Admit it. The hotel industry lags when it comes to technology.
I understand. When you think of hospitality, you think of that intimate person-to-person connection that builds a relationship between hotel and guest. How can a computer or software do that?
But here’s the secret: tech isn’t supposed to replace that. In fact, it’s meant to streamline time-consuming processes so that you can do even more relationship building. Plus, in a technology-driven world, not engaging in the benefits of tech can make you look like a hotel that’s falling behind. You don’t want customers turning away because they think you’re out of touch, do you?
Still, it’s hard keeping up with all the latest technology and managing your hotel. And how do you even know if some tech innovation suits the hotel industry anyway? Like, how does wearable tech help you and your customers? (Pssst, it does!)
Not to worry. I’ve done the work for you.
Below, I’ll run through the top hotel tech trends for 2016, explaining not only what they mean, but how they’ll impact the industry.
1. New Security Measures
Before we get into 2016, we need to talk about 2015. You remember the Hyatt hack? How about Starwood, Hilton, Trump, and Mandarin? You know, just to name a few (or several). Lots of guest data put at risk. And lots of money going out the window.
It’s past time for a change, and 2016 will (hopefully) mark a new initiative in the industry: innovative tech security.
Because breaches are not just embarrassing for a company. They also cost big money. Data breaches in the industry cost around $7 million, with $4 million of that a result of lost sales and reputation fallout. It’s pretty big bucks, especially if you’re a smaller hotel.
So as a move to ramp up defensive measures, hotels will begin (quietly) carrying out new security measures, whether it’s an investment in software solutions like network security or computer security tools, or hiring a chief information security officer (CISO) dedicated to preventing future security scandals.
Hotels will also begin installing new check-in systems that accept chip-based credit cards and debit cards as a way to guarantee secure payment.
“The chip,” cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs states, “encrypts the card data and makes it much more difficult and expensive for thieves to counterfeit cards.” The use of a card with a magnetic stripe alone is risky, considering it holds all of a user’s personal information in plain text.
Similarly, keycards will also be on their way out. And they should be, considering they can be exploited to break into hotel rooms. Starwood has already enabled guests’ smartphones to act as room keys and CADD Emirates began using biometrics almost four years ago to keep burglars at bay.
The question is, though: will all of this be enough?
2. Wearable Tech
Everyone is hopping aboard the wearable tech train. From enterprise businesses offering discount Fitbits in their wellness plans to the slow and steady growth of the Apple Watch, people are beginning to see the possibilities right on their wrists. Including hoteliers.
Imagine: as soon as you arrive at your hotel, you wave your wrist at a kiosk and are immediately checked in. Suffering from jet lag? Just walk right into your hotel’s bar, where you can order your favorite drink with the flick of a wrist. Too tired to drink? Just head up to your room, key card free. Wave your wrist over the door handle like a Jedi and shazaam! Open sesame. No more worries about leaving your keycard behind. It’s always on your wrist.
Many tourist spots, like Disney’s renowned theme parks, have already introduced wearable tech into their guest experience. Their MagicBands, which operate off their MyMagic+ system, allow guests to “[book] transportation to a hotel from the airport and choos[e] where to eat. The MagicBand also serves as a room key and ticket for attractions, replacing the need to carry around bulky key cards and folded papers, both of which are lost frequently.”
In addition to the ease, Disney can also analyze their guests preferences and desires through MyMagic+’s gold mine of data, which they then use to further enrich their guest experience. It’s more effective for learning customer preferences than just relying on online guest reviews.
3. Self-Service Check-in
The check-in process is one of the initial ways your hotel can give a good impression. Front desk staff welcome guests with a big grin, inform them of your stunning abundance of amenities, and can make the billing process a breeze.
But what about at the height of hotel season, when that guest lines stretch across the lobby and, despite your staff, the wait time is taxing on impatient guests? It can get frustrating not only for those in line, but those behind the counter as well.
And in a technological world where you can get just about anything at the touch of a button, your guests are going to start expecting the same immediate gratification from your hotel.
“Customers are used to A.T.M.s at the bank instead of tellers, checking in for airplane flights online, and they are now looking for that same efficiency when they arrive at a hotel,” Tyler Craig, vice president and general manager for the NCR Corporation’s travel business told the New York Times. “No one wants to wait in line for the front desk anymore.”
With self-service check-in technology, guests can not only check-in, but also request a specific number of key cards, which are then printed out so they can head up to their rooms accordingly.
However, this technology can do more than just ease your guest experience. Using kiosks for self check-in can “sav[e] money on staffing, increas[e] its revenue[,] and increas[e] customer satisfaction,” says author Julie Weed.
So while a computerized check-in system does take guests away from that person-to-person experience initially, such technology can save money and still give off a great impression. Rather than seeming distant, a hotel that is sleek with tech to cut waiting times can actually get your guests in the door faster and decrease the inevitable frustration that comes with being stuck in line.
4. Cloud Computing (Total or Hybrid)
Hardware is expensive. And I’m not just saying that because I work for a software marketing company. Also, it takes up a lot of space, which is a big commodity in the world of small hotels. So you need to keep it simple. You need to keep all your software tools in one, centralized location that everyone can access.
