to binary code on the brain’s sensory receptors most responsible for despair. More likely a reason for this upbeat demeanor, however, is the cohort’s focus on future capabilities. While the rest of us are slogging through the depressing realities of today, IT-minded folk like my roommate Kyle frequently have their targets set on the anything-is-possible promises of tomorrow.
This refreshing mindset was certainly on display this week during LodgeNet’s 2009 Customer Technology Symposium in Atlanta, where some of the best and brightest in the industry gathered to discuss and share ideas about how hoteliers can reap the benefits of improved guest experiences.
Craig Mathias kicked the event off with a discussion of future trends in interactive technology and their implications on hospitality.
Mathias, who serves as principal for technology advisory firm Farpoint Group, discussed the need to be infocentric—that is, focusing on the importance of information rather than the devices that deliver that information. Those devices, he argued, are so varied and run so many different operating systems and software that they create nightmare compatibility issues for IT professionals. There’s also an issue with carrying them; while we might like our iPods and cell phones and pagers and notebooks and tablet PCs and cameras, there are often not enough pockets in a single set of trousers to house them all.
In short, we need to think of hardware as being independent of the application. Mathias outlined a number of ways this approach could be applied in a hotel:
1. Check-in. “When I check in, I don’t have to talk to somebody at the desk. I authenticate using my cell phone or perhaps my USB key.”
2. Room key. Cell phones, USB keys, or other devices could act as room keys.
3. Profiles and preferences. We all make different preferences during the check-in process. Some of us request spacious king beds, while others like rooms at the end of the hall. Mathias longs for a time when a guest’s personal preferences follow him or her from property to property. Guests would simply upload their profile, and when they walked into their hotel room for the first time, they would find everything—including the thermostat, telephone directory, TV—set to meet their personal tastes and needs.
4. Charge card. Guests should be able to charge everything during their hotel stay through a cell phone or USB key through the hotel’s intranet site.
5. Dialing directories. When a guest enters a property, the hotel’s dialing directory should automatically be downloaded to their personal device.
6. TV as computer. “I want the TV in my room to be my screen. Give me a keyboard with a little touchpad on it, and now I can use that as a computer. I don’t have to carry a notebook with me.”
7. Check-out. “Finally, check-out. I don’t have to use the TV. I can just do it on my way down to the lobby using my handset.”
Innovative steps like those outlined about are about productivity, convenience and, most importantly, stickiness.
“If you let me do this at your hotel, I’m going to stay at your hotel,” Mathias said. “If you do this before your competitors do this, I’m much more likely to do business with you.”
If they create a level of stickiness anything like those forces that kept my roommate Kyle in our dorm room, then the industry’s woes, much like my college tenure, would be a thing of the past.