Hotel Tech Trends in 2019: What We’re Seeing So Far
In recent years, hospitality technology has developed at an exciting rate, and today’s guests are quick to expect the latest tech product or service. Disruptors within the industry such as Airbnb or Marriott, with its “room of the future”, have been quick to deliver it but, crucially, they grasp that the key to its success is that it should enhance rather than replace the human interaction in customer service. The intersection of design and invention with customers’ expectations will dictate which of the latest batch of digital products and services become integral to the hospitality experience over the next few years.
Powering the experience economy
One of the main game changers has been the consumer habits of Millennials. Not interested in the accumulation of material goods, research has shown they value travel and experience over houses and cars - the so-called “experience economy”. They are choosing lifestyles and career paths that allow them to merge work and leisure in an unprecedented way. To take advantage of this generational sea change, hotels need to be aware of Millennials’ compulsion to be connected day and night, and to use all the technology at their fingertips to make spur of the moment travel plans.
For all travelers, digitization, personalization and experience will remain a priority in 2019 and beyond, and studies suggest that this is where the industry should focus rather than expecting or striving for loyalty. According to our survey of over 2,000 consumers, the desire to stay connected leads nearly half of the people we surveyed to stay longer and order more at a hotel, cafe, restaurant or bar if they can charge their device while 15% have walked out of such an establishment because they can’t charge.
Regardless of age, destination or the purpose of the trip, all travelers agree that they want to deal with brands that make their stay and their journey easy. So the litmus test for the new hotel tech trends fighting for our attention will be their capacity to make the busy, stressful lives of our guests simpler and more pleasurable.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the top hotel tech trends that we’re seeing so far in 2019. Which will have the biggest impact on the hospitality industry? And how can you make the most of these trends?
Smart hotel tech and the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) has opened up limitless opportunities for digital connectivity, and the potential for guest experience benefits has grown with it. It is no longer just a case of people reaching out to people, now objects communicate, share information and give each other commands.
Forbes magazine suggests that it is the interaction between IoT and other emerging technologies that will really fuel IoT’s growth, making it more productive and easier to use, with greater benefits. IoT-connected appliances that can be controlled via smart devices - using, for example, energy-saving apps - will become increasingly commonplace in hotel rooms and shared spaces. And it’s not just the hotel guests who will benefit: staff will be able to move around the hotel while receiving information and updates on tasks and guests thanks to this new smart technology.
Here are just a few examples of where smart technology will hit hotels in 2019.
Connected communal spaces
In the last few years, we have seen the emergence of the lobby as one of the hottest spaces for people to hang out in hotels, and that trend will continue in 2019 with the development of more dedicated co-working space.
As hotels become a central hub for travelers and local workers to spend productive as well as leisure time, hoteliers need to make sure they can boast a robust digital infrastructure that goes beyond a fast Wi-Fi connection to underpin a completely personalized and intuitive guest experience.
Guests are leaving a trail of vital information about their needs, desires and habits from the minute they enter the hotel, all in the form of data. Now smart tech allows you to capture and convert insights into actions that anticipate need, monetize, and enhance individual guest experiences. It’s a valuable and much welcomed addition to any marketer's tool box to enable hyper-relevant messaging and engagement.
Smart wireless charging for hotels
With an estimated 55 billion IoT devices due to hit the market by 2025, there is a practical technology with a smart application that will be much in demand: wireless charging. This service gives your guests the freedom to keep their phone powered up as they move around the hotel throughout the day, enjoying the convenience of “snacking on power” via wireless charging points in the lobby, the bar, the room or even the gym or spa.
However, eliminating the inconvenience of carrying wires and bulky battery packs is not the only benefit for your guests. When connected to the cloud, wireless charging can provide a trigger point for the connected guest to enjoy smart, convenient and personalized experiences such as table ordering in a lobby through mobile concierge and fully connected smart bedrooms.
