HOTEL BUSINESS (AUG. 7, 2018) — Voice activation, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI)—there are a multitude of ways hotel technology is morphing, enabling guests to connect with hoteliers in the ways that they want for the needs and desires they have. From the pre-stay booking experience to guest-facing devices on property, the back-of-house solutions that make everything run smoothly, and the technology infrastructure all of it depends upon, all areas of hotel technology are continuously evolving, creating a cohesive, frictionless experience for guests.
One thing is for sure when it comes to hotel technology: Owners and operators shouldn’t be focused on one thing in particular, but the convergence of tech solutions and platforms. A holistic approach is necessary—because that’s what guests expect.
“Today’s guests are more focused on the entire hotel experience than individual technology elements,” said, Larry Steelman, VP, new business ventures, Cox Business. “Tightly coordinated service delivery makes hotel guests feel special, and technologies of all sorts make this happen. In fact, the future of hotel technology will enable hoteliers to better understand each guest before they check in, and further personalize service delivery for each.”
Cohesiveness is not without its challenges, especially when it comes to a hotel’s infrastructure. “Depending on the age of the building, existing infrastructure was designed around vendor-specific requirements: The TV system has an infrastructure, and the same is true for separate phone and building management systems,” said Larry Birnbaum, VP, global hospitality, Ruckus Networks. “Guests and applications today benefit most from a converged infrastructure. The challenge is to create a single managed environment across these disparate systems. Even newer hotels, which may have IP-based infrastructure, are faced with supporting the increase in devices, applications and bandwidth required per guest and associate. The answer is to deploy networks that properly manage the density of users and devices, have multiple wireless frequencies to enable IoT, and provide the analytics to inform future network performance.”
Steelman noted many advancements are making this easier. “The hotel age, design, cable paths, and the age of communication infrastructure are always key to successful delivery for any technology product or tech services provider. However, advances in local area wireless network technologies mitigate many of the property design and existing infrastructure obstacles older hotels have faced in the past,” he said. “The age of IoT is now, and a robust and modern wireless network makes it much easier to create connections and deliver robust new technologies.”
For his part, Fred Reeder, Nomadix president, stressed the importance of a holistic approach to a technology infrastructure. “Much of the technology at hotels is approached in silos, rather than with a holistic perspective,” he said. “How do you keep up with the torrid pace of technology advancements? How do you offer a combined and seamless technology experience? Customers expect the in-home technology experience or better. Adoption rates for new technologies are becoming ever shorter and, therefore, technology lifecycles are also becoming ever shorter. This requires continued investment in technology updates. Having a network that allows for different components to be refreshed at different times is beneficial… Security also continues to be a growing challenge, and that needs to be factored into the network deployment. Undervaluing, underestimating and under-designing such a network could have disastrous results in the future.”
Reeder noted that the continued increase in bandwidth demand and utilization means that there is a need to plan for more robust networks—including fiber-based networks. “This raises a couple of important issues: Is the network built on a best-of-breed architecture or simply a single vendor whose technology is just good enough?” he asked. “The latter likely does not offer the possibility to customize the solution much in order to differentiate the guest experience or the property from another. Oftentimes, in order to maximize ROI in the near term, there is a push to over-commoditize the network and service, often leading to shortcuts, lower-quality components, and lower service levels. There is no question that this eventually leads to a higher total cost of ownership (TCO) in the long term, not to mention the risk of lower occupancy rates.”
Ryan Detwiller, general manager of Open Mesh, agreed about taking shortcuts. “We often see shortcuts being taken, whether that’s in the design of the network, the cabling infrastructure required, the incoming ISP connection, the hardware being deployed and even the decision to do it yourself versus hiring a managed services provider,” he said. “WiFi needs to be viewed as an investment in guest satisfaction, and shortcuts have little upside and a significant downside. Hotels need to be set up to deliver perfect WiFi everywhere to an ever-increasing number of devices, and be able to handle increasing data demands through the network. Having a professionally designed WiFi network is more critical than ever.”
