Hoteliers say personalization, data privacy and the need for streamlined operations will drive tech demands this year.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—In 2020, hotel technology will be intensely focused on driving greater levels of guest customization and enhancing staff service levels, according to experts. Building up greater data security defenses, as well as ensuring privacy compliance, will also figure heavily in the coming year.
In prior years, hoteliers wrestled with infrastructure issues, like expanding property bandwidth and providing in-room streaming media connectivity. While these components are still an important guest expectation, sources said hotel tech will have a more data- and service-driven mentality in 2020.
“A lot of the focus on technology is going to be about ways to customize the guest experience, so that the guests can feel more that they’re known by the hotel or the brand, as well as finding opportunities to make it easier to free up associates from areas of customer service or the technical task-oriented things,” said Matthew Woodruff, EVP of guest excellence and chief brand partner officer for Hospitality Ventures Management Group.
Hoteliers working to elevate service levels at their hotels will likely be investigating a range of technologies this year that are designed to assist line-level associates, sources said. The thinking is that if employees aren’t chained to a desk and mired in inefficient workflows, they will be free to interact on more meaningful levels with guests. Handheld mobile solutions, naturally, are the core focus of this trend.
“To simplify the process of answering guest requests and things like that, making it more efficient, associates can carry handhelds,” Woodruff said. “That request can come to them immediately, they know exactly where to deliver it and then they respond back to their supervisor that it’s done. It shortens the amount of time it takes for a guest to receive something or get a request, which only improves the guest stay.”
Other technologies that offer added convenience for guests—but also make the jobs of hotel staff easier—will continue to proliferate this year, Woodruff said. That includes mobile/self-check-in and keyless room entry, which speed up the guest check-in process and lighten the load placed on front-desk staff.
“What that does is take away some of the keystroke processes that may need to be done when the guests arrive,” Woodruff said. “Associates who are normally behind a front desk can now step out into the lobby and shake the hand of a guest, without having to worry about stepping back around to the desk and completing the check-in process. All of that stuff can be automated to allow us to be able to spend more time interacting with our guests and thanking them for their business.”
The burgeoning array of mobile tools for hotel employees is also rapidly expanding to include personal safety devices, also often referred to as “panic buttons.” In the wake of a rash of assaults committed against hotel staff—particularly room attendants—these devices are becoming an essential means of keeping employees safe.
“All the major brands have signed on to the AHLA Five-Star Promise and have released brand standards requiring the install of personal safety device systems by the end of next year,” said Herb Glose, VP of hotel performance support and capital asset management for B. F. Saul Company Hospitality Group. “At $10,000 to $50,000 per hotel, this will be the single biggest investment made across the hospitality industry in tech next year.”
Another key tech trend for the coming year is the ongoing push toward enabling greater levels of customization for guests. It continues to evolve as a multipronged effort, comprised of both guest- and employee-facing technologies.
On the guest side, personalization will increasingly be driven through guest loyalty programs and their interconnected mobile apps, according to sources. While not a new trend, experts say this push is even extending beyond the major brands to smaller branded and independent hotels, which are also devising a means for rolling out these features. And travelers, in turn, are growing more comfortable over time with using these apps and providing their personal preferences, in exchange for conveniences like digital room entry and choosing their own guestroom.
“People tend to hold very dearly whichever apps they have on their phone, and these apps tend to be the ones that people go to all the time and rely on,” Woodruff said. “I use hotel apps all the time and I rely on them. I take the time to input my customization preferences of things I like and dislike and where I want to be in a hotel, because that allows the hotel to know me more.”
On the operations side, data-mining and CRM will continue to be a focal point, as hoteliers work to not only know their customers better, but also effectively use that information to deliver service that wows guests. Unfortunately, that effort often requires multiple systems to communicate with one another, leading to integration woes, sources said. Unless, that is, hotels start taking a more logical approach to systems architecture. A centralized data management platform known as a “service bus” is expected to see wider usage as a result.
“CitizenM is a great example, where they created a service bus,” said Robert Cole, founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting firm. “They aren’t relying on any sort of system; they control their data and connect it through the service bus. They can then bolt on whatever different systems or services or applications they need.”
Data and privacy
The downside of all the data and customization bells and whistles growing in popularity within the hotel industry is the vulnerability these technologies create for hacking, fraud and other forms of cybercrime. Data privacy is also now a major hot-button issue worldwide, with potential lawsuits are a looming concern for hotel companies of all sizes, locations and customer bases.
While the legal reach of the European Union’s 2016 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation was limited, new similar laws like the California Privacy Act, which took effect on 1 January, are a much greater cause for hoteliers to take a hard look at compliance. For companies that laughed off GDPR and are still lagging on this front, 2020 is a crucial time to catch up and make sure all the data privacy bases are covered.
“It’s just going to get more and more complicated, so the privacy issue of being respectful with customers and their information is going to be huge for hotels,” Cole said. “The more personal we get—the more targeted we can get in our advertising and the more we can customize this stuff to the needs of the user and what we understand about them—there’s pressure to not violate one’s privacy. I call that ‘the battle of the creepy line.’”
Security will also continue to be a major point of focus for hoteliers in 2020, as hackers are always devising new ways of sidestepping the latest protocols. In addition to working to stay one step ahead, cyber insurance will become a much more common investment for hotel companies in 2020, in hopes of shielding themselves from the potential damages of a data breach.
“Cyber insurance is becoming a regular part of the insurance bundle for hotel owners,” Glose said. “This trend is certainly not exclusive to the hotel industry, but we are seeing it as part of insurance bundles, as well as packaged with cybersecurity offerings.”
For many hotels, the cyber insurance Glose mentioned is a far simpler form of protection than the work that needs to be done to truly lock down one’s systems from the nefarious intentions of hackers. According to experts, there’s still massive work to be done in order to safeguard many companies. That’s why 2020 looks to be another year of working to make progress on this crucial front.
“User security or guest security has got to be really top-of-the-line,” Cole said. “Even in terms of PCI compliance, it’s shocking to see the numbers of hotels that can’t really accept advance deposits very easily, because they don’t really have a PCI-compliant PMS that that works effectively with the CRS. It’s pretty crazy that this isn’t just baked into these systems, but it’s not.”