July 19, 2022

The Future of Hotel Technology

The Future of Hotel Technology

Image of hotel gift shop

Travelers have had a glimpse of the future and like what they see.

There is a new generation of travelers that expect a frictionless customer journey. They want to skip their hotel’s reception desk and check in at a self-service kiosk. They want to book tours and other options on an interactive touchscreen device in the lobby or their room. And they want to order room service without picking up the phone.

Maria Hart, executive editor at the online travel company, TripAdvisor, said travelers are looking for the same experience as when they purchase a sweater from an online retailer or order delivery from their favorite restaurant. "People have gotten used to the simplicity of online interactions," she said, “and have come to expect the same of their hotel check-in experience. "They want a quick, efficient, digital experience the same as they have become accustomed to in other areas of their life."

Hart added that these travelers have additional expectations as well. They want hotels to demonstrate a shared commitment to sustainability, wanting hotels to make it easy for them to save energy and reduce waste during their stays. They don’t mind signing up for loyalty programs, but they want to see rewards for their next trip. And they want to see experiences that are customized for the way they travel. "Many of these concepts have been around for a long time," Hart said. "What we are seeing now are these concepts reaching the next level."

To respond to these growing demands, hospitality brands are spending more on technology. According to a survey published in Hotel Technology News, 78% of hotel brands will increase their technology investment over the next three years. More than half plan to automate their systems, and a third are focused on making the guest experience more seamless.

"Tech adoption in hotels has been accelerating as hotels seek greater efficiencies in both front and back of the house," said David Wollenberg, CEO of the hotel revenue management solution provider, Duetto. "It’s promising to see that more industry leaders are looking more closely at tech adoption, tech upgrades, and creating an integrated tech stack."

The demand for more integrated technology comes at a time when hotel brands are experiencing a host of challenges, including an ongoing labor shortage, a pandemic that has lasted more than two years, and a recession that threatens to reduce discretionary spending from consumers. But the good news is that spending on technology—especially when done smartly—can help mitigate these factors and improve a hospitality brand’s bottom line.

The rise of tech-savvy travelers

The tech savvy traveler isn't just looking for a room with a view. As with many consumer experience trends, travelers expect you to know and understand their needs. They demand a seamless travel experience when they walk through the door.

Douglas Stallings, Editorial Director of Fodor's Travel, said one of the pain points in the hotel experience has long been the bottleneck at the reception desk. He'd like to see more hotels allow travelers to bypass them. "I appreciate improvements in process efficiency," he said. "That applies to the check-in process at hotels. There isn't an excuse for a hotel to require a guest to interact with a person just to check in."

Stallings said that some hotels had replaced their front desks with mobile kiosks with touchscreen devices that allow guests to check in, get a digital key, and even choose their room. At the hotel check in kiosk, guests can order on-the-spot upgrades, like having a bottle of sparkling wine sent to their room for a celebration. They can also book a meal at the hotel restaurant or elsewhere, reserve a poolside cabana, or arrange a guided tour. "Hotels are still catching up with what consumers want," he said. "It surprises me that not all hotels are doing this yet."

Travelers want information at their fingertips. That is why many hotels have transformed their lobbies—often an underused space—into information hubs. Largescale touchscreen signage serve as virtual concierges so guests can check out what’s happening in the local community. Smaller monitors in elevators and other public spaces can remind guests about in-hotel amenities.

How technology improves sales and service

The rise of self-check in with self-guided upgrades at kiosks gives the hospitality brand a 100% guarantee on all up-sells and cross-sells being offered; this results in increased sales 100% of the time with a significant sales impact to the bottom line.

Hotel gift shops are now open 24 hours a day, thanks to kiosks where guests can purchase sundries they may have forgotten, snacks, beverages, souvenirs and other items. While the store is manned by day, self-checkout with camera after hours enables guests to get what they want 24 x 7 which also turns into a twenty-four-hour revenue stream for the hotelier. Early morning checkouts will no longer disappoint their wanting kids back at home – souvenirs for everyone at every hour. Another increase in sales for the hospitality brand.

Hotels are also venturing into areas previously not in their vertical, selling technology products. Technology vending machines are enabling hotels to offer high end electronics to guests, such as headphones, iPhones, speakers, USB hubs, charging devices, and more. These large vending machines provide another level of convenience and luxury to guests travelling for both business and pleasure. This new revenue stream can create quite an impact as incremental revenue for any hospitality brand.

