The pace of technology development has been so rapid over the past couple of decades that hotel rooms no longer offer better technology than guests have in their own homes.

Managing director of technology consultancy practice E Horner Associates, Ted Horner, says: “Companies that are not agile and fall behind the pace of technological change risk being left behind. As a result, hotels must continuously seek out new opportunities and stay on top of the trends emerging in the market.”

Check in, check out

US entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer, Ian Schrager, who is a leading name in the boutique hotel segment, promotes the use of cutting-edge technology in hotels. In several interviews, Schrager has bemoaned the check-in and check-out process, saying it needs to be reworked. His concerns were cited at the Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG) conference held in the UAE in March, where IT experts discussed the need for a ‘frictionless’ check-in process.

Director of guest experiences and mobility operations for Marriott International in the Middle East and Africa, Simone Papa, says that while steps have been taken to improve various touch points in the guest journey, it is not enough, adding: “We still have the old way of checking guests in.”

One way hotels are trying to simplify this process is with the use of biometrics. Marriott is working with Alibaba Group in China to launch facial recognition technology that allows guests to check in three times faster. “Now, all guests have to do is simply walk to the kiosks, scan their ID, fill in their contact information and have their photo taken – then the machine starts processing,” says Horner.

“The room key card is dispensed after successful verification of the ID and booking details. All of this is done without the help of staff,” he adds.

However, not all guests will want to move to such a system, valuing human interaction above speed.

Voice technology

Rotana Hotels’ acting CEO, Guy Hutchinson, discussed voice technology during HTNG. “Culturally, you have to really think about technology,” he notes. “In the domestic US market, there is a place for voice technology, but there are different cultural structures [around the world].”

However, Hutchinson says voice technology will be integral to the guest experience one day, although the form that this will take remains to be seen.

Horner says voice assistants have the potential to redefine the guest experience in hotels. “There are now close to 100 million of these devices in households in the US and the number is expected to grow dramatically now that both Amazon and Google are marketing these products not just to consumers – they are now turning their attention to the hospitality industry.”

In hotels where Amazon’s Alexa solution is deployed, for example, guests can enter a room and ask the device to turn on the television or order room service.

This circles back to the idea that the home is now at the forefront of the type of technology that guests want to see in hotels. HTNG chief operating officer, David Sjolander, explains that once new technology becomes common in day-to-day lives, guests also want it when they travel. “This is why instant messaging between guests and hotel staff has taken off, and it is why voice-activated technology such as Alexa will become more common once some of the glitches are worked out,” he says.

Artificial intelligence

Voice assistants will soon also use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the guest experience, says Horner. The potential of AI was seen earlier in 2019 at the Consumer Electronics Show, where Google released an ‘interpreter mode’ for Google Assistant, utilising AI to carry out the real-time translation of conversations into 27 languages. This is now being trialled at concierge desks in hotels in the US.

Other uses of AI are related to analytics. Horner explains: “AI-powered analytics technologies are going to allow hotel companies to analyse data and extract actionable information to make quick business decisions. Air France is using these tools to gather insights from customer data. It is analysing data from bookings, social media, flight operations and call centres, allowing the airline to tailor offerings to the needs of individual travellers.”

The importance of data in the hospitality industry cannot be understated. Rotana’s Hutchinson notes: “What technology has really enabled is data, and the ability to make decisions that hone what is driving the business.”

Internet of Things

Also making their way from home use into the hospitality experience are Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices. Horner says these can automate and streamline processes in hotels.

“Marriott is working with Samsung and Legrand to develop an IoT guest room lab, with the intention of personalising the guest experience,” he says. “It is expected the installed base of IoT devices by 2020 will exceed 31 billion.”

However, there are issues to be addressed as IoT devices make their way into hotels. “Adapting consumer technology to hotels is not always easy. Guests will not tolerate a learning curve to use technology, and there are fewer issues securing a home than a hotel room,” Sjolander says.

Horner adds: “In 2019, there will be enormous opportunity for hotels that leverage new technologies and data to improve operations, personalise services and meet the individual needs of guests.”

The question is, will hoteliers be nimble enough to do so?

By Devina Divecha

Hospitality report