Hotel tech experts shared what they think will be the technology for the industry to watch and use heading into 2019.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Each new year means new budgets, which is a time when hoteliers look at what CapEx they plan to make for the year. The demand for better service by guests in an increasingly digital world translates to hoteliers figuring out what new tech they’re planning to purchase this year.
Hotel News Now reached out via email to tech experts and decision makers in the hotel industry to find out what they consider to be worthwhile investments in 2019 and what still needs to cook a little longer.
Q: Are there any new or emerging technologies you are watching for in 2019? Will this year be the one to invest? Why or why not?
Armand Rabinowitz, senior director of strategy and workgroups, HTNG
“2019 will be another year for artificial intelligence, but we should start hearing more about the meaningful implementations of AI (artificial intelligence) rather than the buzzword itself. In fact, AI is a bit of a misnomer if you think about it. The word ‘artificial’ often refers to a fake copy made by humans to mimic something natural. AI as we know it today isn’t made to mimic human intelligence. AI’s purpose is to enhance (our) own knowledge, understanding and efficiency. Perhaps ‘synthetic intelligence’ (SI) is a more apt buzzword for 2019 because the word ‘synthetic’ implies something man-made that improves what’s naturally occurring.
“For example, synthetic oil performs better in most vehicle motors and synthetic fibers have many superior properties over natural fibers. Likewise, synthetic intelligence can provide insight with speed and accuracy that is far superior to humans. We will continue to realize this transformative potential for many years to come. Any company that wants to grow must learn to harness the power of AI or SI, and this will take time. Companies need to start somewhere and should invest in this technology as soon as possible. Waiting to adopt AI/SI will make it considerably harder to catch up because it will only become more and more pervasive in every aspect of business. There are many examples of AI already out there that range from revenue management and business analytics solutions all the way to voice-enabled technology.”
Chris Bebo, corporate director of operations, Provenance Hotels
“This year, for us, investing in optimizing existing technologies is shaping up to be the priority. For example, data and payment security. Exciting new technologies may attract some guests, but nothing will drive them away faster than a data or payment security breach. Bandwidth too, continues to be an issue as the industry struggles to stay ahead of guests’ data use needs. Yes, we are open to new ideas, but we remain committed to investing in the behind-the-scenes infrastructure necessary to power our guests’ devices while at the same time keeping their data and credit information safe.”
Nathan Wright, director of system optimization and training, Hospitality Ventures Management Group
“While not exactly new, the big technology that we have started to invest significant capital into is ‘GRE’ (Guest Room Entertainment) systems. It seems nowadays that everyone has either Netflix, Hulu and/or Amazon Prime subscriptions, and if we want to stay guest-focused then we have to provide a way to stream those services in the guest room. The cost is not just the GRE system, as it also could require new low-voltage wiring and more internet bandwidth for older hotels.”
Q: What will be the must-have guest-facing technology in 2019? Why?
Rabinowitz: “As is evident by the products on display at (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas this year, major manufacturers of consumer electronics have been integrating voice-enabled technology into everything they can. Just like the PC 20 or 30 years ago, consumers may be somewhat underwhelmed by the first couple of generations of voice technology. But, in less than a decade, voice technology will be as pervasive as the PC and it will come in as many forms as our mobile computing devices.”
Bebo: “Service automation through mobile apps will continue to grow into 2019. Modern meetings today run on technology. From the smallest boardroom to the largest event space, meeting technology will continue to grow as more and more guests work away from the home and office. We have seen a lot of hotel renovations and new-builds integrate wireless device chargers into guestrooms, as well as integrated technologies allowing guests to communicate directly with the hotel via mobile app, control their TV, order room service, even ask to have their vehicle brought around from valet. It’s all about streamlining communication between the guest and our service teams and these communication tools help us do that quickly and efficiently using devices and technology that our guests are comfortable with.”
Wright: “Just as we are providing a more home-based entertainment experience in the hotel rooms with GRE, I believe as more people become more comfortable with voice-controlled apps and systems like Alexa and Siri, they will start to desire voice automation in the hotel room and elsewhere throughout the property. It will go beyond simply controlling the TV conceivably to include lights, window shades, HVAC control and about anything else a guest has their hands on now. One concern will be privacy issues that will need to be handled properly.”
Q: What advances do you expect to see in back-of-house technology next year?
Rabinowitz: “The ubiquity of mobile computing and the (Internet of Things) are ideally suited to tackle one of today’s most challenging issues: staff safety. Panic buttons have been around for a few years, but with five of the biggest hotel brands in the world promising to deploy solutions to all hotels by 2020, there is no doubt that we’ll see even more advancements than before. Panic buttons have already taken so many different forms to address the primary concerns. In fact, we’re no longer calling them ‘panic buttons,’ but ‘associate alert devices’ because they aren’t just buttons to be used in instances of panic—they come in many forms and serve different needs. Some solutions can even serve multiple needs and complex requirements. With all of the options emerging in 2019, HTNG members are working diligently to produce a guide to help hoteliers navigate the quickly-expanding landscape of staff alert technology.”
Bebo: “We are excited about our brand partnership with (a new operating platform) in 2019. This cloud-based platform allows for seamless communication among hotel associates using (its) guest and associate engagement tools. But, equally exciting is how this tool might help us with distribution, operations across all disciplines, work force tracking, etc. We are working with (its central reservation platform) right now to determine how best to leverage this technology partnership to our advantage.”
Wright: “Increased use in social media and related applications will allow us to better connect with our guests. I see better tools being created based on that technology with emphasis on handling guest service-related requests on a timely manner.”