Hotel technology experts shared new trends hoteliers should watch for, including enhancing guests’ stays from booking through check-out, artificial intelligence and mobile engagement.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Each passing day potentially brings about new innovation, and hoteliers must keep up with this pace of development, evaluating whether a new piece of technology will help their business or simply fizzle out.
Hotel News Now reached out to hospitality tech experts to find out what trends they’re watching closely—from new devices to new ways to use existing tech.
From booking to check-out
Some new technologies are in play for the full guest experience from pre-booking all the way to the final survey, said Robert Cole, hospitality marketing and travel technology consultant and founder of RockCheetah.
Technology can help by gathering information that better personalizes a guest’s experience, he said—for example, that the guests are likely coming as part of their honeymoon because they clicked on a banner ad running on a bridal magazine website.
“You know why they want to travel, so you can make a more informed user experience and sell them everything they want,” he said. “There’s no reason to sell them on a ‘kids eat free’ program if they’re on a honeymoon.”
Armed with that guest knowledge, Cole said, hoteliers can tie in the booking confirmation email, pre-arrival emails and apps that can sell other things about the destination, such as romantic restaurants or tickets to a popular show.
“You can cross-sell to have great experiences,” he said.
Once the guests arrive at the hotel, it’s about streamlining registration, Cole said. A JD Power & Associates study on airlines found passengers had less satisfaction the more they interacted with airline employees, he said, and the inverse is true with hotels.
That might sound like it runs counter to the growing popularity with technology enabling remote check-in and keyless-entry apps, but Cole doesn’t think so.
“It’s not that guests don’t want to interact with staff,” he said. “They want to interact when the benefit is for the guest.”
Looking at the traditional hotel stay, almost every required interaction benefits the hotel, Cole said, such as checking a guest’s ID, signing a paper stating the check-out time and agreeing not to smoke in the room. On top of everything else, he said, guests then have to stand in line to get the bill.
Best technology practices use these interactions to give guests a better experience.
“The challenge now is how to use that tech to facilitate that, not to eliminate staff from interaction, because you want guests to feel welcome, at home, with true hospitality,” he said.
There are some apps that allow remote check-in, Cole said, and others let guests choose a particular room, which creates the opportunity to upsell and cross-sell. These should work relatively easily with most modern hotel property management systems, he said. The apps can also allow communication with the guests.
The perfect app is something that unifies the streams of communication into a single stream the hotel can use, Cole said, incorporating booking, pre-arrival, room status, roomservice and requests for tickets to a show.
“All of that is consolidated into one area that’s streamlined for the guest,” he said. “Here is the behavior of that guest and their interests and things they ask for. That is really, really powerful, extremely powerful information.”
AI development and voice control
Red Lion Hotels Corporation has been testing different artificial intelligence solutions to see how they fit within the business for both back-of-house operations and guests, Chief Information Officer John Edwards said. There are many options in the space, he said, but there aren’t any real leaders yet. Red Lion is taking its time to find the best partners to help it through what will be the future of the natural machine-learning age, he said.
The company has started to discuss the possibility of using AI infrastructure for housekeepers or front-desk associates, he said. If one of them has a question, such as how to do a deep clean on a guestroom, or a guest has a unique service issue, the employee can ask a question through the online- or mobile-based tool set, and the AI can scour a database of answers and then present options back to the team member.
“It empowers the person to get answers faster,” Edwards said.
Hilton has begun exploring cognitive learning and speech recognitions and the scenarios that could apply, said Jonathan Wilson, VP of product innovation and brand services. The technology can automate personal responses to individuals based on the way they speak instead of just word matching.
The company has found a partner to move development forward, he said, and it’s creating a concierge experience where voice recognition turns into cognitive learning. One area of focus is implementing the technology in meeting spaces. In the past, if a room was too cold, a guest would have to find a hotel employee to request a temperature change, and that person would then have to find the person who could make the adjustment.
“We want someone to comment in the meeting space, ‘Oh, it’s cold in here,’ and the temperature slightly adjusts,” Wilson said. “That’s where it becomes powerful with a personal approach and speeds up the response.”
Although it’s an exciting development, voice control technology has some drawbacks.
Some groups are “doing crazy things,” Cole said, like equipping every room with iPads, which is an expensive piece of hardware that requires updating.
Tech with room voice-control elements also requires guests to sit down and spend a couple of minutes for the device to learn their voices, he said.
“Guests do not want to do that,” he said. “They want it to intuitively, seamlessly work.”
Voice-activated components are still in their infancy and have issues with how well they work, HTNG COO David Sjolander said, such as understanding different accents and requests when all the guest wants is to close the curtains.
“There are also security issues,” he said. “Those devices have to be listening all the time to hear you say ‘Alexa’ or whatever. Who’s to know who is listening to that?”
Red Lion is focused on mobile payments as more guests use mobile devices, Edwards said. The company is talking to different solution providers around mobile payment, he said, focusing on implementing it during the reservation process this year.
“It’s one of those things we can’t ignore,” he said. “Guests are booking more and more through mobile phones.”
For most hotels, the mobile experience is much like the desktop process, Edwards said, but with online retailers, the mobile experience is completely different from desktop. Hoteliers have to look at it in some ways completely differently, because consumers as a whole are interacting with other solutions and providers similar to hotels in a different way.
During a recent business trip to Amsterdam, Sjolander said the Hilton where he stayed had a sign that gave guests a number to message while they’re on property or out in the city. The concierge would receive the message and help them by answering questions or fulfilling requests, such as booking a restaurant reservation. The messaging format aids in the cost as well as the translation challenges posed by phone calls, he said.
Texting is easy for guests, Sjolander said. Everyone does it already, so there’s no need to teach them something new, he said. For hoteliers, however, there’s more work involved. It requires adding tools to consolidate it and managing them to make sure guests are receiving responses to their requests.
“It takes a little bit of work, but it provides a great service for the guest,” Sjolander said.