As operators are looking to finalize 2016 business strategies, it’s important to investigate which technologies will help drive business and yield the greatest return on investment. With so many options, it’s hard to know which technologies will pay off. Abi Mandelbaum, co-founder and CEO of YouVisit, shares his top three picks for technology that he believes will benefit the hospitality industry in 2016.
Hotel smartphone apps have become industry standard, but hospitality industry leaders are using the ubiquitous smartphone in another manner: They’re giving hotel guests the ability to control their rooms via their smartphones. So-called smart controls have been growing in popularity, but major hotel chains are taking them on, leading smart controls toward becoming an expected hotel amenity.
At Starwood, Hilton, and Marriott hotels, guests can use their smartphones to open their hotel room doors and to access guest-only areas, such as fitness rooms and spas. At Virgin Hotel in Chicago, guests can use their smartphones to control room temperatures, adjust room lighting, and change the channels on their room televisions. All of the “smart controls” are possible through the use of the phone’s Bluetooth technology.
Moving forward, smart controls could allow guests to personalize their rooms in advance via the hotel app, pre-setting room temperatures and lighting preferences, and even selecting the choices for their mini bar.
Such tech-driven, personalized hotel stays will become crucial for the hospitality industry as America’s 80 million millennials become the generation spending the most on travel. Millennials — those born in the 1980s and 1990s — are set to beat out the Baby Boomers as the generation spending the most on travel by 2017, estimated at $200 billion on travel each year.
The millennial generation is characterized by a focus on technology-driven and personalized experiences. Eighty-five percent of millennials own a smartphone currently, which means that smart controls will be an easy way to appeal to millennial travelers.
Providing two-way communication with nearby Bluetooth-enabled smartphones, beacons went mainstream two years ago. Retailers led the way in experimenting with the technology, primarily using beacons to track shoppers’ habits and send promotional messages to consumers. Big names in retail, including Target, Walmart, and Macy’s have employed beacon technology in their stores. Beacons have become so widespread that Business Insider's BI Intelligence projected that beacons would create $40 billion in retail sales in the United States in 2016.
In addition to retailers, restaurants, airports, and museums have employed beacons successfully. Meanwhile, the hospitality industry has been slow to experiment with the technology. Some major chains now are beginning to see how beacons can be used to increase their profits.
At 14 of its locations this year, Marriott placed beacons at hotel hotspots such as spas, restaurants, and bars. Guests with the Marriott app enabled on their phones received promotional messages — for things like discounted spa services and restaurant deals — when passing by the beacons.
Starwood Hotels took a different approach to beacons, placing them near entrances at 30 locations to streamline the check-in process. As guests entered, the beacons received information from their smartphones, which allowed the concierge to greet the guests by name. Beacons placed near hotel room doorways notified housekeeping staff when guests were not in their rooms.
Hospitality industry innovators will be quick to find other applications for beacons. Beacons can be used for wayfinding within a hotel, or they can provide guests just entering their room with information on room features, how to order room service, or hotel spa services. Because beacons offer two-way communication, they can be used to gather data on guests habits, allowing hotels to determine where guests are spending most of their time in the hotel and what peak hours are for the fitness room, pool or hotel bar.
With Facebook-owned Oculus leading the way, consumers are projected to purchase 14 million virtual reality headsets next year, with that number increasing consistently over the next five years to 38 million virtual reality headsets being sold in 2020, according to tech industry market researcher TrendForce.
Virtual reality enables travelers in the trip-planning stage to see themselves inside your destination. The experiences allow potential guests or event planners to walk through your hotel’s suites, spa, pool, meeting spaces, restaurants, and other key spaces. Such experiences give potential customers a first-hand experience with your hotel, making it easier for them to commit to booking a room or an event.
Virtual reality also can be a direct marketing tool. Low-cost cardboard headsets, like Google’s Cardboard, turn any smartphone into a virtual reality headset. The cardboard headsets can be branded with a company logo and sent directly to potential customers with instructions on how to take a virtual tour of your facilities.
But virtual reality offers more than marketing opportunities. Marriott has been a hospitality industry leader in virtual reality. Last year, through the company’s Travel Brilliantly campaign, Marriot staged an eight-city virtual reality tour with a “teleporter” set up that let users take virtually visit a Hawaiian beach and a London skyscraper.
This fall, Marriott began piloting “VRoom Service” at its New York and London locations. Through “VRoom Service,” hotel guests are able order virtual reality headsets to their rooms, on which they can view Marriott’s “VR Postcards,” three virtual reality experiences that follow travelers in Chile, Rwanda, and Beijing.
As with beacons, hotels can forge their own innovations with virtual reality technology. A virtual concierge service could allow guests to tour neighborhoods and attractions near the hotel from the comfort of their rooms. A hotel with virtual reality equipped conference rooms could allow meeting planners to use virtual reality presentations as part of their events — imagine an architect leading a virtual tour of a building during a conference or a doctor showcasing a new medical procedure virtually.