The pandemic accelerated digital transformation by 10 years (McKinsey & Company) and today’s travel consumers have become more digitally and tech-savvy than ever. Many of today’s travelers’ service expectations are around self-service, around do-it-yourself, from online planning and booking, to preferences for contactless check-in, mobile keys, voice assistants, and communication with hotel staff via messaging. Serious technology implementations are needed to “appease” these exceedingly tech-savvy guests and their exceedingly high technology expectations. At the same time, two other extremely important issues are plaguing the industry today that need immediate resolution: a) never-ending labor shortages, b) unsustainable labor costs. Only through accelerated investments in technology – cloud, mobility, AI, robotics, IoT, and other next-gen technology applications and innovations – can the hospitality industry do more with fewer employees and solve the three major industry issues outlined above.
The question is, what are these top technology applications that can have the greatest impact in hospitality in 2022?
For me, the key is self-serve via automation. Staff turnover will remain high so starters/leavers/movers processes need to be totally automated. Restaurant menu changes and price changes need to be linked end to end to inventory systems. We can’t afford to have humans checking other human activity. Tools like Workato, UiPath, Automation Anywhere are well,placed to help here. Also system simplification. Strip out those multiple PMSes, POSes, HR systems etc. invest in central data lakes to bring your data together and spot correlations that might lead to new business opportunities.
Program Director, Master’s Degree in Hospitality Strategy and Digital Transformation at Les Roches Global Hospitality Education
On top of living in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I’m lucky that in my role as director of the Master’s in Hospitality Strategy and Digital Transformation at Les Roches (also home of the Spark Hospitality Innovation hub), a big part of my job is looking at emerging technology in the hotel ecosystem.
Overall, it is impossible to overlook the impact that artificial intelligence and machine learning will have across a wide spectrum of the industry. The most obvious one is AI helping hotelier’s optimize revenue, by reducing the ever-increasing amount of available data into something manageable.
AI is also already poised to deliver the digital marketer’s Holy Grail: Personalization. The only obstacles that remain are how to provide clean enough data to start with and to clearly define the line that should maintained to prevent personalization from becoming creepy.
In addition to this direct application of artificial intelligence, there are several technologies that are already in use in other industries that are showing great promise in hospitality, that are only possible because of AI. My favorite is facial and object recognition. In my career at the property level, I am sure I spent hundreds of hours searching for people and things, and the proper use of this technology would allow hotels to know where all their high value items are at any time.
In partnership with an existing facial recognition technology provider, two of our master’s students recently completed a capstone project resulting in a very promising application that uses this facial recognition anonymously, alleviating the innkeeper’s fundamental concern for their guest’s privacy, to measure a restaurant’s service standards and revenue management KPIs in real time.
When the dust settles, a lasting impact of COVID accelerating digital transformation will be a widening of the already-existing gap between the hotels that are on top of their tech, and the ones who are not.
Owner, The Murphy Gallery & Hotel Dublin
The pandemic has created digital cultures and processes that are here to stay, although sadly the utopian future of truly frictionless travel won’t be achieved in the next twelve months. Self-service options have crossed the bridge from ‘nice-to-have’ to ‘must-have’ and will soon be the norm, rather than the exception. Travellers have never been more digitally literate and expect to be able to choose a contactless customer journey if they wish, even now the health crisis has somewhat abated. (In case there was any doubt about how ubiquitous this is set to become, Hilton’s 2022 Trend Report details their vison of achieving convenient and contactless experiences as standard across all its properties – including Digital Check-In, Digital Key, Digital Check-Out, and in-room control.)
To date, mobile key has been a sticking point, given a user experience that is objectively inferior to the ease and simplicity offered by traditional hotel key cards. Now that Apple has finally announced that it will be possible to store hotel keys in the Apple Wallet (meaning you will be able open a hotel door from a personal mobile device without having to first unlock it and sign into an app), this looks set to change. The technology is currently being trialled in select Hyatt hotels, before becoming more widely available soon.
Staff apps will be used to streamline processes and improve communication, and integrated IOT devices and Room Management Systems that automatically turn off lights, heat, and air-conditioning in unoccupied rooms will achieve substantial energy savings, adding to the hotel’s bottom line.
Most excitingly (although still a few years off), new forms of verifiable digital identity, such as the European Digital Identity Wallet (due to be trialled before the end of the year), will transform the way we share personal data and pay for services, simultaneously improving data security, achieving relevant personalisation and saving vast amounts of time. (Anyone interested in finding out more should check out the work of the Decentralized Identity Foundation Hospitality and Travel Special Interest Group.)
For hotels that get it right, the efficiencies that can be achieved will be impressive:
- “Live customer service channels (phone, live chat, email) cost $8.01 per contact, on average, vs just $0.10 for self-service channels (websites, mobile apps).”Gartner
- “Linking the hotel’s reservation system and energy management system to an automated check-out system to keep an unsold room ventilated but with minimal heating and cooling can reduce energy costs by 35-45%, with a utility savings of 50-75%.”Energy Star
- “Occupancy sensors that can dim or turn off lights when no one is in the room can reduce electricity usage by 30%.”Energy Star
- “Daylight sensors that adjust the artificial light in the room to the amount of natural light in a room can reduce electricity usage by 40%.” Energy Star
- “Institutions using high-assurance digital identity for registration could see up to a 90% reduction in costs for customer onboarding.”McKinsey