Picture this: You’re driving along an interstate in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Indiana at 1 a.m., and you feel yourself getting sleepy. Mercifully, you spot a sign for a Budget Hotel, or Steve’s Inn, or some other mom-and-pop outfit at the next exit, along with maybe a gas station and a McDonald’s if you’re lucky.
You pull off there, and walk into the musty lobby — if you can call it that — and watch as a sleepy receptionist stamps your credit card with one of those manual imprinters, and then hands you a key to your room. No, not a card, an actual metal key.
Simply grateful for a bed, you turn the key in the doorknob of your room with a clank, walk past the dusty tube TV with eight channels, and flop onto your bed surrounded by 1970s upholstery. Boom, you’re out like a light. You wake up the next day, drop your keys onto the front desk with a clatter, mumble “thank you,” and then head back out on the road. In 10 minutes, you’ve forgotten that hotel ever existed.
Do you want your hotel to be this hotel?
No you do not.
For hotels, technology is more than just a gimmick to show your customers how fancy you are. It’s a way to make your guests remember you.
Can the right tech help you? No question about it. And before you ask: yes, we’ve put together a list of five very important hotel technology trends you can expect in 2017 and how you can use them to grow your hotel.
1. IT security that is more accessible for hotels of all types
Yeah, it’s not the sexiest thing to talk about in the world of tech, but there may be no bigger priority today for any business. And as the manager of a hotel, you’ve got a ton of customer data to protect, not to mention your own, and if you have to ring up former customers to inform them that someone in Whereverstan has their data and they should probably cancel their credit cards, you can kiss that repeat business goodbye.
Customers expect the businesses that they do business with to be secure, and that includes yours. They simply take it for granted, which means you can’t.
The awful consequences of hacking have been all over the news lately. Yahoo just had to tell the world that one billion of their accounts were hacked. That’s billion with a B. Think they enjoyed doing that? You won’t either.
And hacks are targeting the hospitality industry more and more. Hotel giant Hyatt recently had the credit card information of their customers stolen through a targeted malware program.
And if hackers can get into Yahoo and Hyatt, they can probably bypass the security systems you have in place at your hotel, especially if you decide to cheap out and get whatever system affects your bottom line the least. (Or, god forbid, not have one at all because you think you’re too small for hackers to care about. If they can steal just one customer’s information from you, that’s enough for some digital thieves.)
And data breaches aren’t just embarrassing, they’re expensive: the average data breach costs $7 million.
What’s different about 2017?
You’ve got a lot more tools to fight it than you did a few years ago, but your foes are a lot more sophisticated in turn. Do some research on your system and what it offers, and then take a gander at our top network security software product listings to see how they compare. If you’re even asking the question of whether your security software stacks up, I guarantee you will be blown away by the options you see on that list.
Capterra found 62 new software products to add to that network security list in just the last year, equating to a 35% growth rate in the number of new companies and products, and we expect to add plenty more in 2017. Additionally, a large percentage of those tools are for small operations with just one user (58 products) or more than one user but less than ten (65 products) — perfect for small or boutique hotels who just want something simple and inexpensive.
2. More functionality in your mobile app
Ask yourself this: what percentage of the time do you dial up details about your stay and confirmation numbers and all that stuff as you’re walking up to the counter to check in? I’ll answer the question for myself: 100% of the time.
Phones are ubiquitous, and they’re a great way to simply pull up all the details you need, so why not have an app for your hotel that makes all that info easy to access (and, even better, make future bookings)?
The way guests interact with hotels has changed dramatically in the last few years because of smartphones. Other hotels are jumping on hotel-branded customer mobile apps as a way to make a connection with their customers, and you should too. Your competitors are almost certainly looking into it, as 84% of hotel operators are planning to have the technology in the next 18 months, according to a 2016 Hospitality Technology report.
A mobile app isn’t just about simplicity. It can also give your customer the incredible convenience of mobile check-in and even a mobile key. No need to go to the front desk, just head straight to that lovely bed waiting for you with a swipe of your phone. The Hospitality Technology report noted that a quarter of hotels planned to make that available within an 18-month span.
Or, you can have a messaging system within your app that allows your guest to fire off a quick note to the staff about something they need. Don’t make your customers feel old-fashioned by forcing them to pick up that dusty old landline to ask for room service.
While we mentioned this technology in our 2016 article on hotel trends, then we focused on it primarily for the bigger hotels, but now we think it’s mature enough for the boutique and smaller ones, too.
