Innovation along several mobile platforms is allowing hotels to operate more efficiently and acquire guests through more touch points.
LOS ANGELES—Hoteliers have heard it before: The hotel industry used to be ahead of the curve when it came to technology, attracting guests with TVs and other innovations they couldn’t dream of having in their own homes.
Now the opposite is true: Travelers are familiar with the advanced technologies they have in their living room and are often disappointed when hotel rooms don’t meet needs or expectations.
Combine that with the ability for travelers to bring their own entertainment—through devices like smartphones and tablets and via Web content streamed through the likes of Netflix and Pandora—and the hotel industry is left with a lot of catching up to do.
David Millili, CEO of Pegasus Solutions, told Hotel News Now during a break at the recent Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference that he hasn’t turned on a TV in a hotel room in eight years. He’s counting.
The conundrum facing hoteliers, sources said, is whether they should even try getting back to the cutting edge.
Given that guests are committed to bringing their own devices, a better solution is to instead allocate resources toward facilitating that connection, said Patrick Bosworth, CEO and co-founder of Duetto.
He said in his 250 days a year on the road, he hasn’t seen any signs that hoteliers are trying to wow their guests with in-room technology.
“You have to be relevant to the (bring your own device) trend,” he said during a break at HITEC. “You have to be pushing content to people’s mobile devices.”
Mobility is the backbone of innovation, sources said. While most advancements in the hotel technology world are happening outside the guestroom, they’re still happening on the mobile platform. At HITEC, Hotel News Now identified five tech trends that will shape the future of hospitality.
1. Mobile keys
In an era of personalization where travelers want to experience the hotel on their own terms, hoteliers are working to allow the guest to use a smartphone as a room key. Various hurdles have kept the much-talked-about innovation on the shelf for the past decade. But now several major companies and chains either have rolled out such functionality or are in the process of doing so.
HTL, a new hotel brand that opened its first property in Stockholm in May and has plans for 20 more within the next five years, offers guests the ability to check-in while in transit and receive a room key directly on their mobile phone.
“We don’t have a reception; we have hosts that are in the lounge. It’s always on your own terms,” said Gül Heper, commercial manager for HTL.
Guests wanting to use the mobile room key must download the HTL app, which is available via Google Play or iTunes. When enabled, the phone speaks to the door locks via a Bluetooth low-energy signal.
“Everything is secured with prepayment, and you don’t get a key unless you’ve prepaid,” Heper said. “It’s rather simple. You just stand in front of the door and press unlock.”
2. Wearable technology
Wearable technology will have all industries adapting, and hospitality should be on the forefront, said Ajay Aluri, an assistant professor at West Virginia University.
At HITEC, Aluri demonstrated Google Glass, which is expected to make its commercial debut in late summer or early fall. “It’s going to revolutionize the way we use the Web,” he said.
Aluri said using a wearable device that connects to multiple other devices (e.g. phones, cars, TVs) is the future of technology. In the travel sector, it will empower travelers with even more knowledge, and hoteliers will have to respect and entertain that.
Cyber tourism will allow those on the road to show friends and family what they are experiencing in real time. The majority of hotel reviews will have a video component, Aluri said.
“Now reading comments, seeing video and pictures is more transparent and trustworthy because you’re showing other people exactly what you are seeing,” he said. “As a business, be very careful with people wearing Glass.”
3. PMS mobility
Hotel GMs who lack people skills may have been able to skate by in the past, relying on data crunching, report management and cost cutting to prove their worth. No longer, sources said.
As the backbone of hotel operations, the property-management system, moves online, managers and line-level employees can be mobile, free to interact more with guests and each other.
Gone are the days where managers were hunkered down in the back office with the door closed. Now they can roam the lobby with a tablet, keeping tabs of room occupancies and housekeeping efficiencies in real time. Multitasking managers can monitor rate-and-inventory channels and respond to guest requests through multiple mediums, including social media.
For example, the Westin Georgetown in Washington, D.C., has deployed a wireless solution that allows guests to control temperature, lighting, TV and window treatments as well as allowing managers to message guests and monitor room occupancy and activity, all over a mesh network.
“Service isn’t as good (in hotels today) because the technology is outdated,” Aluri said. “The technology side needs to be done better. Let’s give the people who are doing great things in technology the chance to innovate.”
4. Cloud reduces costs
Ever since hotel technology systems—PMS, central reservations, customer relationship management, revenue management—began moving to “software as a service” models, less hardware has been needed at the property level.
SaaS solutions are cloud-based, meaning programs are accessed via the Web by logging onto a browser rather than physically installed on property.
Hotels now need virtually no server space on site. Not only does this condense back-of-house real estate, it also frees up IT professionals to perform more tasks critical to efficient operating and reduces the need for costly on-site customer support.
5. Innovation in guest acquisition
While in-room hotel innovation has been limited, reaching guests in the discovery and booking phases of the travel lifecycle has received much attention.
Hotel brands and third-party distribution partners continue to one-up each other with slick new ways to research hotel rooms and convert lookers into bookers.
Each player in the distribution game has a unique value proposition, Bosworth said. Brands’ power lies with loyalty programs, which drive direct bookings in most cases. Marriott International said recently it booked almost 50% of guests through its direct central reservations system, much of which can be attributed to Marriott Rewards.
“The brands can push dynamic loyalty rates to Google,” Bosworth said, “and remain in parity because these are fenced offers. They can use things like that to drive innovation.”
In the third-party space, Bosworth said he sees tremendous growth opportunities for Priceline Group, as recent acquisitions of Hotel Ninjas for property management and Buuteeq for digital marketing give the company two additional pieces of the entire booking puzzle.
“With the PMS through the CRS and the ability to bring these hotels to the grid, Priceline is essentially becoming a hotel brand—all for a 15% fee, which is more expensive than Marriott, but you have to weigh what you get,” Bosworth said. “It’s an alternative option for owners.”