Technology is set to have a bigger impact behind the scenes than front of house over the next 12 months, with advances in artificial intelligence, property management and, of course, data
Clear tech strategies
"Once you know what your technology strategy is, you then need to know which applications are going to be carrying which pieces of information," he says.
"Where do I do my business, what knowledge do I have about my clients and where is it? If you have a clear strategy about your technology, you can make clear decisions. But if you don't know where your data sits, how to access it and with whom you're doing business, that's a problem."
Once all of this is understood, that data can be used to personalise and improve the guest experience - whether that's through remembering someone's lighting settings for next time they check in, or suggesting a property or service they might like.
At present, the likes of Booking.com and Airbnb are much better at predicting people's preferences and interacting with them based on their likes and dislikes than hotels. But citizenM is one brand that's determined to catch up.
"For the past four years we've been working on the execution of a new technology programme, which is almost completed. It has allowed us to bring on the next level of data and will allow us to have a much closer â¨relationship with our guests," Levie says.
App-based property management
When it comes to property management systems, the industry is moving towards lighter, more flexible systems, according to hospitality and IT specialist Ian Millar, a senior lecturer at École Hôtelière de Lausanne, who thinks apaleo is a particularly interesting one to watch.
"It's basically like the Appstore but for hotel technology," he explains. "There's a central, cloud-based PMS, which takes about three minutes to set up and costs five euros per room. Then you go to the apaleo store and you can download and activate the apps you want, paying as you go along."
Apps currently available include: instaroom, an in-room concierge widget; conichi SUITE, which offers mobile services, such as pre check-in, smart check-in and check-out and bill payment; housekeeping and maintenance solutions; revenue intelligence software with real-time market and competition data; and Expedia and Booking.com Channel Connect. Apaleo has an open, two-way API, so hotels can also integrate custom apps into the platform.
"We're definitely going to see more of this app-based approach," Millar believes. "Instead of buying a big, complicated IT system, hotels can just download an app."
Biometrics and speech recognition
Although the likes of biometrics and speech recognition aren't likely to be widely used in a customer-facing context over the next 12 months, there is big potential for them behind the scenes.
At the Ned London, for example, staff are recognised when they arrive at the back door for work, thanks to the hotel CCTV's facial recognition technology. "We're not yet in a position where we can interface the system with the front desk and tell them a regular guest has just walked through the front door and will be at the front desk in 20 seconds - there's a piece missing," managing director Gareth Banner says. "But it's alive and well back of house."
When it comes to voice recognition, back of house hotel applications range from housekeeping changing the status of a room to the maintenance team giving voice reports on stains, cracks or broken equipment. Meanwhile, restaurants can improve efficiencies and reduce errors by bypassing the need to write down or type in orders.
At one McDonald's restaurant in France, for example, voice recognition technology is being trialled to speed up drive-through operations. "If you're a global company and you can shave 35-40 seconds off the time it takes for each car to come through, it could mean a multimillion euro revenue increase," Millar says.
Bring your own content
At Eccleston Square Hotel in London, a property known for its focus on technology, the biggest tech project for 2018 will be upgrading the in-room entertainment offer.
"We're looking to move away from Sky TV to apps like Netflix, so clients have more choice of what to watch but can also bring their own content," says company director Olivia Byrne. "Our clients have on-demand at home and it's quite shocking that some companies don't offer this to hotels. We haven't found a solution yet, but we're investigating."
The move towards allowing guests to cast their own content is also a priority at the Ned London. Banner explains: "The reality is people want to be able to watch their own content at their convenience, so as a hotel owner or operator, paying a lot of money to have content loaded onto expensive hardware inside a server room somewhere in a hotel doesn't make sense anymore."
General Data Protection Regulation
It may not be the sexiest technology topic, but GDPR, which will come into force at the end of May, is something hospitality operators can't afford to ignore, according to Carl Weldon, chief operating officer at Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP), a global non-profit association dedicated to solving industry problems.
For this reason, one of the association's key areas of focus over recent months has been the establishment of GDPR Bytes, a website that brings together the latest news, reports and white papers on the legislation, as well as offering specially designed tools for hospitality professionals.
As hospitality businesses receive a high volume of guest data and card information daily from many different sources (including online travel agents, their own websites, emails and walk-ins), and store it in many different places (including spreadsheets, software, paper and emails), they will have a bigger task on their hands than companies in other sectors.
Some of the most useful resources on GDPR Bytes, says Weldon, are the hospitality organisation flow charts, which are designed to provide a guide for companies on how GDPR affects the management of client or guest personal data throughout the whole customer journey, from pre-arrival to post-stay, and the internal policies and procedures they may need to establish to comply.
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