How is technology developing in the hotel sector?

21 December 2016 by
How is technology developing in the hotel sector?

Tomorrow's guest will seek out unique experiences, expect to be recognised and will be more demanding than the guest of today.

That's according to a survey of hundreds of hoteliers worldwide by hotel management systems IDeaS, Revinate and SiteMinder which revealed where experts think technology will be heading in 2020, in order to better respond to customer needs.

Results suggested that guests will use mobile as their primary way of interacting with hotels in 2020; from the initial search, to booking, during their stay and even at the post stay stages of the guest cycle.

In addition, they will be better informed meaning that there should be a closer match between their expectations and the actual experience that they have. Human interaction, particularly with people at the hotel will be less important. But issues such as flexibility, value and control will emerge as key differentiators.

When asked about what technology based systems the hoteliers thought would help them to satisfy customers, the results were surprising in that they already existed.

The most frequently cited were revenue management and property management systems which are currently in use in many hotels. Respondents thought that these systems would develop by moving to become a cloud based system be available on mobile devices.

Speaking at the thought leaders in hospitality think tank session held at the Sunborn Hotel London hotel last month, Peter O'Connor, professor of information systems and dean of academic programs at Essec Business School said: "The hotel industry is in a highly privileged position of having access to an incredibly rich pool of customer data through our multiple interactions with the guest. Despite this potential, our actual usage of this data is limited. According to the panel this is going to change.

"One of the difficulties we have had in the past is consolidating data together to give a single overview of the guest. Data was and still is collected and stored by isolated systems in widely different formats and was difficult if not impossible to stitch together to create a cohesive view of the customer."

Participants a thought that developments in middleware would help to elevate this problem. Middleware is software that acts as a bridge between applications and databases and allows data to be more easily integrated.

The introduction of artificial intelligence and machine learning based systems will also allow hoteliers of the future to gain deeper insights into consumer behaviour. These systems will be able to make intelligent predictions about the future.

Another main suggestion was for hoteliers to use beacons to drive customer interaction. This would involve small Bluetooth devices which would be used to track the guest. These beacons will push messages to the guest at the right time to enhance customer services and drive revenues.

O'Connor said: "For example, knowing that the guest likes to do yoga every morning, the system might alert the guest to a 6am class by the swimming pool but the alert will only be given to them when they return to their room at the night before."

Experts at the think tank raised a few concerns about data privacy and the cost of implementing new technologies. It was suggested that software vendors need to be ready to show how implementation of their system would add to the top or bottom line of the hotel and justify the amount of investment involved.

However the biggest roadblock was the conservatism of the sector as a whole. O'Connor said: "Few hotels are not willing to bush the boundaries in terms of what systems are used, preferring to use well established systems that exist in the market place. This gives system vendors very little motivation to innovate as they know that their customer base is resistant to change. Neither the demand nor supply side seem to be willing to lead the advance.

"How can we break this circle? We need a new breed of manager with a different set of skills and competencies and a different mind-set to push forward the technology agenda. Such managers are equipped to make decisions based on data rather than gut feeling, will need timely and topical quantitative data which will eventually drive integration of our current systems and prompt solutions to our current challenges.

"For example much of the growth of peer to peer rental systems such as Airbnb can be attributed to the way in which they flexibly adapt to users' needs providing a unique experience in a personalised and flexible manor. We need to leverage our greatest asset, our in-depth, comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the customer, if we are to remain successful in the future."

The predictions were sourced using a two stage process. First the companies surveyed a group of hotel operators, consultants and other users to establish a base line for where the industry might be headed. That was followed up by in-person thought leaders in hospitality think tank session at the Sunborn Hotel London where experts were asked to dig deeper into issues identified.

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