What technologies will we be using in 2013 and how will they make life easier for both operators and customers? Ross Bentley reports
The hospitality sector isn't known for leading the way when it comes to technology. And although the past few years have witnessed the emergence of the high-tech hotel phenomenon, most notably the Eccleston Square hotel in London's Victoria, typically operators are content to leave the innovation and high tech spend to other verticals like banking or engineering.
"Operators are happy to try something new but they don't want to risk guest satisfaction on technology that is untested," says Graeme Powell, European MD for iBahn.
Thus, in general, technologies classed as emerging in the UK hospitality sector aren't particularly new in the wider scheme of things. However, they have surmounted the early adopter stage and are more than likely here to stay.
According to Tim Butterworth, a former general manager for Radisson Edwardian and now managing director at Cardola, a hospitality technology company, to get a good idea of the technologies likely to impact the sector, one must look towards the USA.
He says: "In general you see products and trends emerge in the US and then spread out from there. London and the UK tend to be the next market to adopt shortly before other leading countries in Western Europe."
Some may think it is highly predictable that a number of technologies included on the list below are connected to the dynamic mobile technology space. But their inclusion is unavoidable. In the time it has taken Apple to become the biggest company in the world in terms of market capitalisation, a revolution in mobile computing has got well under way. And because travellers and guests by their very definition are people on the move, the hospitality sector interfaces directly with this trend.
Technology stands still for no man and knowing what technologies to commit to is always problematic for operators. According to Matthew Guest, a senior consultant at Deloitte, hospitality firms must be flexible in terms of their ability to respond to new technologies but must also understand how and when to participate.
"Operators have a wide choice of technologies to choose from and, of course, they can't buy into all of them," he says.
"Ultimately, the decision to commit to a technology can decided by one key test - does it make things easier for the guest and improve the service?"
Opinion: We're at the start of an explosion in personal devices
Senior manager, Deloitte Strategy Consulting "It's been only five years since the first iPhone was introduced and since then we have seen a huge increase in the number of devices people have with them when visiting hotels. Today, it's not unusual for guests to have three or more internet-connected devices with them.
This might seem a lot, but I think we're only at the start of an explosive proliferation of personal connected devices. Let's not forget that smartphone penetration in major markets is only around 45%, tablet is below 20% in almost all markets. New categories emerge roughly every three or four years, so as tablets extend into the early majority adopters next year, new connected devices will have emerged.
At present, the most likely candidate for this new category is heads up displays - of which Google's Project Glass is currently the best covered. This technology puts a display in the eye line of the wearer, projecting a layer of information over what they are looking at. It might sound far-fetched, but it's worth remembering that global markets enable even relatively niche technology to be adopted and evolved very rapidly. No one knew they needed a tablet until the concept was proved by innovators and early adopters.
The next generation of mobile networks, 4G, which is in service in some markets and launching soon in many others, is set to increase the amount and quality of bandwidth available to mobile users. With better connectivity and more displays, the number of unconnected moments in a day will decrease. With so many devices now around, one implication for the hotelier is the need to provide a consistent digital brand across all these touch points with the customer - be it TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Five â¨technologies that will take off in 2013
|4G mobile network services The long-awaited launch of 4G mobile network services took place last month. This is the start of the roll-out of so-called super fast mobile broadband, which is expected to deliver data to phones fives times faster than current download rates, and will allow smartphone users to access high quality video and other data-rich applications. Some phones are already 4G-enabled, such as the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE. The service is being delivered by a company called EE - an organisation formed from mobile operators Orange and T-Mobile. EE launched 4G in 10 cities on 30 October, and expects to cover 16 cities - a third of the UK population - by the end of the year. The firm says it will continue to expand its network next year until coverage reaches 98% of UK users by 2014. Implications for hospitality Hotels that deliver internet access for guests may see some users opting to access online services via their phones instead, although any revenue loss may be minimal. Hospitality operators developing apps for mobile will be able to take advantage of more features and deliver an experience closer to that of the desktop. Â|
|Gamification Gaming is now a huge industry and its popularity is spilling over into the business world. This trend has led to a new term, "gamification," to describe the application of digital games to real-world, commercial ventures. Typically, it involves the use of fun applications to engage customers and encourage loyalty. According to Kris Duggan, CEO at US gamification company Badgeville, the trend is bigger across the Atlantic right now, though the firm recently opened a UK office, expecting growth on these shores. Examples Stateside include a game developed for Panera Bread cafe shops, which allows users to make virtual sandwiches online using digital icons, and a loyalty scheme for Restaurant.com. In the UK, boutique hotel booking specialist Mr & Mrs Smith is using gamification principles to engage customers and has launched a mobile Truth and Dare app for couples to play while heading off for a weekend away. Implications for hospitality Gamification touches on two key aspects of the hospitality business - leisure and loyalty. Expect to see a growing number of operators interacting with clients in this way, especially via their mobile devices. Â|
|Self-service from your own device Developers working in the hospitality space are creating apps and software downloads that allow customers to serve themselves using their smartphone or tablet. The trend satisfies two traits of the modern traveller - their obsession with handheld devices and their desire to do things for themselves in their own time. This shift is especially prevalent in the hotel sector. Not only can guests book in and access their rooms using their own smartphones, technology firms, such as iBahn and Quadriga, are now making it possible for guests to control the TV and room settings directly from their own iPad. Other companies, like Cardola, have developed virtual concierge apps, so guests can access hotel services and information about the local area from their phones. And if they get thirsty, they can use their iPhone to interact with TopBrewer - a coffee machine, which serves people who order and pay with their phone without a human in sight. Implications for hospitality Mobile apps of this kind look set to â¨transform self-service in this sector and have a particular relevance to budget hotels looking to minimise staffing overheads. Â|
|3D printing An exciting development in manufacturing technology, 3D printing has garnered a lot of headlines in recent times because of its potential to revolutionise supply chains. The technology uses 3D modelling software to give people the ability to literally "print out" solid objects layer-by-layer in numerous materials such as plastic, silicon and high density rubber. Commentators have highlighted 2012 as the year when 3D printing goes mainstream and the price of printers has certainly come down to the point where a basic model costs around £1,000. The technology is expected to have most impact in the production of components such as medical implants and vehicle parts. However, companies such as Czech-based Tescoma and US-based Shapeway and Objet are using it to make designer kitchen equipment. Implications for hospitality Limited at present but may impact the design of kitchen utensils in the future. Â|
|Energy management systems According to the Carbon Trust, the UK hospitality sector spends more than £1.3b on energy each year and is responsible for carbon emissions in excess of eight million tonnes. With fuel bills on the up and climate change a high-profile issue, operators are under pressure to look at where technology can help conserve energy. According to Mark Sait, a director at Savemoneycutcarbon.com, solutions can include rudimentary technologies, such as LED lightbulbs and valves to reduce water usage, all the way up to sophisticated in-room sensors that control air conditioning and heating. Gary Frances, a director at VDA, says the use of monitoring and analytics software tools can also help hotels manage energy use better and identify where improvements can be made. Implications for hospitality While these technologies are established many properties are yet to adopt them. Commercial and environmental pressures will ensure they become more widespread.|