Kicking off the new decade, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas revealed some of the main trends that will shape the year ahead in technology. Unsurprisingly, voice technologies dominated the hospitality space, from in-room voice ordering and language interpreter service Volara to Kohler’s voice-activated digital shower.
While impressive in their own right, both of these innovations reflect a more substantial change underway in the hospitality industry. As consumers increasingly expect and demand the same mobility and connectivity they enjoy in most other aspects of their lives, hoteliers are gearing up to further remove friction from the guest experience.
Here are some of the technologies that are leading the change, and which you should look out for in 2020:
1. Unified property management systems
While it may be tempting to think it’s enough to kit your guest rooms with the latest gadgets and gizmos, creating an enjoyable, memorable guest experience starts by getting the basics right. There’s no point relying on cool voice recognition technology and the latest in entertainment innovation if you can’t distinguish your repeat customers from your newcomers and have no visibility into your business. Integrating technology into the hotel experience must start at the very beginning, which is why more hotel owners are turning to unified systems to manage their entire operation seamlessly.
A fully unified platform that unites property management system (PMS) with all the processes and functionality you need to run your hotel, restaurant, activities and spa can give you the complete overview you need of your operations and customers. No add-ons or separate best-of-breed systems required. A single platform breaks down data siloes, helping you to acquire new guests, engage existing ones, and retain past guests by combining all of your insights about them, so you can using them to create engaging messages and offers. And if you choose the right technology platform from a trusted and reliable vendor, it will scale with your business and give you options to add new business functions as and when you need them.
Choose well and your technology could not only be an operational advantage but it could transform your brand for the better, giving you every opportunity to leave a long-lasting impression on guests, well after they’ve tried out all the cool tech in their hotel room.
2. Booking engine integration
Ok, booking engines and online travel agencies (OTAs) have been around for a while and yes, this may not sound like anything new, but without the technology to integrate third-party booking engines with your own system, you could be missing out big time.
Until recently, many hotels have found themselves limited by the time and effort it takes to manually link to and manage multiple booking websites. But new developments are making it possible for hotels to broaden their reach by automatically linking their PMS with the most popular third-party booking engines. The best examples are optimized for conversion by providing a seamless booking process from the minute a guest views your rates and room types on the third-party site all the way through to checking in with you. Taking advantage of the OTAs’ strong global presence and online visibility, you can manage to get new customers into your hotel. After that, it’s up to you to provide the kind of welcome and experience that inspires travelers to come back, and to offer the perks that will encourage them to book directly on your company website.
3. The internet of things
The internet of things (IoT) is a huge area of potential for hotel owners, both in terms of how they can use this technology to effectively manage and maintain their property, as well as engage with guests to get maximum value from their stay.
IoT capabilities now mean that hotel owners can track and control every aspect of their entire property from one dashboard, enabling predictive maintenance (so the pool lights or guest shower get fixed before they actually break) and the ability to better regulate energy consumption and support pro-environment and sustainability initiatives. For example, they can turn things down or off and only use them when the environment calls for it – ideal in group exercise spaces where it may be necessary to turn the room temperature up and down according to the particular exercise class taking place at any given time.
We should also increasingly expect to see hotel service providers using IoT to enhance guest engagement, allowing guests to use their mobile devices, for example, to not only select their room and pay for it, but as access keys for amenities such as pools and spas. IoT-powered beacon technology could even send real-time offers to guests’ smartphones, helping to enhance their stay and drive revenue.
4. Self-service and biometric authentication
These two technologies increasingly go hand in hand as hotels find themselves catering to modern guest expectations of getting want what they want when they want it - no time to waste. 24/7 service and convenience are no longer a nice to have; they are part of our basic expectations, and the hotel experience is no exception.
Self-service technology provides guests with the choice over which service model they prefer (high-touch or low-touch), while also freeing hotel staff up to better serve those guests who prefer hands-on engagement.
Some hotels are moving beyond self-service check-in/out terminals, using biometrics to speed up this process even further. Guests can register their fingerprints or facial features, for example, into the PMS and use their identity to automatically authenticate check-out and to access rooms and other facilities they’ve booked without the need for keys, cards or mobile apps. This technology offers extra opportunities for hotels that are able to record and track guest preferences: when guests return, they can be immediately identified, and offered all their favorite services.
5. Smart guest rooms
When executed right, smart room technology can really help to elevate the guest experience.
Voice activated technologies and personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana are increasingly making their way into consumers’ homes and are poised for wider spread adoption in hotel rooms too. These virtual assistants are not only smart and intuitive but are equipped with personalities to interact with the users. They will make adjusting room conditions, requesting services and setting reminders easier – and even more fun.
Some leading hotel brands are also harnessing augmented and virtual reality (VR) technology to wow their guests and transform a standard hotel room into something spectacular. Examples include using VR to bring themes to life, projecting environments and characters onto walls; letting guests or event planners virtually explore the interior of a room before booking; and being able to see interactive maps of the surrounding area from within the room before going out to explore.
Whether you believe this is more of a gimmick right now than a longer-term trend, these changes demonstrate that hotels are continuing to push the envelope on personalized service. More traditional hoteliers have little choice but to embrace technological transformation head on if they want to continue impressing their guests, and set themselves up for future success.