Hotel technology adoption: What can be learned from a Polish auto repair shop
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Back in November when tnooz published its article “Can airlines speed up their adoption of new technology? And should they?”, a reader suggested it should publish a similar piece from the hotel perspective. It made total sense, as historically airlines and hospitality industries have a lot in common: they share the same type of customers (travelers), they both have limited and perishable inventories (seats/rooms) and, overall, the booking process is very similar. Think about the birth of revenue management and you will understand how strong this bond is: legend has it that, after coining the term yield management, CEO of American Airlines Robert Crandall discussed his successful strategy with Bill Marriott, who applied the same concept to sell his rooms. The lines between the two industries have always been blurred, as they share similar needs and challenges, an important one being the adoption of new technologies.
BE QUICK OR BE DEAD? NOT ALWAYS
When the IATA started pushing airlines to adapt to latest technologies, such as the adoption of an XML-based data transmission standard to enable API distribution (known as NDC), it was like opening Pandora’s box. Even though IATA delivered the first set of official NDC standards more than two years ago, by the time of writing this article only 55 airlines are successfully certified. Considering that there are around 5000 airlines with IATA codes, the rate of adoption is barely 1%. The same can be said for the hospitality industry: when it comes to technology, in fact, adoption and deployment usually do not go hand in hand and, by the time new technologies are fully adopted, they could have become already obsolete. Moreover, being early-adopters could be as risky: if a new technology does not become the standard in the industry, in fact, not only the hotels lose the money invested, but they get stuck with unusable systems. Think about all the buzz around Google Glass: the most-hyped gadget launch of all time received the you’ve-done-a-great-job-but-we-need-your-desk-treatment in just a three-year span. How would you feel if you had ordered a pair of glasses for each room just to ride the Next-Big-Thing wave (I can tell you how, since I am one of the thousands tech enthusiast who threw away $1,500 in a Google Basecamp store five years ago…)?
BE WRONG AS FAST AS YOU CAN
So it looks like hotels are caught in a technological vicious circle: if they do not adapt they fail and if they bet on the wrong horse they fail as well. Good news is that technology has evolved to a point that it is more accessible and affordable so, in case of failure, hotels can limit the damage. Cloud-based solutions, for example, are easier and cheaper to replace than on-premise ones. Skeptical? Would you rather change your old server-based PMS or go back in 1997 just after having bought fifty brand new NeXT computers for your staff? Andrew Stanton, director of several Pixar’s masterpieces such as Finding Nemo and WALL-E, used to say “be wrong as fast as you can”. Just a few years ago this was not an option in hospitality, especially for smaller properties, while now even independent hotels can experiment with different solutions and achieve a level of efficiency, centralization and accuracy that was unthinkable just a decade ago.
(NOT OVERHYPED) TECH TRENDS IN HOSPITALITY WORTH KEEPING AN EYE ON
This does not mean that hotels should adopt new technologies just for the sake of it, as technology should be considered as a mere tool: if it does not improve your employees quality of work or does not help you providing an unforgettable experience to your guest, then it is probably not worth it. Would you hire a front office manager just because he can code in Python? Doubtful. And this is exactly the approach you should have towards technology in your hotel. You may be tempted to test every latest “disruptive” innovative solution, but remember that technology should always be guest and employee-centric so, if your smart room is alienating guest instead of offering them a great experience, you may want to reconsider your priorities. To help you choose where to invest in 2018, here are five trends that are likely here to stay:
A HOTEL CONCIERGE IN YOUR POCKET
“Our new iPhone and iTouch applications are like having a hotel concierge in your pocket 24/7”, says Paul Brown, president of global brands and commercial services at Hilton. A lot has been said and written about digital concierge apps, so the chances are you know what we’re talking about. What you may not know is that, unlike other trends in hospitality, the digital concierge concept is rapidly gaining popularity and, with more providers offering the technology, it is a small investment with nearly no long-term risks. It may look like a prehistoric improvement when compared to what Loews Hotel 1000 did (installing infrared scanners on every door in order to detect guests bodies heat so that cleaning staff know if you are still “hangovering” in bed from the night before or if they can clean your room), but I am quite sure it is money better spent.
KEYLESS TECHNOLOGY AND SELF-SERVICE
“New technology always takes time to enter the mainstream”, says Brian Shedd, OpenKey’s VP of sales and marketing, “and mobile key is still on the adoption curve, but reviews among users and hotel satisfaction scores prove out that mobile key is the future”. While some hotels are bringing keyless technology to a creepy black-mirror-ish next level with fingerprint and retina scanning-activated doors, a simple mobile app can do the trick for most hotels: as long as guests can remotely check-in/out, order room service and get in and out of their rooms with their mobile you’re fine. And even if we love the nostalgic words of the Baltimore writer Brandon Ambrosino when he says that “the disappearance of hotel room keys marks the end of hospitality”, because “each keycard is a symbol of an experience, one specific, unrepeatable moment in time”, it is very likely that hotel room key cards could disappear within the next five years.
MICE IS GETTING DIGITAL
According to Pacific World, MICE demand for European destinations has increased 44% over the past year, but as conference hotels know very well, good wifi, projectors, laser pointers and flip charts alone do not sell conference rooms anymore. Bringing all the speakers together in the same city at the same time, for example, can be challenging and web conferencing services are becoming a standard request from MICE organizers, together with interactive whiteboards and cloud-based platforms integration. Therefore, if you want to invest your money without regretting it in one year, get a $4,999 Google Jamboard, pick a stable conferencing software and redesign your congress rooms so that they meet the new MICE guests needs, such as multiple outlets with USB and USB-C charging ports.
BABYLON IS BURNING
Last October Google launched Pixel Buds, real-time translation wireless earbuds. Even though their reception was mostly negative, Pixel Buds can help communication between guests and front office department. I used to be a hotel general manager and I remember how frustrating it was to type my thoughts on Google Translate, pass the screen to a guest and watching him do the same just to order a salad. Sure, Pixel Buds could easily end up in the Google Glass Heaven as well but, with a $159 price point, it is worth a try.
WINTER IS COMING
Did you know that only 1% of guests use video on demand (with 90% of it being porn) in hotels, while more 75% of guests prefer to watch their own media? Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku are inexpensive but appreciated enhancements to your rooms, allowing your guests to enjoy their favorite TV series on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime or Hulu.
You will read a lot about technology in hospitality this year: from blockchains to voice-activated rooms to robots (and not only the cute AI chatbots, but the creepy-scale-1:1-Small-Wonder-Super-Vicky-kind-of-robots, such as Botlr, Maidbot or Yobot) so, no matter how tempting these tech trends can be, it is unlikely that you will have to implement them all in 2018. And whenever you are unsure about some next-Big-Thing-cutting-edge-technology, remember that there is an auto repair shop somewhere in Poland that is still using a Commodore 64 for balancing driveshafts.
It works perfectly.