Hotelier: What are the most common challenges hoteliers are trying to solve with technology?
Rich Tuckwell: Hoteliers have a huge task when it comes to managing the infrastructure that runs and operates their venues. It’s a massive landscape of ever-changing technology that manages and amends rooms, creates and manages revenue and also needs to be both functional from a property level, while being a seamless user experience from a guest’s perspective. The key challenges within the Americas are [how to] generate more direct-booked revenue and manage OTA/rate strategy; how to create a more engaging journey and encourage direct bookings and greater repeat bookings; and how to increase direct revenue and rates when rate parity is such an issue.
Irwin M. Prince: Quick communication with the use of apps such as Alice — custom-tailored for the hotel industry — act as communication hubs between guests and staff. Guests can use the app to request room service, amenities, or even get in touch with the maintenance team. Security issues are being solved by the use of credit card tokenization. Technology — used to protect consumer credit-card data from thieves and hackers — takes the liability off hoteliers and protects guests from potential fraud.
Louis Tremblay: As more consumers make the switch to electric vehicles (EVs), there will be a growing demand for charging services at hotels. For hoteliers, it’s a matter of staying ahead of the curve and making sure they will be able to accommodate those needs. When it comes to EV charging stations, hoteliers have to make sure they choose a solution that is scalable (to meet both current and future demand), universal (to make sure it can service all types of electric vehicles), user-friendly (to make sure it enhances the guest experience and not the opposite) and easily manageable (to make sure they can determine usage policies and access rights).
Andrew Chlebus: [The challenge is] ensuring availability and a guest experience that is superior to what [guests] are used to. Technology needs to be flexible to adapt to moving requirements by brands and guests. Ease of use and seamless integration are key. Hotelier: How can hotels use technology to enhance the guest experience?
RT: Guests want four E’s when it comes to booking their stay: easy; engaging; emotive; and an experience. Half the battle is utilizing technology to ensure the booking experience is the best and then ensuring the data that’s captured during the booking process is fed through to the front-of-house team so guests aren’t then asked their address and details such as “have you stayed with us before?” You already know this, and you just need to demonstrate to the guest that you know it — that goes a long way to easing the check-in and check-out journey.
Using a system such as Alice could potentially increase housekeeping and service requests. Tools such as Triptease, OTA insights and ReviewPro massively increase the guest’s online experience and engagement with a venue.
IP: It’s important to remember we’re in the hospitality business and we don’t want to eliminate guest interaction. Rather, we’re looking to minimize “friction points” to enhance the guest experience. For example, offer more outlets in guestrooms for devices/gadgets and provide extra USB cables in the rooms for charging devices. Self-check-in technology can play a role in providing convenience to the guest while also easing the burden on the front-desk staff. [Other useful technology includes] door-opening technology on mobile devices, via smartphone app, live-chat features or messaging apps to connect guest with front desk/maintenance and temperature controls linked to guest arrivals [to increase] energy efficiency.
LT: Electric-vehicle-charging stations can play a big part in enhancing the guest experience. Typically, EV drivers do the bulk of their charging at home during the night, which allows them to leave every morning with a fully charged battery. So it makes sense for them to seek EV-charging services when staying overnight at a hotel — especially when they are travelling long distances.
AC: Technology is becoming a bigger force within the decision process. It’s now being tied into the hotel-operation applications, so you can use the TV as a centre console with access from the remote-programming guide and customized welcome, ordering room service, booking spa appointments and checking out.
Hotelier: What other roles does technology play in a hotel setting (i.e. entertainment, loyalty/engagement)?
RT: Our hotel partners need to be focusing on the technologies they’re using to increase guest engagement on, and off, their website; an engaged guest is one that feels attached and involved — that in itself will increase loyalty to both the venue and the brand (if you are part of a group). Total RevPAR is not just a room; it’s something hoteliers need to focus on and technology can assist with. An emotive journey through the booking path can drastically increase the Total RevPAR of a booked stay. Imagine using technology to tie your food-and-beverage [program] in with your booking engine, so guests can book a table while booking a room. The same goes for spas, golf courses, meeting rooms and even champagne or chocolates on arrival.
By increasing that engagement and enhancing the [guest’s] journey and experience, you also increase the loyalty factor. This all starts on your website. If your website is constructed to best represent your property, its capabilities and value-adds (spa, dining, vouchers, treats) and is emotive, engaging and gets a [guest’s] buy in at the right time, and you’ve constructed that journey to best utilize your product, then many things happen. First, you’ve created a direct booker, so the cost to you of that booking has just decreased from around 20 per cent to closer to four per cent and you’ve increased overall profit on the stay. The [guest] is engaged and, therefore, more likely to talk positively about your property before they stay, improving your social-media presence and ancillary bookings.
