Hoteliers have to make tough decisions on where and when to invest in technology upgrades, which starts with understanding whether the latest gizmo is the next integral piece of the guest experience or a passing fad.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee—How often should a hotel upgrade its high-speed internet? Do guestrooms need voice-recognition speakers? How critical is virtual reality or a robot that works as a concierge?
Speakers on a panel titled “Technology: A hotel’s best—and most feared—ally” at the Hotel Data Conference discussed some of the key issues surrounding hotel technology. Topics included prioritizing investment on upgrades, the staying power of the latest technology improvements and data security.
Tim Dick, director of Duff & Phelps’ real estate advisory group and hospitality advisory services, said it’s important to invest in technology that directly affects guests, like an app that can communicate with guests about spa appointments, restaurant reservations or special requests.
“Generally, it needs to be guest-facing,” he said. “From an ownership’s perspective, obviously there needs to be a (return on investment), but there are many ways to calculate ROI. … And is this something that keeps us competitive or something that makes us more competitive?”
Nadeem Hassam, area director of information technology at the Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C., said guests are looking for seamless technology integration in their hotel rooms that mirrors what they have at home.
“We have to make up that deficit in terms of what they have at home … or be an enabler to their technologies within the hotel environment,” Hassam said.
For example, guests expect internet speeds as fast as or faster than what they have at home, he said.
Vinay Patel, president and CEO of Fairbrook Hotels and secretary of AAHOA, said investments in broadband and bandwidth are necessary to keep guests connected and content.
“It’s not about being willing; you have to,” Patel said. “Consumers and customers are dictating what you can and cannot have, and so internet is something you have to have to have. … What I see in my own home, I expect that when I travel, so if I’m getting 100 mbps at home, I expect the same when I travel. I expect that in hotels as well.”
Dick said he’s had differences of opinion with major hotel brands on when to upgrade internet and how far to take it. He also pointed to the industry’s slow adoption of revenue management as evidence of how brands can sometimes be reluctant to integrate tech improvements.
“I think in hotels and at the corporate level of the brands, you need a chief technology officer that sits equal with the CFO and everyone else—someone that’s innovating not so much for the sake of saying, ‘Oh that’s really cool. We can stream, we can check out a 360-degree view of rooms and walk through them.’ It’s not only that. … There’s so much more with technology that can be done that the brands could be helping individual unit owners with.”
The hotel tech that’s just a fad
Panelists had different perspectives on some of the technology hotels are integrating and whether those devices will become fixtures in the guest stay.
Multiple brands are experimenting with voice-recognition devices like Amazon’s Alexa in the guestroom. Hassam said similar in-room voice tech could streamline communication—making guestroom telephones obsolete—and also provide a wealth of data on guest preferences.
“Google knows about your preferences, what you like and what you dislike, when you search and so on,” Hassam said. “Imagine if you had that then when you had a guest (enter their room), speak to their Alexa and say, ‘Alexa, can you turn the temperature up on the A/C at this particular level? Can you please make sure there’s a feathered pillow delivered into my room? … Can you order breakfast at a certain time?’ Now Alexa has the ability to amalgamate all that data and more highly associate with that person’s particular preferences, and it’s automated.”
Patel said hotels’ text-based communications with guests might be just as effective.
“I’ve had (voice-recognition technology) in my house as well, just like everybody else, and I just feel like people tend to want to communicate not by talking but just by (texting) or what have you,” he said. “The means that people talk is by text, so it’s easier to communicate via text as opposed to picking up the phone and calling.”
Dick recounted a bad experience he had with a brand app and early check-in.
“I just traveled internationally for pleasure, and I was so excited to have this one major brand’s app on my phone so I could check in ahead of time,” he said. “So I checked in ahead of time, got to the hotel, and guess what? The room wasn’t ready. So what good did that do? Then I was frustrated, because I wanted to get in the room.”
Another consideration, panelists said, is that not all guest have the same comfort level with using technology.
Still, Hassam said giving the option to use tech is appealing to guests.
“When it comes to tech or anything we provide to guests in a hotel, I think guests are wowed by choice,” he said. “If you give them the option of using something, even though they don’t use it, at least the option is there, and I think it will be useful in the long run. Having that choice is important.”
Data security concerns linger
As the hotel industry incorporates technology, hackers will continue to look for entry points to seize company and consumer data. Dick said this will always be a big concern.
“At this point in time, we’re not doing enough,” he said.
Patel said he trusts the hotel chains are best equipped to handle data security threats and take care of their franchisees.
“I hate to say this, I should worry about it more than I do,” he said. “But I trust the brands, I refer to the brands because the data is there and a lot of it you get is from the brand side. I’m hoping and trusting the brands are doing what they’re supposed to be doing as far as protecting the data.”
A hotel company or an individual property’s weakest point isn’t the technology, it’s the people, Hassam said. That emphasizes the need for employee training and reminders about best practices for securing data, he added.
“Technology isn’t necessarily insecure, but I think it’s the people: how they use it, when they use it, what they do with it. … Educating one’s users is most important,” he said. “Making people aware of what they shouldn’t be doing and what they should be doing—not only when they actually begin in your organization—but consistently talking to them about the impact of scams or what else is immediately available … these are things that not only they can do in the organization they work in, but things they take home with them.”