For example, by integrating smart wireless charging with a hotel’s loyalty app, placing a phone on a wireless charging spot could trigger digital room check-in, or turn a phone into a room key. It can also trigger targeted push notifications. This allows the app to send offers based on a guest's real-time location, interests and needs. Your guest may have spent an hour in the cafe or bar, charging their device, working and drinking coffee. Knowing this information could trigger the hotel app to send a unique lunchtime meal offer which if sent at 11.45am might encourage them to stay an hour longer and make additional purchases. And of course on check-out, it can prompt your guest to leave that all-important review.
For the hotelier, smart wireless charging delivers valuable guest analytics and opportunities for monetization based on where people are charging and for how long. Drawing on this data, which will be specific to each hotel, you can create products and services that resonate with your guests and enrich their experience.
Crucially, cloud-managed wireless charging enables real-time monitoring of a hotel’s wireless charging network so fixes can be made over the air. This means that any issues are dealt with long before guests encounter them.
As smart wireless charging expert, Chargifi’s CEO Dan Bladen says:
“Without power our connected way of living would not be possible. If you can influence how and when people get access to power, then you have a chance to influence the rest of their experience with you. Smart wireless charging facilitates a unique touch point that customers are drawn to so they stay powered up.”
Drone technology in hotels
While the reputation of drones may have taken a bit of a battering at Gatwick last Christmas, the sky is still the limit in terms of how these tiny airborne machines can benefit the hospitality industry. From aerial photography that delivers irresistible marketing images to room service delivery and even helping lifeguards spot and respond to potential drowning incidents in the hotel pool, the use of drones is only going to get more creative in the years ahead.
Paul Squires, Hospitality Business Lead at Chargifi is following the development of drone technology and senses increasing excitement and momentum for new applications within the industry. “One 5* hotel group has already asked us about the possibility of drones ferrying materials across their multi-acre site,” he says. “And because our drones would use wireless electric power, we can alleviate any safety or logistical concerns around their needing flammable fuel.” No wonder wireless-powered electric drones are currently cleaning up at the awards for innovative drone technologies.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the hospitality industry
The latest advances in AI are bringing the hospitality industry new and interesting applications for chatbots and next-generation robotics. Developments in biometrics such as face recognition are being trialed at travel hubs like Heathrow and the use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) is also becoming more commonplace in tourism.
We know that the biggest online retailers are already using the complex pictures created by personalized algorithms to predict consumer behavior. This is now starting to be replicated in hospitality. Increasingly, hotels will be able to access predictive analytics to tailor on-site product recommendations for guests as well as generate personalized offers for potential customers off-site. Here’s some of what we can expect in 2019.
Chatbots that know what guests want
This electronic method of offering personalized support for guests throughout their stay mimics actual conversation and can send up-to-the-minute information by email, text or instant message. Chatbots are learning all the time, and in terms of hospitality they are getting better and better at working out exactly what guests want, whether it's a clean towel, a late night snack, or the best table at the hotel restaurant right now.
The logical development of the chatbot, robots are on the horizon for storming the hospitality technology market in 2019. Up to now limited to supporting guests in hotels in the US, Singapore and Japan, robots are becoming an integral part of hotel life, picking up the slack when staff are overstretched as well as offering novelty experiences such as delivering champagne on guests’ birthdays. Some venues have managed to monetize their robots too, by charging for delivery when guests put in orders.
Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant Connect in hotel bedrooms
Now firmly established in the consumer goods market, Alexa for hospitality has been taken up by several chains, including Marriott. Voice recognition uses AI to process spoken commands which enable the guest to take control of their hotel environment. Currently, 70% of hotel operators believe that by 2025 voice recognition will be widespread within the industry so it's only a matter of time before it routinely replaces buttons for switching appliances and lighting on and off or the phone for ordering room service.
Chargifi CEO Dan Bladen noted the abundance of Alexa-ready products at the most recent CES trade show in Las Vegas, organised by the Consumer Technology Association. “From smart glasses through speakers and alarm clocks, the demand for voice assistant technology is creeping into smart hotel rooms. Automated concierges and personalized environment control are huge opportunities to enhance the guest experience within hotel spaces.”