However, it’s not the only critical component for a hotel to have, according to Oren Binder, marketing chair for the CBRS Alliance. “The hospitality industry is highly competitive in general, and high-speed wireless connectivity that’s reliable and secure has become one of the key amenities that guests demand… Some hotel and building owners assume that just because they have WiFi installed and their smartphones work inside the rooms, that they’ve addressed any and all connectivity issues,” he said. “The reality is that while WiFi is an excellent option for certain needs, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for hotel guests or hotel operations. Hotels that fail to invest in LTE or other cellular solutions are leaving money on the table, not only from a guest connectivity standpoint, but they are also forgoing the efficiencies and smart-building opportunities that come with a high-capacity, secure and reliable private LTE network. Now, owners have a chance to look beyond patching connectivity issues with WiFi boosters and relying on sub-par cellular solutions.”
Binder pointed to Joe Madden, principal analyst at Mobile Experts, who found that hotel owners lose approximately $4 per sq. ft. due to poor guest connectivity. “In fact, 30% of hotel guests will not return if LTE coverage is poor,” he said. “Even a single dead zone can mean a loss of thousands of dollars in hotel revenue.”
Binder added, “Keeping up with the pace of change and innovation is a clear challenge for hotel owners. There isn’t a magic answer here, but one key aspect to keep in mind is to stick to industry-wide standards when implementing new technology. LTE and WiFi are two clear examples of technologies that aren’t going anywhere soon. They are, however, evolving, and the implemented systems will need to evolve as well.”
Detwiller agreed. “If your WiFi isn’t performing at an acceptable level today, don’t try to just upgrade it to meet the current standard and current demand,” he said. “Plan for the future and build in some of the capacity to handle the increased demands expected in the next few years. A good WiFi provider or managed services provider can help recommend the right technology and keep you up to date.”
Next wave of WiFi
So what should hoteliers be keeping their eyes on for the future? “The next wave of WiFi, 802.11ax, offers greater capacity for devices, and throughput and will be available in the next 12 to 18 months,” Detwiller said.
Birnbaum agreed. “The release of 802.11ax products will enable higher client density, reduce congestion and improve security on networks as more AX devices are acquired by travelers,” he said. “This may be the most exciting time for new technology in hotels. New initiatives cross the borders of technology, business models and government regulations. All will have significant impact on the travel industry, mobile users and the in-building infrastructure required to support new devices.”
Some of these include the following, he said: “Multi-gigabit Ethernet switches will enable the bandwidth unleashed by 802.11ax adoption in wireless to support high-definition video and other bandwidth-hungry applications; a new generation of IoT devices improving operations and guest experience will communicate more efficiently over alternative wireless spectrum; the adoption of Passpoint [HotSpot 2.0, aka 802.11u] services for cloud-based guest authentication allows brands and operators new options for connectivity and data collection; the recent FCC rules on net neutrality create the framework for new and unknown business models where operators will need control of bandwidth more than ever; and Citizen Broadband Radio Spectrum (CBRS), also referred to as 3.5 Hz wireless, is an unregulated LTE wireless spectrum that supports in-building communications and offers unparalleled options for hoteliers to improve communications and reduce operating expenses.”
Speaking further on CBRS, Binder said, “One technology that’s changing the way hotel and building owners in the U.S. are approaching wireless connectivity is OnGo (CBRS). OnGo provides secure, cost-effective LTE coverage indoors, and allows hotel owners and their staff to attract and retain guests by eliminating dead zones in elevators and meeting rooms, and securely offering the latest in customized services, while also reaping smart-building benefits. OnGo is paving the way to providing hotel guests with uncompromised connectivity, at a fraction of the cost that has historically been associated with LTE, while mirroring the simplicity we’ve all come to appreciate with WiFi.”
New cellular networks will have an impact. “With the deployment of 5G cellular networks on the horizon, it will likely actually increase the need for unlicensed spectrum networks (WiFi),” Reeder said. “And then, of course, we need to consider the ever-important network security. Although it is a discipline on its own, we are considering how we can enhance it and aid security on the network from an infrastructure perspective. There is a great opportunity to make network infrastructure a revenue-enhancing asset instead of an over-commoditized cost center. Consider the need for a holistic technology approach with top notch key best-of-breed solutions that allow future proofing and flexibility to customize the guest experience, so every guest has a stay second to none, every time.”