Many hotels are taking another look at robots. The flashier machines, like the massive luggage handler at the Yotel New York Times Square, get all the attention, but the lower-profile models deliver meals and quietly vacuum the hallways you're most likely to encounter on your next stay. Hart said room service robots—often outfitted with a touchscreen—get high marks from travelers. She said that when guests are in the privacy of their rooms, the last thing they want is to interact with a person.

"There's always a bit of awkwardness with these kinds of interactions when they're on the human level," she said. "Suppose you're about to take a bath and realize you need a towel. You end up standing there waiting for someone to deliver the towel. But if a robot brings it, it removes all the awkwardness." Robots aren't quite sophisticated enough to help alleviate the labor crisis that has hit the hospitality industry. But Hart said they could handle more and more low-level tasks.

"At this point, you're not going to have a robot come to fix the streaming service in your room," she said. "But tasks that don't require any level of human intelligence can be automated."

A more personalized experience

According to a report released by Accenture, travel was one of the industries that were slowest to adopt the latest technology. That meant that when the pandemic hit, many travel companies were behind the curve in releasing new products or testing new technologies. Miguel Flecha, managing director at Accenture, said the industry is catching up. But hospitality companies need to continue to take advantage of the latest technology to gain the loyalty of leisure travelers.

"Brands need to prioritize data to personalize the customer experience," said Flecha, "so when a customer lands on the website, uses the brand channels, and makes a booking, the journey is consistent and optimized for their personal needs the whole way through." When a company's channels work together, they can capture customer data and provide seamless, personalized experiences that cater to individual preferences. People respond positively when they are given a curated experience. According to a study from Epsilon, 87% of travelers say they are more likely to interact with a company that offers personalized experiences. However, only 64% say companies do an excellent job with personalization.

Consumers are used to personalization when they make an online purchase—GrubHub, for example, makes recommendations based on your past food orders—so they want the same experience from hospitality. Hart said that travelers wish hotels to remember their likes and dislikes. "It's almost jarring when they don't get it right," she said. "It's like that feeling when you get someone else's coffee order at Starbucks. You're like, 'What is this? I don't drink this.'"

Hart said the hotels that provide the best-personalized experience are the ones that don't offer you the same experiences over and over. "You don't just want your preferences reflected," she said. "You want somebody who knows you better than you know yourself. Maybe during your last stay, you booked a cooking class. This time the hotel might suggest an outing with a celebrity chef who will take you to a market and cook with you. It's moving things to the next level."

Prioritizing sustainability

According to the 2021 Sustainable Travel Report, nearly four out of five travelers plan to stay in sustainable accommodation at least once in the coming year. More than a third of them say they search for information about a hotel's sustainability efforts before they book a room. They are looking for hotels that reduce waste, energy consumption, and alternative means of transportation.

The good news is that three out of four hotels have taken steps to become more sustainable. It's partly because of the growing demand from travelers. The younger they are, the more likely they are to demand eco-friendly practices like eliminating the use of single-use plastics or switching to energy-efficient LED bulbs.

Hotels are switching to smart thermostats and occupancy sensors that do more than turn off the air-conditioning when a guest leaves the room. They can consider average daily temperatures and weather patterns to optimize energy consumption throughout the year. Experts say that intelligent energy management systems can reduce a hotel's energy costs by as much as 20%.

Marianne Gybels, Director of Sustainability for Booking.com, found the problem for many travelers is figuring out which hotels prioritize sustainability. About a third of the hotels that have reduced their carbon footprints haven't found a way to effectively communicate that information to consumers.

"The good intentions are there on all sides," she said, "but there is still much work to be done to make sustainable travel an easy choice for everyone."

In Conclusion

As with many other industries, technology is reshaping hospitality. Experts say that the changes to the guest experience—whether it’s checking in at a kiosk, using a smartphone to access a room, or having a robot cater to every whim—have been in the works for years, but the pandemic sped up the process. Now guests expect more every time they travel. And now technology is not only solving guests’ problems and providing enhanced guest experiences but also providing operational efficiency with increased sales for the hotel operator.

By Rick Smith – Elo Touch Solutions