Hoteliers are always on the lookout for the latest and greatest technology, so Hotel News Now reached out to those in the know to find out what technology they’re watching for in 2018.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—To remain relevant with guests and predict their traveling needs, hoteliers are watching new developments in technology to see how consumers use them, as well as how new devices, software and services could be best implemented on property.
Hoteliers know they walk a fine line between “leading edge” technology and “bleeding edge,” constantly evaluating whether a new development would be a good investment that would improve the guest experience as well as generate a return.
Hotel News Now reached out to hospitality tech experts to share their thoughts, predictions and plans for technology in 2018.
What new/emerging technology are you watching for in 2018? Will next year be the time to invest? Why or why not?
Armand Rabinowitz, senior director of strategy and workgroups, HTNG: “The emerging technology that people need to invest in for 2018 isn’t necessarily physical technology, but individuals who can harness the power of technology. We’ve heard about big data for years, with a notion to collect more and more data to round out the guest profile and enhance the customer experience. The reality is that only a few hospitality brands seem to actually be using big data to its full potential and reaping the promised rewards. The challenge isn’t the lack of technology, but it’s finding the data scientist who actually has the ability to understand our complex business.
“On the other side of the hotel tech world, consumer devices continue to emerge at a rapid pace, making even hotel tech from 2015 seem dated. Mobile app UI/UX needs to be updated and refreshed every couple of years. Fortunately, most major hotel brand apps are not that old, but it takes a long time to roll out new features so it is required to have constant investment to compete in this space.
“The recent Black Friday sales reminded me that once again, consumers are going to have TVs and other devices in their homes that are ahead of many hotels. If hotels are looking to upgrade their systems, the current standard will only reverse to the old standard by the time these systems are put into use in the guestroom. If you want to impress guests with the latest in-room technology, consider an early adoption strategy. However, there tends to always be challenges with early adoption, so special attention and good fortune are needed to succeed.”
Reggie Piercy, SVP of operations, Vision Hospitality Group: “Digital Key is the latest technology that is still in the process of being rolled out to both Hilton and Marriott brands. It is a game changer for the guest as they can bypass the transaction process at the desk for a more efficient arrival experience. We are finding that our front line associates can spend more time assisting guests with local information and attractions. This has increased guest satisfaction scores for the arrival-experience metric as the hotel front-office team serves more as a concierge than as a financial transaction touch point for the guest stay. This technology amenity requires the guest to book through the brand.com site and be a member of the loyalty program. This is helping to reduce commission fees the hotel has to pay for rooms booked through OTA sites by pushing more room bookings to the brand.com site.”
Kerry Ranson, chief development officer, HP Hotels: “Let’s start with the question: Will next year be the time to invest? This is something we ramped up from a budgeting perspective several years ago and will continue to add more dollars in (2018). The efficiencies gained from our investments in these arenas have definitely paid off across the board, positively impacting the guest experience and also asset performance.
“It will be the continuation of building on systems that are in place to take advantage of modules not yet discovered as well as pressing the buttons to explore what other items may be out there that are better than existing platforms that we currently have; potentially even something that may be outside of the industry to assist our managers at making quicker/sounder decisions while spending more time training our teams and with our guests.
“From HP Hotels' perspective, we will continue to invest in emerging technology opportunities; not necessarily re-inventing the wheel ourselves but partnering with companies offering these services that have the ability to deliver solutions tailored to our operations and offerings.”
What will be a must-have in back-of-house technology next year?
Rabinowitz: “Sadly, the events at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas this past fall have reminded us how important it is for staff to be able to seamlessly communicate and easily call for help. There are municipalities including New York where there are regulations for hotels to provide staff with wearable panic devices. If hotels don’t step back and appropriately recognize where these solutions are necessary, regulations will likely expand. These communication tools are critical to the staff to both help them and the most valuable assets (guests) stay safe.”
Piercy: “We currently use an operational excellence software program to inspect rooms, perform preventative maintenance, and report work orders for rooms and public space attention. This technology is tied into the front desk and remote user iPod devices for key team members. I see this technology continually expanding with additional improvements in both communication and reporting capabilities.”
Ranson: “An important back-of-house technology next year will be tools that enhance revenue management and allow for (fine tuning) of budgets and forecasts. General managers will perhaps be affected most of all. They aren't technicians but must be adept with technology.
“It all relies on knowing how to dial-up the technology in the right ways. Moreover, technology doesn’t just flatten the competitive landscape, i.e. all entities can access the best in systems, but, rather, elevates ‘all boats,’ as it were. Our industry achieves greater asset valuations and overall economic prowess.”
What guest service/amenity should hoteliers look into for next year? How will it improve the guest experience?
Rabinowitz: “Voice technology continues to be a big debate in our industry and something we need to better understand to fully conceptualize. A couple of years ago, I didn’t think guests would want something potentially listening to them in their guest room, but now, millions of consumers have experienced on-demand voice technology in their homes and the benefits are outweighing the concerns. There are potentially many great use cases with various benefits of voice recognition for guests and staff. Just two examples are: giving answers to frequent guest questions, simple feedback surveys that don’t require guests to access a website or talk to a staff member they may not feel comfortable telling the hard truth to anyway. There are challenges, but trial and error of implementation are helping to overcome these obstacles. The HTNG Voice Interaction Framework Workgroup is addressing topics ranging from legal complications to deployment best practices. The group will publish a deployment guide in Q1 of 2018.”
Piercy: “The public space is becoming more activated for guests each passing year. As new brands emerge with new services, and existing brands continue to reinvent their key guest touch points, the guest experience will continue to be enhanced and improved. Public lockers, smart device charging stations, filtered water stations, interactive video boards, and active play zones with shuffleboard, billiards and games will continue to raise the bar. Moxy, a new lifestyle brand by Marriott, is the most recent brand to push the envelope by eliminating the front desk and transforming the bar as a check-in station, all while receiving a complimentary signature cocktail. The guest experience is being enhanced in the lobby space as guests continue to seek social interaction and connections while travelling on business and/or leisure.”
Ranson: “Some of this truly needs to occur from the brand perspective in regards (to) the frequent stay side of things. As an industry we must find ways to offer our guest simplicity in finding items of interest related to their stay in a ‘one-stop shop- format, providing them the ability to do things like get tickets to local attractions, and make reservations at local restaurants. This can be most effective when properties are able to identify a guest's preferences, dislikes and past issues at other hotels so that we can offer better experiences when guests want and desire interaction.
“Regarding groups and events, we continue to bring in technology support for our sales team to include being able to pull up floor plans, meeting room diagrams, equipment lists and contracts on a single smart device. The goal is to be able to detail as much of this information as possible and make it accessible to anyone, anywhere so that planners do not have to wait for our sales teams to get back to them and inundate their inboxes with more emails.”