And, of course, hotels need to keep an eye on the consumer trends that will affect connectivity. “There are several consumer-driven game-changing trends to watch,” Steelman said. “Casting services will become even more important as consumers expect to have the ability to watch their own content on different devices; savvy hotels are looking for creative ways to monetize their network, and personalized advertisement is one way they are doing it—using in-room video or WiFi engagement, the hotel can serve up relevant ads to guests; and everyone relies on their mobile devices, so having a tightly coupled integration of mobility into networks will continue to be really impactful. More applications will migrate to the cloud, and robust, well-performing WiFi is even more important now as hotels begin to put more applications on their WiFi network.”
“Today’s guests are bringing many devices into hotels—a recent study showed the average millennial business traveler brings five devices—and many guests are using them for bandwidth-intensive activities such as streaming video and other over-the-top (OTT) content,” Birnbaum added.
“Guests expect the same kind of utility, convenience and delight that they are used to from technology in their personal lives,” added Kara Heermans, VP of product management & user experience, Sonifi Solutions. “They expect technology to just work, and for it to enhance their stay while traveling. It’s also worth noting that anything appearing on a screen needs to look crisp in the same way their TVs or tablets do at home. We’ve focused a lot of effort on bringing visually compelling experiences with our flexible menu screen options, as well as integrating various technology experiences, such as OTT streaming, room controls, voice assistant, etc., to offer a seamless guest experience that works.”
“Changes in the way the internet and networks are used are happening constantly,” Reeder said. “The consumption of ever-increasing video content is only one trend affecting networks. The creation by guests of content is growing at a tremendous pace and uploading and sharing such content accelerates the burden on networks. Two-way streaming of content is growing at a tremendous rate. Mobile cellular networks are not able to handle the growth in bandwidth utilization and, therefore, mobile offload continues to grow exponentially as well. Unlicensed networks (WiFi networks) have grown exponentially over the past few years, not decreased. Furthermore, the adoption of IoT in the home environment is creating demand for a similar experience in the hotel. IoT devices such as environmental controls, security, monitoring of various factors are becoming more commonplace.”
Birnbaum agreed. “Companies are working on smart-room amenities that adapt automatically to guest preferences while providing the needed security and expectations of privacy. Hotel networks need to be flexible and modular to support the array of IoT applications, including support for voice assistants, secure in-room systems for connected thermostats, lights, door locks, entertainment and more.”
Kristin Miller, CEO, Evolve Controls, highlighted the benefits of smarter room controls for operators as well. “While improvements in equipment and performance, and upgrading to the latest technology will reduce cost, operators can reduce overall energy use by up to 30% through better integration and occupancy-based management of in-room systems,” she said. “Using an in-room controls solution can automatically detect when rooms are unoccupied and adjust the in-room climate to curb energy costs.”
Bill Lally, president, Mode:Green, agreed. “Energy management systems can be extremely beneficial for hotels, as lights left on by guests can contribute to a lot of unneeded usage,” he said. “Many hotels will utilize an automation system throughout the building and all of the guestrooms combined with an energy management platform that helps to mitigate and analyze energy usage. For example, an occupancy sensor can tell the system to shut the lights and lower the thermostat after the room is detected empty for 40 minutes. Energy savings don’t have to originate from the infrastructure of the building per se; simply keeping the lights and thermostats off as much as possible can have a great impact.”
“Whether in the home or in the hotel, technology is expected to be easy to use and make life simpler,” said Greg Wright, senior manager, hospitality and MDU Sales, Control4. “The advancements in automation technology has become simpler to deploy and manage, and for guests to use. Hotels can look to fads for inspiration of services or experiences that they might want to add to their hotel, such as in-room music streaming or activation of the lights via voice command. Voice control is a hot trend at the moment, and hotels are quickly finding ways to deploy the technology.”
“The changes in the human–machine interface from primarily a keyboard and the mouse, to more use of a voice interface—which requires a cloud connection—are finding accelerating adoption,” Reeder agreed. “Similar for AI services, which are also cloud based. This foreshadows more need for bandwidth and robust networks that have high reliability.”