I’m talking about cloud computing.
For years, hotel industry soothsayers have been lauding the benefits of cloud computing, but many hotels seem hesitant to embrace this tech innovation. And it’s not hard to see why.
Despite some security concerns and the fact that even enterprise tech companies are slow to jump aboard, the cloud is a very beneficial tech innovation for hotels. So beneficial, in fact, that we wrote about it almost three years ago. However, the problem, similar to many of these other trends, is that hotels are slow to adopt it. Because while “nearly half (46%) of hotel executives revealed a marked desire for cloud-based revenue management solutions” in 2013, that desire has failed to translate to concrete action.
But I think this is it. This is the year that cloud computing will take off in the hotel industry.
Because as hotels are expected to invest in newer technologies to stay ahead of the curve, they also need to find ways to cut costs, and cloud computing has the potential to cut 50% of operational costs. Not to mention, cloud storage constantly backs up data, so network meltdowns or computer crashes won’t be as detrimental. And don’t forget that cloud computing’s flexibility allows its data to be accessed by anyone with the network passcode, meaning a manager can keep track of what’s going on at their hotel remotely, in real time.
However, security concerns still linger in the backs of many minds. And I understand why. Because once someone hacks into your cloud, they can harvest the private data of your guests and even your employees. As a result, many companies employ a hybrid cloud, which can quell fears of sensitive data breaches by only storing some (not all) information on the cloud.
5. Increased Presence on Social Media
For online marketers, this isn’t surprising. But aside from making sure that your hotel’s name gets out there, there’s another benefit to increasing your presence on social media: engaging with customers.
As customers drift to social tech (38% of U.S. travelers use social networks to share their experiences while traveling), this is another stellar opportunity for you to reach out to your guests and even profit off their experiences.
Did a guest post a photo about their awesome time on Instagram? Why not like it and even reach out asking if you could repurpose their content? It’s a great way to show that you not only listen and pay attention to your guests, but it also grounds your reputation with real guest experience, proving that your hotel doesn’t just talk the talk, but also walks the walk.
Furthermore, especially for small hotels, social media has a major impact on whether guests decide to stay at your hotel.
Sue Luraas, owner of Independent Hotel Marketing, breaks down how research through social media can impact a guest’s original travel plans. She found that of guests using sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and TripAdvisor:
- 52% changed their original plans
- 33% changed their hotel
- 10% changed their resort
- 7% changed their destination
With numbers like these, it’s clear you need to be on social media to ensure users stay at your hotel rather than your competitors. It’s why we think this trend is something that will be mastered by many hotels in the coming year.
6. Native Mobile Apps
While social media can get your name out there, making a native mobile app is another emerging trend that taps into your guests’ affinity for technology and ease. Mobile apps have already overtaken traditional PC internet usage in the U.S, so why not meet your customers where they are?
Following my prediction that wearable tech will soon infiltrate the hotel space, smartwatches largely depend on these apps to function. However, while smartwatch sales are slowly growing, many guests still depend on their smartphones for internet access and communication. So while it’s important to recognize the growth of wearable tech, it’s equally important not to forget guests who still rely on their smartphones for app access.
As David Cross laid out in April 2015, a hotel’s app offers a variety of services to its guests, “including…the ability to book and edit reservations, order room service, [and] learn about amenities.” However, an app’s capabilities don’t stop there.
Virgin Hotels’ app, for example, “has multiple features that allow guests to interact with its property. Some of these features include allowing guests to adjust the room temperature, stream personal content to their room’s TV, and turn their smartphone into a remote. Other features the apps comes with are providing entertainment recommendations, a chat board where guests can communicate with each other, and the ability to check in and out on their devices through Virgin Hotels’ preference program.”
Not to mention, these mobile apps are a good replacement for key cards, and enable smartphones or smartwatches to act as more secure room keys.
While this tech innovation is standard in some enterprise hotels, it’ll be interesting to see if this trickles down to affect the entire industry and not just a select few.
7. Continued Industry Aversion to Tech
Despite all the benefits hotels can gain from additional technologies, there’s still going to be pushback. I can’t tell you how many times I have browsed through hotel tech studies (some even conducted an entire decade ago) only to see that hotels are still having the same issues.
Sure, maybe some hotels will think about tech in terms of cybersecurity, but that isn’t enough to keep up with the coming tide. Technology has changed many industries, and in one that serves its guests face-to-face, it’s important to keep up with what those guests value. And a growing number of them value technology. It’s a part of their everyday lives.
Some hotels around the world are quick to jump onto the technology train, while others stay on the sidelines. But be prepared if you prefer to stay in the dinosaur age. You may be missing out on all the benefits tech has to offer, including major monetary savings and more satisfied guests.
I don’t think hotels are quite ready for the Internet of Things (IoT), especially if they still can’t secure their Wi-Fi network, but it’d be nice surprise. There’s been a lot of talk about what networked devices can do for the hospitality industry, but I don’t think hotels are willing to put this into action just yet.
Can you think of other hotel tech trends I might have missed? Think there are some that won’t take off this year? Let me know in the comments below.
Header by Rachel Wille