Blockchain, guest-controlled hotel rooms and AI are the future of hotel technology.
Hotel technology will continue to be led by mobile, digital room keys and in-room entertainment, but another emerging technology is blockchain.
A continuously growing list of records, which are linked and secured using cryptography, a blockchain is resistant to modification and is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions such as membership loyalty programs.
In regard to pre-stay communications, we have used Flip.to, which makes it easy for guests with reservations to share deals and tell friends about their upcoming stay.
Another trend worth watching occurs just after rooms are booked. This began with metasearch giant, Kayak, and has led to a lack of room rate growth as hotels deal with the commodity mindset, where guests feel that they can get a better price if they continue to search. Google is adding a price tracker for hotels with which guests can receive price fluctuation alerts after booking, their apparent goal being to become a first-choice booking service rather than solely a search engine.
Once guests arrive, mobile check-in, text and chat take center stage. Mobile check-in has been around for the last few years, but will hit full stride as the technology is refined. If a guest does not utilize mobile check-in by going directly to their room, they will check in at a pod rather than a formal front desk. These pods will be tablet-based kiosks where guests can pick their room directly from their phone and the door lock will be programmed to open only when that mobile device is nearby.
Taking this idea into the rooms themselves, some brands have moved away from traditional guestroom phones and opt for in-room tablets controlling every aspect of the room. Ideally, these two sets of technology will merge so guests can control everything directly from their mobile device.
Texting guests in response to “in-the-moment” needs, security issues and eliminating language barriers are all technologically feasible. Texting provides ancillary revenue streams (we’ve beta tested an “eat, play or shop” app that guided guests to local deals). Chat is already global, and chatbots are AI customer service assistants. Services like Zingle offer automation and communication with guests from one central hub.
The internet of things (IoT) translates the smart home experience into the hospitality world. Technologies such as sensor-activated thermostats, digital room keys and in-room streaming services are all possible today. Getting the IoT upgraded to the network is coming soon and voice activation will be at the top of the list, enabled both by mobile users and Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home.
The emergence of artificial intelligence into the guest journey is already here. Hotels like Fairfield Inn & Suites San Diego North/San Marcos have had a Relay robot for almost a year. AI is a fast-moving technology enabling machines to perform tasks that previously only humans could.
Robots will continue to impact areas of the guest or associate experience in 2018, a benefit being the data provided as guests utilize the services. In-room technology is vastly different than it was at the turn of the century. Today’s guests expect the in-room entertainment experience to be on demand and better than what they have at home. Additionally, customizable technologies such as custom lighting, smart mirrors and in-room tablets allow hotels to tailor to guest preferences before arrival.
Data and analytics lead to winning the loyalty game. Data can segment guest profiles to infinite degrees, creating a comprehensive picture of who’s staying at our properties. We can track guest habits, interests, preferences, reason for travel, booking date, date of last stay and more. Data and analytics must be mined to measure successes, look for new ways to improve our guest experience and market toward specific demographics. Search engine marketing, optimization and advertising initiatives are crucial to our hotels’ success in this digital age.
Online travel agencies continue to impact our market share and will likely become involved with more guests and their stays. The Expedia Travel Platform will continue their involvement with meeting planners and most likely disrupt other areas soon. OTAs want to own the guest at every step from pre-stay to post-stay. That means we must use caution in embracing them in areas where we can do it ourselves. Perhaps blockchain will be our savior.
Blockchain, which is a clear and incorruptible path from the hotel to the guest, has the ability to create more direct and lower fee transactions. This direct route is a potential disruption to OTAs as they continue to grow and impact our industry. Let’s at least get their commissions back down to the 10% we always gladly paid travel agents. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Robert Rauch is an internationally-recognized hotelier, CEO, president and founder of RAR Hospitality, a leading hospitality management and consulting firm based in San Diego. Rauch has over 40 years of hospitality-related management experience in all facets of the industry.
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