Creating your own app may seem daunting, I know. But here are five hotel app builders you can explore to help get you started:
- m-hospitality (Price: Not listed)
- Ohlalapps (Free trial)
- Adiante Apps (Free trial)
- Appytect (Starts at $30 per month, plus an unlisted setup fee)
- Redforts (about $40 per month for a 20-room hotel with one sales channel)
3. Better technology in hotel rooms
Isn’t it maddening when you check into a room and find out your hotel has these old TVs and a sticky laminated card of 16 channels that looks like it’s been around since the Carter Administration? I mean, does it cost that much to get a decent flat screen in each room and work out a deal with Comcast for a good cable package?
OK, yes, it does cost a lot of money, but it’s a lot more affordable than it used to be. Samsung, for example, offers “Smart TVs” that allow guests to use the same video streaming and apps they enjoy at home without the need to install coax wiring.
The reality is with each passing year, your technology becomes more and more outdated, and that affects your customers’ satisfaction, and it may be time to at least think about an upgrade of the basic technology in each of your rooms.
And this is where your guest mobile app can come in handy, interfacing with the TVs for a better viewing experience. If you improve your HD content and upgrade to flat screens, you’re already doing better than three out of four hotels in the country.
And how much would your customers love you if you ponied up for Netflix and Hulu, allowing them to login to their own accounts and watch their own shows? Just sayin’: the last time I watched commercials on the TV was in a hotel room.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As mentioned above, Samsung is offering packages just for hotels who don’t have big budgets. Reach out to the provider of your technology to see if they offer something similar.
4. Seriously, get some decent Wi-Fi
Everyone needs to use the Wi-Fi when they check into your hotel. It’s probably the first question your receptionist gets asked. Now, I’m not here to judge you about charging $15 a night for them to use it. That’s your business. But please, get some Wi-Fi that isn’t crazy slow, or your competitors will leave you in the dust in 2017.
Your customer may have a bad hotel experience simply because the Wi-Fi was unsatisfactory. A recent survey of hotel guests by J.D. Power found that free Wi-Fi was the No. 1 most important amenity cited by guests, beating out a complimentary breakfast and free parking.
I’ve been there. I walked into a hotel with a friendly receptionist, a lobby that made me go “wow,” a smooth check-in process, a snazzy room, comfortable bed and an awesome hot breakfast the next day. And yet, I still left with a negative impression because I had to tell a client I couldn’t get the presentation to him in time because I had no functional Wi-Fi. Or worse, I didn’t have the luxury of telling the client that, so I had to slink into a crowded Starbucks down the street, busy doing everything but appreciating your hotel.
At the end of the day, customers want good Wi-Fi, and they increasingly expect it to be free. And fiber optic networks — which offer lightning speeds and used to be crazy expensive — will continue to become more affordable in 2017.
This could be the most exciting trend of them all.
I know I would love to walk into my room, find a bottle of my favorite brand of beer sitting on the table with a bowl of freshly popped popcorn just like I was needing at that moment, and then wake up the next morning to a knock on my door and a friendly employee cheerfully handing me my favorite breakfast to start the day.
With oceans of data and more hotel management software than ever before that have guest experience management (GEM) options, in 2017 you will have all the tools at your fingertips to create a personal profile for a repeat customer that will allow you to knock their socks off the next time they come.
Don’t be creepy about it, but you can note general preferences. Did they dial up room service at 1 a.m. and order a bottle of wine? Make a little note on their file and even include the brand they asked for. Perhaps you could pop by sometime in the evening of their next stay with another bottle to ask if they’d fancy a nightcap.
Or when someone checks in, you can totally floor her by asking if she’d like a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call and a hot breakfast delivered at 6:30 after the workout, which is exactly what she wanted because she wakes up early every day to go to the gym. What she doesn’t realize is it’s what she asked for last time, and you took note of it.
There are few things more powerful to a guest than anticipating their needs. It makes them feel like you get them, which is important because it means the next time they stay at your hotel they’re confident they will be taken care of — which helps ensure there will BE a next time.
Final thoughts for the New Year
Tech is not something to fear if you own a small hotel, but something to embrace. It can magically transform the experience for your customers and differentiate your hotel from all the roadside “Steve’s Inns” out there.
Got an opinion about what’s going to be hot in 2017? Share your opinion below.
Looking for Hospitality Property Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Hospitality Property Management software solutions.