Giving hotels a voice
Speaking more specifically about voice, Reeder said, “One of the challenges had been recognition of speech with a heavy accent or foreign language, for example. AI developments are starting to address some of these challenges.”
“When it comes to voice, this is the future,” said Juan Carlos Abello, founder and CEO of Nuvola. “It’s convenient, efficient and affordable. It’s a technology that has been created to continuously learn more about the user with the sole purpose of offering a better guest experience. Looking ahead, it’s imperative we continue to embrace new technologies for the home and incorporate them into the hotel experience to provide the level of comfort guests have grown to appreciate and rely on. We’ll not only be able to satisfy the guest, but the hotel will be able to continue to streamline the operations process.”
“As a provider who has focused a lot on video technology, we see voice technology as a complementary means for the guest to communicate and interact with the hotel,” Heermans said.
Lally noted that while trends like voice may start out as a fad, these solutions can be customized to the hotel to provide real ROI. “Voice control is not only a cool amenity, but it can also help cut down on service calls by allowing guests to order room service or submit housekeeping tickets using the voice interface,” he said.
And, of course, AI and IoT are driving the ability for hotels to enable many guest desires and trends. “AI shows great potential in the future, front of house and back of house. Applications utilizing AI, such as facial recognition for check-in/checkout, personalized services, virtual concierge, security and security monitoring, all are potential growth areas in hospitality,” Reeder said. “The increase of IoT adoption, which is growing exponentially in the home environment, will need to find its way into hotels as well. Applications such as wireless door locks with video that can be viewed remotely; environmental controls such as temperature, lights and drapes; and monitoring of the environment and utilities to detect inefficiencies or the presence of someone in a room will have a high probability of adoption in the sector.”
John Swain, director of product management, Evolve Controls, noted a good indication of a technology’s acceptance in hospitality is its use across multiple verticals. “We can look to the smart home to provide guidance on how best to use the technology,” he said.
For her part, Miller added, “We expect AI to power different platforms for big data, allowing for information that may lead to fault detection and diagnostics, improved performance and personalization of an experience… Connecting devices and sensors (IoT) inside spaces, gathering that data and translating it into meaningful information is key for our future.”
Heermans agreed. “In terms of IoT, we are seeing more and more devices that are connected entering hotels, which creates an opportunity to better monitor and support these devices, as well as create more integrated experiences,” she said, noting Sonifi recently integrated with several energy management solutions. “This allows us to automatically turn the TV off and save some power if the guest is not in the room. It also allows the guests to control the thermostat with a TV remote. These are small ways in which connected devices can enhance the convenience for guests while saving some money for hotels.”
Wright noted that IoT isn’t particularly new: “Many hotels have had lighting and temperature control now even dating back to 10 years,” he said. “The prevalent advancements have been the simplicity of installation and of operation, as well as other technologies that are able to be used cooperatively with the system… Artificial intelligence has potential to add to these systems as well, and geolocation with the guest’s mobile key could customize the room even further—by turning the lights on automatically as they approach the room. Different complementary technology experiences can be added to hotel automation systems to benefit both guests and staff, and we’ll continue to see these new experiences develop and change the industry.”
Lally highlighted the importance of the convergence of all of these technologies—AI, IoT, voice, etc. “As a technology integrator, we always look at each piece of technology that can go into hotel systems—whether that be a new light bulb, a voice assistant or an AI platform. Voice control and circadian lighting are hot new trends being added to hotels, but even more prevalent is the convergence of all of this technology,” he said. “What we do mainly in designing these systems is make every piece of the technology talk to each other: The lights and door lock of the guestroom, the room reservations system, the energy report of the building, and even the outdoor lighting temperatures can be used together. Hotels are becoming smarter from the combination of all of these technologies.”