Augmented Reality (AR) to inspire guests
Hoteliers already understand the importance of sparking their guests’ imaginations and AR gives them the chance to deliver this in spades. AR, or the overlay of images onto a live environment, is one way to enhance the visual hospitality experience you want to sell.
Premier Inn’s The Hub Hotel is an innovation that is proving popular with guests as it allows them to point their smartphone at a map on the hotel room wall and instantly receive local tourist information. Holiday Inn, meanwhile, has been experimenting with AR by enabling guests to use their smartphones to see (virtual) celebrities hanging out in the hotel.
Virtual Reality (VR) for an out-of-hotel experience
The next step up from AR, VR can radically enhance environments and transport potential guests to a 360-degree computer generated destination, so smart hoteliers will be looking to engage with it in 2019 and beyond. The stats are already in: 66% of those surveyed for the Oracle Hospitality Report: Hotel 2025 said that VR would improve their hotel experience, and 45% stated it would encourage them to book hotels more often.
Right now the costs of VR headsets and equipment remain high and can seem prohibitive to many smaller hotels and chains, but prices are set to come down so watch this space!
Cyber security in hospitality
Heightened sensitivity around the handling and use of customers’ personal data has pushed cyber security further up the hotelier’s list of priorities. Since 2015, the hotel industry has been one of the top three targets for security hackers and there have been a number of high profile cases of data security breach.
While few hoteliers will be cybersecurity experts, and nobody would expect them to be, in the case of a data breach the buck will stop with them and the hotel’s reputation will be at risk so it makes sense to get IT specialists on it before the worst case scenario materializes. Developing a vision that covers the economic advantages, risk management and compliance as well as a strategy to implement it will help minimize risk and keep you in control of your customers’ data and your reputation.
Digital sales and marketing solutions for hotels
The hotel market has never been more competitive and with the meteoric rise of independent home letting websites, hotels need to know which tech will help them to stay ahead. In 2019, hotels will be using digital strategies to drive direct bookings and eliminate the middleman, or at least get as much out of him as possible. So what does that mean?
First things first: make sure your website is smartphone-friendly as most customers research and many book their travel from their phone. Next, use your reviews and other guest-generated content such as photos to give potential customers the confidence to follow through with their reservation process on your website rather than on a generic travel site.
Strong presence on Metasearch
Metasearch allows customers to compare all hotel and online travel agency (OTA) rates and then click on the best deal for them. The customer is taken directly to the website of the company that offered the chosen rate, which then pays Metasearch a small fee. Metasearch is arguably one of the best hotel marketing strategies out there so it should pay handsomely to get on board with it in 2019.
Open APIs for synchronized tech
Another tech acronym but one that’s worth remembering. An open API (or application programming interface) is the foundation to successfully integrating and embedding new tech innovations. The ‘open’ part refers to the API’s capacity to enable effective communication and synchronization across multiple systems - a definite bonus in the sometimes Byzantine world of hospitality admin.
Where to start to make your hotel smart?
Hospitality is traveling fast in an ever more high-tech direction and smart hotels will get on board, whether that’s by making their lobbies a super-connected and bustling work/play hub to linger in, or by employing drones to take care of room service. Customer and guest tech demands are only set to grow - what they see is what they want.
Global business researchers McKinsey & Company have some tips to make the implementation of new digital technologies manageable as well as effective. They suggest:
Avoid attempts to incorporate new hotel and travel technology that are fragmentary and instead apply multiple tech strategies to solve one pivotal business problem.
Always pilot projects - start small then scale up to maximize efficiency and lower risk.
Pool your data to get the most from it and build valuable external partnerships that use this pool to the max without risking your reputation and your clients’ data
The hoteliers that really get it, the ones who will keep their rapturous 5-star reviews, are those who understand that the tech is there not just to impress, nor to replace high quality customer service, but to help them deliver a better, more personal experience for their guests - and that will never go out of date.
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