Advanced digital information services will soon be as common as televisions and comfortable beds in the hotel of the future. Hotels that don’t offer digital services aren’t likely to see that future, because an ever-larger slice of travelers expect everything from in-room shopping to dinner reservations at their fingertips. Hotels that offer those services for less money will own the future.
Secure, reliable, and scalable Wi-Fi connections are the foundation for digital information services. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s Mobile Access 2010 report, a majority of Americans (59 percent) now access the Internet wirelessly. Wi-Fi is already a deciding factor for travelers. It must be easy to access but secure enough to comply with an increasing number of federal and state requirements (e.g. the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act). With the exponential growth of rich media flowing through the Internet, larger hotels could begin packaging Wi-Fi in tiers to accommodate someone who just wants to check e-mail and the news, or those who want to run multiple video and audio streams into his or her hotel room, for example.
Beyond basic Internet access, hotels of the future will offer a broad array of in-room and property-wide services, from interactive digital signage to automated climate control. Our Best Western Premier property in Denton, Texas, already uses a “digital concierge” to supplement the front desk staff with guest self-service. The kiosk provides everything from restaurant recommendations to directories of attractions to news feeds via a Hughes Network Systems connection. Another technology vendor has approached our Holiday Inn & Suites in McKinney, Texas about offering a room service system that works through smart phones.
However broad the range of digital service options becomes, a few are likely to become indispensable basic offerings. Among them are:
- Digital check-in: Airline check-in has transitioned their customers away from agents and towards self-service kiosks, raising efficiency and reducing passenger processing costs. Self-service check-in could be mainstream in hotels within five years, leaving front-desk staff with more time to spend with less tech-savvy guests, or who have questions a kiosk can’t answer.
- The television as in-room control center: Televisions and flat panel displays will replace the traditional telephone as the traveler’s in-room control center. They will be everything from the customer’s alarm clock to their entertainment center, dining and shopping portal, lighting and temperature console.
- Guest sensors: Most hotels in the future will have sensors that detect when rooms are empty, adjusting the lighting and temperature settings to reduce costs associated with energy waste. The Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas has already installed this technology in its guest rooms and received the highest certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and five Green Keys from the Green-Key Eco Rating Program.
- Restaurant display ordering: Touch-screen ordering is on the way, though because hotel restaurants aren't big money makers it might be a little further off than other developments. Look for them to make serious inroads in three-to-five years, after they’re standard in restaurants. Nevertheless, many hotels have already dropped paper menus in favor of touch-screen tablets. The tablets provide diners with images of entrees, along with methods of preparation. They also enable chefs to promote specials and up-sell on orders while improving staff efficiency.
- Digital employee communications: The hotel of the future will use digital media to keep employees informed and trained. Hotel brands― including Hilton Garden Inn, Aloft, Homewood Suites, and SpringHill Suites―are using devices like iPods and the Sony PlayStations as staff training tools. Best Western-branded hotels train employees using on-line media called BWI University. Our company, Helm Hotels Group, often communicates with the management team through a Facebook group instead of traditional e-mail.
Digital information services will be woven throughout the hotel of the future, and the future is already unfolding. None of the services discussed here are more than five years from widespread adoption, and most are much closer. The data streams from each of these digital services will need to be highly available and secure, putting more pressure on a hotel’s Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance efforts.
Along with comfortable rooms, and efficient staff, digital information services will become basic amenities in the hotel of the future.
Zach Glenn is vice president of e-commerce and public relations at Helm Hotels Group (helmhotelsgroup.com), a Best Western International and IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) franchisee.