IP: Guests are increasingly utilizing their own devices for entertainment, rather than in-room televisions and amenities [so] hotels are offering proprietary access to streaming services such, as Netflix, while guests are connected to the hotel’s network. The hotel room’s television, radio and clock are taking a backseat as travellers use their own technology to keep themselves entertained. LCD touch screens are also being rapidly adopted by hotels to display the latest local information, news and weather, and to help guests learn about and interact with hotel guest services.
LT: Electric-vehicle-charging stations can play a big role in building loyalty. If a specific chain becomes known for offering EV-charging services, this can become an important decision factor for customers when planning trips. EV-charging stations can also have positive impacts on the company’s image, as it shows the hotel or chain is forward thinking and a proponent of clean, sustainable transportation. This can nicely complement other sustainability practices.
AC: Hotel brands are trying harder to implement a [single] platform across all properties so guests [are more comfortable with] the technology. Regardless of location, the look and feel of the technology offerings are identical. The [resulting] software analytics help improve loyalty programs [and offer] a solution that ties guest purchases and preferences to offer more insight into improving and distancing themselves from their competition.
Hotelier: What new technology is making its way into various departments within hotels?
RT: Allora has been billed as the first in the next generation of booking engine, and is revolutionary. Our AI-powered engine learns, collates and configures the best
guest experience based on the knowledge it’s learned for that footprint of guest, or even that [particular] guest. Imagine you’re a chain of 100 hotels: the next time John Smith goes online to book your venue in Edmonton, Allora takes all the learned information about John’s previous bookings, not just with hotels in your chain, but all of the Avvio-powered hotels he’s ever stayed in and then creates his prefect booking journey, stay and rate before he’s even put in a date he wants to stay.
I’d also look at VDRoom, which is a great company with a software that allows you to create an amazing virtual-reality journey on your website to really engage visitors.
IP: As the industry continues to evolve, some hotels are already offering more futuristic experiences, with robots delivering items ordered through room service to a guest’s door. Hotels are adapting based on the younger demographics — they need to use mobile technology to interact with the guest before, during and after their hotel stay.
AC: Technology applications that are expanding and becoming more visible [include] the mobile device as door key, service automation (where guests are checking in and out via their personal device or TV) and technology lounges and hubs [where] guest can access Wi-Fi, airline updates and weather status in a stylish business-centre-type space.
Hotelier: How is existing technology evolving to meet changing needs?
RT: The new cloud-based PMS from hotel-software provider Protel is a dream according to the clients I’ve introduced to the German PMS provider. They’ve opened two offices in the U.S. in the last six months as operators in the U.S. and Canada look to the more advanced European tech providers for solutions as, generally, they are more evolved as far as advanced hospitality tech is concerned.
IP: In an industry where customer expectations for a positive experience run particularly high, technology can provide ways to overcome this challenge through improved/enhanced inter-department communication. Technology is evolving to increase efficiency and the guest experience, while staff-centric technology smooths out bumps along the path of daily operation. Technologies can help save energy, impacting the bottom line. For example, motion-sensor technology can help regulate temperature, lighting and cutback on energy use. Software systems that work hand-in-hand with guest-review sites, such as TripAdvisor, allow hotel operators to get real-time feedback and manage online reputation. [Other] new technologies allow hoteliers to protect guest data and security information.
AC: Hoteliers are also investing in delivery platforms to elevate the in-room experience and catch up to what guests have at home. That means bigger, better TVs that interface easily with a guest’s mobile devices for a great viewing experience.
Hotelier: How do you determine which technology is a good investment for your property and what is a passing fad?
RT: We know AI is, without a doubt, the next natural evolution of the sector. Hospitality is behind the curve compared to many other industries. To establish what is just a passing craze and what is the next big tech trend worth investing in, you should first look at other sectors and other consumer journeys. [There’s no reason] hotels can’t use the same tech to communicate with its clients as a Volvo. Amazon, Google, Volvo, Apple and Tesla are just some of the brands I look at to predict where tech is going. We know AI, VR and AR are all fast becoming commonplace in other sectors, so the likelihood is that this will feed into ours. Put yourself in the place of the booker — what would you want, what tech would have made [the experience] easier for you?
IP: Evaluate which aspects of the hotel need to be improved. Will new technology reduce complexity when it comes to operational efficiency or increase it? Know your customer — this will [determine] what technology will help you stay relevant. Consider what your guests are looking for and what will meet their needs. And, of course, balance technology with human interaction. [You also] need to take a look at direct competitors in the market and what they’re offering that you’re not.