Of course, one thing that is ever present in the minds of hoteliers when it comes to guest-facing solutions is the balance of technology and personal touch. However, all agreed that technology can be a way to enhance that personal touch. “There is a tremendous opportunity to exceed guest expectations by offering technology strategies that add context to guest engagement, such as service history or preferred communication channel,” said Taimur Khan, GM of industries at Salesforce. “Think about your own day—if you call a friend or get a text, you typically know the context and history, and will take the form of communication chosen by our friend. Today’s tech makes this possible at scale where a hotel associate can deliver the same experience to any guest regardless of what channel they use most. It’s guest-driven, controlled and frictionless.”
“Convenience is key,” Abello added. “The right balance between technology and personal touch relies on the size and offerings of the property. For example, limited-service hotels are able to automate responses to requests easier than a larger resort that varies more in what they provide to their guests.”
“Technology can help to make the guest experience more comfortable and personalized, in ways that don’t replace human interaction,” Wright said. “With automation in the guestrooms, scenes can be created to activate and adjust multiple devices simultaneously. For example, a ‘relax’ button next to an armchair can dim the lights and set the room to ‘do not disturb,’ or a ‘good night’ button at the bedside can shut all of the lights, the TV, and just leave a small night light on. These scenes add comfort to the room where there would otherwise not be personal interaction. The automation system can be combined with other services as well, so that guests can order towels from the same tablet that they use to control the lights in the room.”
Heermans pointed out that guests are used to a lot of technology in their everyday lives. “We believe the balance should follow common consumer experiences. For things that most of the population expects to be able to access via technology, there should be a technology option,” she said. “For example, if a guest wants to tune to a different TV channel, they can use the TV remote or utilize a voice assistant (like Alexa or Google Home) to do the same action. But hotels (and providers to hotels, like us) should never forget the spirit of hospitality and allow rooms to just become commoditized places to sleep. Whatever the hotel’s brand or personality might be, including a personal touch reminds guests that they are being cared for and is something that both technology and staff should play a part in. Even something as simple as ‘welcome back’ appearing on the TV screen to a returning guest can make a lasting impression and give that personal touch.”
The data factor
The underlying factor for all of this guest-facing technology is data. Detwiller stressed the potential a cohesive system could have on the future. “One thing that I find most interesting is the ability for hotel operators to analyze WiFi and guest device usage to better understand customer behavior,” he said. “Hotel management can use real-time location services to better understand how guests are using the property. They can also have tools in place to interact with their guests and get feedback from them throughout their stay.”
However, there are challenges with that. “The most common challenge we see is that guest-facing hotel employees do not have a single view of the guests they are connecting with,” Khan said. “The booking system is different than the loyalty system, which is different than the property management system. All the information from these programs is siloed and hard to access, which can slow down service and create friction for guests. Data transformation for these hotels means creating an integrated engagement layer over systems of record, which de-couples the technical debt of those platforms. It also allows guest-facing service associates to leverage cutting-edge tools like AI to help guests get what they want exactly when they need it.”
Swain added that data overload is another challenge. “Today, we have data overload which turns into noise. Vendors need to harness machine learning and AI to consume the mass amount of data and aggregate it into a message that is simple for hoteliers to consume and act upon,” he said.
Estella Hale, chief product evangelist, SHR, agreed. “With so many data-gathering technologies emerging, knowing what to choose to serve a guest from a hotel perspective is a growing challenge,” she said. “But it’s an important one to meet because the active use of guest information and the circumstances surrounding their travel is the key to meeting our guests where they are. The biggest hurdle today is to get guest data to the right parties from a technology and hotel operations perspective. Technology providers are working on integrations, and industry standards are evolving to allow adoption from every hotel player, not just the major ones. Therefore, hotels should expect openness to such integrations from providers because along with predictive marketing, hotel offerings to guests can only improve as they focus on what guests want.”
Miller pointed out that hospitality has struggled with how to accurately store, analyze and visualize the information. “Any person using data should first determine what the objective of the information is, what KPIs or metrics will best support that objective, and then determine how to use the information that is collected,” she said. “Transforming the data into meaningful information is key and many IT tools can be used to assist in this endeavor.”
