We all know hotels lag in tech; how do we fix that?
 
We all know hotels lag in tech; how do we fix that?
01 FEBRUARY 2019 8:15 AM

Hotel industry experts often comment on how the industry lags behind other sectors in innovation and tech investment, but are there any signs that could change?

I’ve written before about the important role technology plays in guest experience, but I want to touch on the subject again.

One of the things I hear over and over again while traveling to cover this industry, particularly at conferences, is that hotels are laggards in picking up on new technologies compared to other sectors, such as retail.

I think anyone who has spent any amount of time working in or observing the hotel industry can attest to this absolutely being the case. There are obvious forces at work regulating the pace of new tech adoption, not the least of which is owners who are less-than-interested in sinking capital into projects without a clear return on investment attached.

But every time this issue comes up, it’s in the context of being a major issue that needs to be addressed head on.

My question is this: Who is addressing it and how? I suppose the most obvious answer would be the brands, since they have the greatest incentive to be viewed as cutting edge and to offer technologies that provide convenience and value to guests. But they still have to sell owners on that investment and can’t be too onerous in their brand standards and PIPs lest they risk losing franchisees.

All the tech stuff seems nice to brands, I’m sure, but their goal at the end of the day is to drive unit growth and sign new deals. You aren’t going to do that by forcing owners to make big investments in untested technologies.

And it’d be entirely unreasonable to expect third-party operators to be the agents of change here, even though they’re the ones who deal most directly with the guests and suffer the consequences of the industry’s tech-laggard status.

As pessimistic as this might sound, this strikes me as a problem for which the hotel industry has no solution. People will continue to look outside of the industry, for example at the airlines and their vastly superior integration of technology, and think “why can’t hotels do the same thing?” But that isn’t going to be enough to spur change.

The only possible path out of this morass of tech mediocrity that I can see would be for one of the major companies like Marriott International, Hilton, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group or AccorHotels to roll out a new brand that has its identity truly built around technology and convenience, and for that brand to somehow strike a nerve and become as ubiquitous as say Hampton Inn. This is clearly a copy-cat industry, so whatever company made this move would surely see competitors follow suit sooner rather than later. And once more heavy tech investment is an industry norm, it’d be an easier sell to owners.

But that’s some pretty pie-in-the-sky thinking, so I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

What do you think? Let me know via email or on Twitter.

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