LT: Electric vehicles are projected to represent 20 per cent of all new car sales by 2030 and there’s a growing consensus that electric vehicles are the future of personal transportation — not just in Canada, but worldwide. We’ve now reached a point where it’s not a question of if electric vehicles will become the norm, but when. Investing in EV-charging infrastructure is a smart decision.
Hotelier: How important is staff and customer buy-in?
RT: It’s essential. You can’t launch new technology, create a new guest journey or develop a new online environment if your team doesn’t buy into it — and if your end-user consumer doesn’t want it. Your team has to believe it will achieve results, understand how and why it works and, more importantly, what its end goal is. Your guest has to see it as a value that has been added, whether that’s ease-of-use, ease-of-entry, more or quicker information, or to create a more pleasant environment to interact and engage with. If either of those things aren’t there then you will certainly fail in achieving what you set out to use the technology for.
IP: It’s critical. Change is key in business for remaining relevant and ahead of the curve. While some people see the immediate value of adopting new technology, many don’t. It’s important for hoteliers to define the reasons for implementing new technologies and [determine] how it will benefit not just customers but employees as well. It’s equally important to ensure employees can adapt to the integration — only a fully functional team that’s ready to move towards innovation can help take a hotelier’s business forward. Communication is [also important] — hoteliers can overcome resistance by reinforcing the importance of new technologies and generating excitement around its benefits.
Hotelier: What are some of the operational challenges encountered when implementing new technology?
RT: Integration timings — independent technologies or multiple systems and software that all have to be tied together and entrenched into one seamless system means a lot of moving parts all being integrated simultaneously into one conjoined system. Timing, testing and launching is the biggest challenge.
IP: New technologies almost always present a different set of challenges [so] training and communication is critical. [There are also] added operating costs as hotels try to keep up with the technology trends and each change adds expenses. [These include] increasing Wi-Fi speeds, changing-out existing equipment for new, or adding more efficient tools. Training employees on the new technologies and defining the roles of staff with these new technologies is also a challenge. Using an app for conventional services means you could be getting a request at any time — where does that transaction go, who receives it and what are they going to do when they get it?
Glitches in new technologies can pose a major challenge as they interrupt the flow of business.
LT: First, hoteliers have to make sure their EV-charging service will be compatible with all types of electric vehicles. For instance, Tesla chargers will power Tesla vehicles, but will not work with other EV models. Second, hoteliers need to make sure they offer enough charging spaces to meet demand in order to avoid creating frustration among guests. This is important since charging-station availability often becomes a decision factor for EV-driving customers — the infrastructure must be extensive enough to accommodate any incoming guest and usage must be closely monitored so hoteliers always stay one step ahead of their guests’ needs.
Hoteliers need a system that will allow them to determine usage policies. Depending on their situation, some might want to implement user fees or manage access rights. And, last, but not least, hoteliers need a solution that will allow them to keep electricity costs under control.
Hotelier: How might technology transform hotel experiences in the future?
RT: I predict (along with the rest of the connected tech world) that online booking as we know it will have changed completely within the next five years. AI tools, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are becoming more mainstream and already automating our everyday tasks. Engaging website visitors via voice search and integrated payment system such as Apple Pay will be completely different — some KFC restaurants in China accept payment via a smile at a self-service terminal, as well as ordering through WeChat, (China’s version of WhatsApp). Eventually, hotels will need to adapt to become as easy to book, pay for and check-in/out of as it will be to buy a burger with a smile.
IP: With technology at its core, hoteliers can work towards enhancing the guest experience. Guests prefer a smooth experience — even with simple tasks such as ordering their favourite food or a fresh set of bed sheets. It’s no longer about calling the front desk with requests and waiting for them to be fulfilled. With mobile applications, allowing a guest to send requests will help to enhance the guest experience. AI integrations will take the guest-experience management to a higher level altogether by offering future-facing experiences. Smart rooms in a hotel may become the norm and IoT in the hospitality industry can help hotels to cut costs while adding an innovative touch to the overall guest experience.
Hotelier: What role will robotics/automation play in the hotel industry moving forward?
RT: Automated check-in’s and check-outs within the reception area will become the norm, just like using a self-checkout when buying your groceries — allowing guest engagement with your front-of-house team members to be dedicated to enhancing the guest’s stay. Guest interactions will become more ‘concierge’ focused, “What can I do for you?” conversations. The manual jobs of inputting and checking data that has already been submitted, and issuing a keycard will become automated, with the swipe of card or using an app on your smartphone.
IP: There needs to be a compelling vision for what the technology is and what it’s going to do. The role will be dictated by traveller demographics, hotel market and geographical regions — this is not a one-size-fits-all technology.
AC: The hotel framework will always require the personal human touch and over-the-top customer service ensuring guests they have made the right decision staying at their hotel.