Heermans added that having access to a lot of data is fine, but a few actionable insights are better. “We see two main levels of challenges: first, consolidating data from disparate systems, often running different aged systems (such as various versions of PMS) to glean a holistic picture; second, understanding how to apply data at both an aggregate and individual level to improve the guest experience or hotel operation,” she said. “Data will continue to offer us insights into what guests want. It will take curiosity to find new trends and build on them.”
Infor’s Michael Schubach, senior program director of hospitality, highlighted the importance of security. “It’s important to note that some hotels also do not do a great job at protecting and removing data. As guests become more informed about the amount of personal data that is accumulated, they may well become more insistent about its removal—witness the GDPR requirements that are becoming a worldwide standard.”
Swain added that the important thing to remember is to make sure the technology is worth it for guests. “In exchange for privacy opt-in, hoteliers should enhance the overall experience for a guest and not focus on monetizing disclosed personal information,” he said. “Guests will spend more if they trust you have a solid end-to-end solution; but first, hoteliers must prove they bring value in exchange for that privacy opt-in.”
Heermans agreed. “If you accept specific feedback on guest preference, you should act on it. Otherwise, the guest gave up something for nothing, and it is an unmet expectation,” she said. “Second, if you’re relying on other observed data (or implicit data like product usage), you need to be sure about a preference before you act on it. We like to recommend starting with experiences that are low stakes but can deliver delight. For example, if a guest continues to tune to ESPN, make it more accessible in the menu.”
Because, ultimately, guests want a personalized experience. “It’s important for hotels to focus on the right technologies to provide personalized experiences,” Khan said. “That means hotels need to understand how to create the feeling of being at home or in the office inside a hotel room with options for connectivity, entertainment and productivity. With new technology like voice assistants, connected rooms and on-demand entertainment quickly becoming the norm, hotels have an opportunity to harness these advancements in a thoughtful way that delivers the sort of personalized experience that guests get every day at home or work.”
In order to create this personalized experience, hotels have to think about their CRM platform. “Think through the design principles of empathy and experimentation and use them to design physical spaces and experiences,” Khan said. “You should also think about the associate, and how to equip them with the right information at the point of engagement… CRM technology often has to connect legacy systems that store valuable data. Again, thinking through the overall traveler journey will help prioritize what to surface from the existing systems into the CRM strategy.”
Abello added, “Digital documentation of a request creates a sense of security for the guest that a need or issue will be resolved quickly while at the same time allowing the hotel’s staff to keep track of each task. This is where the CRM comes into play as a cloud-based system creates a living document that can better anticipate guests’ needs and generate more loyalty through noting preferences.
“For example, a resort is able to see in their easy-to-use system that Mr. Smith in room 512 has asked for additional water bottles to be delivered to his room the past two days around 5 p.m.,” he continued. “By identifying this request in a trackable document, the resort can be preemptive. Incorporating an advanced platform that works with a hotel’s staff to provide better guest services creates the ‘wow’ factor that travelers are looking for in their stay.”
But, Miller stressed the importance of privacy. “Privacy is critical to guests and the hotels should value the information provided by guests,” she said. “If the hotel uses guest rewards and information loaded by the guest within the CRM system, the hotel should create brand loyalty by enhancing the experience. Assuming that the hotel has permission and access, this data might make the hotel stay more enjoyable.”
The importance of data isn’t just about building a guest profile—a hotel’s ability to maximize revenue and create operational efficiencies depends upon this information. “Most hotels have access to an array of data sets, including STR reports, PMS data, guest satisfaction surveys, comments and financial data from multiple properties,” said Scott Watson, partner and EVP of sales/marketing, M3. “With an overwhelming amount of data, many hoteliers suffer from paralysis by analysis. They ‘must have’ data, but have a difficult time deciphering what story the data is telling and which levers to pull to remedy an issue or to replicate success.”
Mark Holzberg, EVP and chief commercial officer at Cloud5 Communications, added, “The goal is to aggregate all these disparate hotel systems into one centralized multilevel dashboard addressing a range of user roles or experiences. And, by providing an open platform for data consolidation and integration across the property, empower managers to interact with the hotel’s systems as they operate in real time, which can directly impact guest satisfaction scores.”
