Technology has become critical to attracting and retaining hotel guests, and today that means investing in a wide range of solutions that create immediate and personal engagement. With rising expectations, surprise and delight has been replaced by expected and assumed. Reservations must be easily made via any smart device, guestrooms must facilitate any type of content, networks need to be rock-solid, and data is now your most valuable asset.
To meet escalating guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology this year, according to HT’s 2016 Lodging Technology Study. Their biggest priorities for technology spending, in order, are: payment security, guest room tech, bandwidth, and mobile engagement (see fig. 1 below).
Mobile solutions in particular will dominate the list of capital investments this year — six of the top new rollouts have a mobile component, ranging from mobile keys, to mobile payments, to location-based technology (see fig. 2 below). Also high on to-do lists are improving data accessibility and security.
In this mega-trends special report, Hospitality Technology pulls together data from its 2016 Lodging Technology Study, combined with insight from industry thought leaders and hoteliers, to find more about out what’s shaping technology spending today.
SIX MEGA TRENDS:
1) Mobile ubiquity. “Drop the expectation that we have offline and online customers,” counselled travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt at HTNG’s 2016 North American Conference in March. Harteveldt, a former Forrester analyst, recently founded Atmosphere Research Group (www.atmosphereresearch.com) and is arguably one of the world’s most sought-after travel industry advisors. “Mobile has produced a permanent sense of immediacy. It’s changing forever how our guests interact with us and how they expect us to interact with them.”
Indeed — from mobile bookings, to check-in options, to room access — mobile dominates the list of top new technology rollouts in 2016. Hotel-branded customer mobile apps are poised for ubiquity, with 84% of operators planning to have the technology within the next 18 months. In the same time frame, about one quarter of hotels plan to deploy mobile keys.
In addition to simplicity for guests, mobile room access can make financial sense. For Village Hotels (www.village-hotels.co.uk), a UK brand with 28 properties attached to large gyms, mobile check-in and mobile key were added for financial reasons. The brand’s hetras (www.hetras.com) cloud-based property management system interfaces with a mobile key system from Kaba (www.kabalodging.com).
According to Rob Paterson, commercial director for Village Hotels, the brand was seeking to align its four-star costs with its three-star status. Village Hotels that offer mobile check-in/keys or kiosks are operating more efficiently, with no lines, Paterson says; the rest will rollout weekly this year. Village has found that “pre-arrival communication is pretty important to explain the whole process, because it’s not common today,” says Paterson, along with on-property signage. Security is actually enhanced because the hotel has more info on the guest possessing the key, he adds, and ensuring payment pre-arrival is essential.
2. Integrating mobile data. Hotels have long amassed data but underused it. Data is the most valuable asset for many brands, and tapping into it will be a priority to deliver the personalization that travelers want. “If guests don’t find what they want from you and you aren’t leveraging your data in the right way to serve them, they will move onto a competitor,” says Harteveldt. Mobile technology is exponentially increasing those data inputs.
Nearly 80% of all data today already has a location-based element, according to The Location Based Marketing Association (LMBA; www.thelbma.com). “Location has become the new ‘cookie’,” says LMBA founder and president Asif R. Khan. According to HT research, 30% of hotels plan to roll out location-based technology in 2016. Using mobile data together with reservation information from the PMS has helped Fontainebleau Miami (www.fontainebleau.com) upsell guests through pre-arrival and checkout offers, enabling the resort to optimize room revenue by inviting guests to arrive early or stay late for an additional fee. According to the resorts’ mobile check-in provider StayNTouch (www.stayntouch.com), 20% to 40% of guests select mobile check-in, and the resort saw a 141% ROI from late checkout offers in the first 30 days. Balancing early check-ins against actual arrival times also helps hotels better manage room availability, the solution provider says.
3. Enabling guestroom tech. Once a technology playground of on-demand content and flat screen TVs, the guestroom has become a challenging area for hotel technology. More than half of hotels (56%) say that guestroom technology upgrades will be a priority this year. The most activity inside the guestroom will be to boost bandwidth — 36% of hotels have allocated resources for this in 2016—in order to support the content and devices that guests are carrying with them. Hoteliers are also investing in delivery platforms to elevate the in-room experience and catch up to what guests have at home. That means bigger, better TVs that interface easily with guest mobile devices for a great viewing experience, says Mike Blake, CEO, HTNG (www.htng.org). About one in four hotels will upgrade flat screens and enhance their HD content.
4. Future-proofing networks. With guests sporting their own mobile devices, delivering standout guest room and mobile experiences is now about delivering robust, secure and accessible infrastructure. “The number one thing guests want is for their WiFi to work,” according to HTNG’s Blake. Hoteliers are increasing their coverage and updating their networks to accommodate these demands—adding bandwidth will be a top priority for 45% of hotels in 2016, and it’s tied for first place as the largest budget line item (along with property management systems).
Fiber, or passive optical LAN, is quickly becoming the standard for new builds and retrofits, either all the way to the room or as part of fiber/copper hybrid networks. According to Corning (www.corning.com) and VT Group (www.vt-group.com), rather than running new cabling every four to five years, hotels can tap fiber’s high capacity to install once and gain huge increases in capacity and reach, since unlike copper, bandwidth is unlimited and does not degrade over distance. A single fiber optic cable can replace separate wiring for WiFi and cellular backhaul, building controls and triple-play networks, freeing up space and increasing performance while enabling parallel redundancy.
At Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group (www.mandarinoriental.com), vice president of technology David Heckaman and his colleagues considered multiple hybrid networking models for the one to two construction projects the brand undertakes each year, but found fiber to the room was equal or lower cost across geographies. “Fiber used to be expensive to terminate, but it has come down in price and is much simpler to terminate now than copper,” particularly with the availability of pre-terminated wiring closets, Heckaman says. With the need for as many as eight ports per room, Mandarin Oriental worked with Corning to select dedicated active switches for each room, while other hotels choose in-room access points as the switch. “Our goal across the brand is to make sure from an infrastructure standpoint that we always leave the bandwidth chokepoint at the back door, at the hand-off to the ISP,” says Heckaman.
Another factor supporting fiber is that no one wants to log into WiFi just to open their door. VT Group’s hotel clients are increasingly investing in DAS solutions such as Corning’s fiber for in-building cellular. Mandarin Oriental also sees fiber as providing the infrastructure to support future use of small/microcell designs and help the brand keep up with evolving cellular network technology.
5. Beefing up security. With hackers becoming increasingly sophisticated and a recent rise in crypto-ransomware attacks, “people’s attitudes toward security are totally changed, and this area is highly funded,” says HTNG’s Blake. Security is garnering investment particularly as payment becomes increasingly mobile and new non-bank payment vehicles emerge. Providing for more secure payments and data is the top objective driving technology investments for the hotels in HT’s study. It’ll receive about 12% of overall IT budgets this year, which is a 25% budget increase over the year prior. Guest privacy in general is a growing challenge with the addition of mobile and social channels, and the increasing sophistication of data piracy is drawing increased investment in intrusion detection and prevention.
6. Energy conservation. Among capital IT rollouts planned for 2016, 20% of operators plan to focus on energy management. For most hotels, energy is among the top three largest costs, so efficiency efforts are an attractive proposition in order to yield financial savings. Intelligent technologies are helping hotels monitor and report on energy consumption. At the end of 2015, Hilton Worldwide (www.hilton.com) became the first hotel company to achieve Superior Energy Performance certification from the Department of Energy for energy management at three properties.
Hilton has deployed its proprietary measurement platform, LightStay, across 4,500+ hotels. By gathering data from across its global portfolio, the company is able to analyze how hotels are managing energy performance and drive improvements. In addition to energy, the company has set targets in the areas of water conservation, waste diversion and carbon reduction.
Interel (www.interelme.com) nabbed its second TechOvation award from HTNG for its TCP/IP-based Water Management System. In addition to giving guests instant control over water flow and temperature, the system is IoT and big data-enabled to deliver monitoring, while creating usage and consumption statistics that help to optimize settings. The ability to program water control settings, including an “eco” mode that automatically engages energy-efficient settings, provides operators with savings, leading to ROI.
The Future is Now: 5 Next-Gen Technologies with Value Today
Already seeing some use, these five technologies are likely to garner more share of the IT budget as operators find value in customer engagement and ROI.
IoT – Hospitality use of Internet of Things technology can already be seen in Disney’s MagicBands and guest room control systems, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. IoT will expand to enhance both guest experience and operations efficiency in everything from deploying staff where guests are congregating to preventing equipment breakdowns. On exhibit at CES this year, for example, was a sensor that measured UV risk at its specific location and advised when to reapply sun-screen; imagine this sensor embedded into a hotel pool chair.
Wireless charging. Already 41% of properties offer in-room charging stations, but charging is going wireless, such as Kube Systems (www.kubesystems.com) chargers using the Qi standard in 29 Marriott lobbies. The next generation is longer-range wireless charging such as TechNovator’s (www.technovator.co) XE, which uses resonant electromagnetic fields to charge multiple phones with special cases up to 17 feet away.
Virtual reality. Last Fall Marriott piloted a virtual reality headsets program at two properties that enabled guests to take virtual trips to exotic locations. HTNG’s Blake envisions using VR glasses and apps to enable prospective guests to tour conference spaces and guest rooms. In HT’s study, 14% of hoteliers said they think personal holograms have real-world potential as property concierges/guides.
Robotics. A robot as the hotel mascot? It’s already happening, and in fact 22% of hotels in HT’s study said robots have real potential in this industry. Relay robotic concierge from Savioke (www.savioke.com) was named first runner-up “Most Innovative Hospitality Technology” at HTNG’s 2016 TechOvation Awards. Relay autonomously delivers amenities to guest rooms, and the technology is already being used at select Aloft Hotels (www.aloft.com). In a similar move, Hilton Worldwide (www.hiltonworldwide.com) has teamed with IBM (www.ibm.com) to pilot its robot concierge, “Connie.” Connie uses cognitive technology to process information as it interacts with guests, enabling it to adapt and improve recommendations as it learns.
Interactive walls. Gesture-controlled, interactive walls received 36% of respondents’ votes for futuristic technology most likely to take hold. The Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel (www.newyorkrenaissance.com), which is set to open in the spring of 2016, will feature interactive digital displays created by Montreal-based digital design firm Réalisations Inc. (eng.realisations.net) in public spaces. Using a variety of technology including motion detectors, projectors and 3D cameras, the firm created a “living” wall that will interact with guests and respond to their movement.