Scott Schaedle, founder and president, Quore, agreed that data overload can be a problem, and solutions need to simplify it for them. “Hotel management members aren’t data analysts, so we can’t expect them to look at all the pieces of information. What they need is a product that gives them the numbers they’re looking for when they need them,” he said. “Providing metrics in real time, and in a user-friendly way, will help employees access and understand their data. A data set’s value is only useful if the operator understands the story it is telling… Data should give users the ability to zoom in and zoom out, meaning a manager should be able to analyze an issue at the property—or even room—level while also seeing the big picture to identify systemic issues.”
As expected, integration of technologies will be key when it comes to maximizing data. “We believe that electronic distribution will see the current role of the CRS expanding into tightly integrated primary pieces,” Hale said. “The key to making the vision of an integrated revenue generation system a reality is to utilize information obtained from the CRS, RMS and CRM. By integrating these data streams along with predictive analytic tools, hotels will be able to truly influence, track and continuously gain insights from the entire guest journey. The overarching goal will be to price and deliver offers to a virtual audience of one instead of a mass audience.”
Watson has three tips for leveraging data to drive revenue. The first is to adopt hotel-specific software. “When it comes to financials, hoteliers have a unique set of needs that must be met by a technology that is developed, designed and deployed to make a hotelier’s life easier,” he said. “Many companies are enticed by the promises of an ERP solution, only to find that the one-size-fits-all approach, add-ons and contracts are anything but flexible for the hotel industry. An ERP-lite solution addressing the specific needs of hotels is more likely to work alongside hoteliers to implement customized reports and features that apply to other brands within the industry. This combination of offerings gives hoteliers the freedom to spend less time compiling and processing data and more time serving guests and motivating employees.
“Second, make sure you are utilizing a system firmly anchored in the cloud,” Watson continued. “By compiling data within a single access point, cloud-based reporting tools provide a real-time snapshot of financial performance across property lines, allowing hoteliers and management teams to make quicker, smarter decisions for their business.”
And finally, consider leveraging hotel-specific financial benchmarking tools. “For hospitality companies seeking an edge in the marketplace, hotel financial benchmarking data shows you where your property stacks up compared to similar hotels across the industry,” Watson said. “By performing real-time industry analytics and trend analysis, hotel benchmarking enables management teams to analyze wages, purchasing, client services, outside vendor costs and more—while taking a strategic approach to financial management and maximizing revenue for the future.”
Innovations like AI and IoT will also have an effect on the back end of hotels. “Artificial intelligence in the data processing realm is certainly something that we are interested in tapping into,” Watson said. “Business insight is key as well. How can a hotelier take data, trends and demand and make better decisions pertaining to the balance sheet, occupancy and the performance of the asset and all resources therein? That’s the question… Working with a hotel-specific provider is invaluable for hoteliers to speed up their implementation processes, minimize investment, reduce errors and increase overall performance, all while equipping owners and operators with the most reliable smart tool on the market.”
Holzberg noted that his company is leveraging vast sources of device-based data, including inputs across IoT, which allows it to monitor and analyze performance, take proactive corrective actions based on network events, and present opportunities to enhance guest service and operational efficiency.
“These innovations share the common bond of connectivity,” Schubach said. “The hotel of the future will undoubtedly be a hub of connectivity and mobility that will enable hoteliers to better know and predict the needs of their guests… IoT has been making huge impacts in manufacturing and retail and is now beginning to impact the hospitality industry. To me, this is a game-changing way to collect and analyze data that has a lot of untapped potential for our industry. From learning guest preferences so that the room can be set up just right every time, to scheduling preventative maintenance in rooms, IoT is utilizing some of the most cutting-edge technology applications to provide a holistic view of the property and its guests.”
Schaedle pointed out that the key to new innovations is maturity. “Some new products might be flashy, but if they aren’t an enterprise-ready solution, it won’t be affordable for hotels to invest in,” he said. “We look for mature products for the hospitality industry that are cost-efficient for a hotel, and we partner with those vendors to help elevate their product, since Quore is the back-end tool they can utilize to make their solutions more valuable to our mutual customers.”
Hoteliers also need to keep what employees want in mind when looking at new technology. “Hotel employees want reliable, easy-to-learn technology that doesn’t require too much time,” Schaedle said. “Make it user-friendly and employees are more likely to maximize its use, which, in turn, benefits the hotel, staff and guests. Providing technology that works with them and their ever-changing schedule is going to be the technology they continue to use.”
“A system that produces accurate results is nothing more than table-stakes,” Schubach said. “What associates expect and deserve is automated elegance, which we would define as the confluence of an intuitive interface, an efficient use of the user’s time and attention span, accessibility by any tethered or untethered devices on a 24/7 basis, and, most importantly, a sophisticated outcome—one that covers all the contingencies, updates all the necessary systems and personnel, and anticipates the next request by providing answers to questions not yet asked.”
Looking at the overall technology ecosystem, Steelman said, “The role of the network operator is expanding. In addition to managing a growing list of guests’ technology expectations, hotel operators will increasingly look to the local network provider to leverage a single, solid core network to connect all sorts of hotel systems. Active coordination will reduce overall systems costs delivery, speed troubleshooting efforts, and reduce on-site service confusion and tech charges.”
Schubach noted, “We have also reached a point where stand-alone gadgets that perform a single ‘cool’ function are no longer enough to satisfy a guest. Consumers not only expect to connect to the amenities using their personal devices; they expect their preferences or personalized recommendations to be presented back to them at every point of interaction. Legacy systems are simply not built to support this cycle of service. Without data collection and security, ease of integration, and data analytics offered by the latest PMS, POS, RMS, and CRM systems in place, investment in guest-facing technology is essentially building a bridge to nowhere.”
“The forces shaping guests’ expectations are many—from mobile and predictive apps that interact with us with instant and many times location-aware feedback, to online retail that engages us with conversational marketing and shopping,” Hale said. “We foresee an evolution in distribution systems to an integrated revenue generation platform that utilizes information obtained from guest profiles and revenue management within the CRS. By integrating these data-streams with predictive analytic tools, hotels will be able to gain continuous guest insights. A guest profile is a great place to start, but the really exciting frontier is looking into causality, meaning the reason behind each travel experience for each guest. This is the way technology can and should empower the hotelier to present the most relevant and personalized offers.”
“The same technology that consumers are used to using in their daily lives, such as voice recognition and augmented reality, are now helping hotels communicate at a personal level—and at scale,” Khan said. “We believe in the intelligent use of technology that augments the person-to-person interaction. I am very excited to see how these emerging technologies will delight hotel guests. I think those that will be most successful will be the ones that equip their associates with the info they need so they can deliver intelligent, personalized interactions with guests. Unlike previous technology trends, which were about getting every guest to consume/utilize what was in the room (like the early generation iPhone chargers on nightstands that we still see at some properties that haven’t been through a refresh cycle), these technologies are much more customizable for a particular guest for a specific stay. This has never been possible before. Understanding the guest in context is extremely important, and new technologies can really be used to their fullest versus a device that looks like what you have at home but is too much of a pain to get to work in a hotel room.”
“It’s really quite simple,” Holzberg said. “Guests want to feel welcomed, unique and just plain special. The industry can go a long way to achieve that for guests by just going back to the basics. Use the guest’s name. Look them in the eye. Ask them how their day is and how you can make it spectacular. That’s really what every guest wants—besides a great bed, clean bathroom and flaming WiFi that handles their multi-device video casting, social media and email.
“That said, common sense says the best spend for a hotel today is staff training and a high-performance network,” he continued. “Next, you’ll want to engage with guests on their own terms. Technology enables hotels to offer both personalization and anonymity, too. From a welcome text message or Spotify tuned to a favorite music genre in your guestroom to a free birthday drink at the bar, database management and persona level analytics provide the engagement-based insights to deliver on the best stay experience. From a network perspective, the industry needs to pivot from an engineering view to a guest-centric view, specifically using technology to enhance the guest experience. For example, personalization can mean auto-authentication for all devices when a guest walks onto the property. Engagement based on their preference with just the right frequency can give a feeling of being taken care of without the stalker effect.” HB