‘Higher’ tech hotels – what travellers can expect next

Hotel technology is evolving at an electric speed. Whereas 10 years ago a flat screen TV and perhaps in-room (non wireless) internet were considered the epitome of high tech, by 2017 technology has arguably shifted from being just another feature of the room to becoming the primary focus. Hotel brands are now competing to provide their guests with an experience that is both impressive with an element of ‘wow’ but that is also user friendly – something which substantively enhances their customer’s enjoyment and use of the room while also enhancing and maintaining that guests’ cyber security.

On the guest experience side, US based hotel brand Wynn, which operates a portfolio of premium hotels and resorts throughout the world, announced in Dec – 2016 that it intended to equip all 4,748 rooms at the Wynn Las Vegas property with Echo, a hands-free voice-controlled speaker produced by Amazon. The new technology will allow guests to control various hotel room features with a series of voice commands via ‘Alexa’ (which presumably picks up all accents) and which Amazon refer to as the “brain behind Echo”.

The technology will allow guests to use many features of the guestroom through the use of verbal controls. Steve Wynn, CEO and Chairman of Wynn Resorts states:

“If I have ever seen anything in my 49 years of developing resorts that has made our job of delivering a perfect experience to our guests easier and help us get to another level, it is Alexa.  The ability to talk to your room is effortlessly convenient.

Guests can verbally control every aspect of lighting, temperature and the audio-visual components of a hotel room is yet another example of our leadership in the world of technology for the benefit of all of our guests.”

Not surprisingly, given this constantly evolving technology and persistent competition to remain current, the capital expenditure for new tech products in the hospitality sector is rising significantly.

A 2016 Lodging Technology Study conducted by Hospitality Technology (HT) found that 54% of properties will spend more on technology in 2017, 62% identified payment and data security technology as a top priority, 56% named guestroom technology, 45% improvement in bandwidth and 43% mobile phone engagement.

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Source: 2016 Lodging Technology Study conducted by Hospitality Technology

 

  1. Mobile ubiquity

From mobile bookings, to check-in options, to room access — mobile dominates the list of top new technology rollouts in 2016. Hotel-branded customer mobile apps are poised for ubiquity, with 84% of operators planning to have the technology within the next 18 months. In the same time frame, about one quarter of hotels plan to deploy mobile keys. Indeed accommodation industry analyst Henry Harteveldt has identified that:

“Mobile has produced a permanent sense of immediacy. It’s changing forever how our guests interact with us and how they expect us to interact with them.”

  1. Integrating Mobile Data

Hotels amass customer data but in many cases underused it. Harteveldt identifies that data is the most valuable asset for many brands and tapping into it will be a priority to deliver the personalization that travelers want and increasingly expect:

 

“If guests don’t find what they want from you and you aren’t leveraging your data in the right way to serve them, they will move onto a competitor,”

 

Mobile technology is allowing hotels to exponentially increasing those data inputs.

 

  1. Enabling guestroom technology

The hotel guestroom has become a challenging area for hotel technology. The survey found that more than half of hotels (56%) said that guestroom technology upgrades will be a priority this year. Hoteliers are also investing in delivery platforms to elevate the in-room experience so as to match what guests increasingly have at home such as TVs that interface easily with guest mobile devices for an improved viewing experience. About 25% of properties will upgrade flat screens and enhance their HD content.

 

  1. Future proofing networks

Giving the increase in guests using their own mobile devices, delivering standout guest room and mobile experiences is now about properties delivering robust, secure and accessible infrastructure, starting with wifi. Hoteliers are increasing their coverage and updating their networks to accommodate these demands. The survey found that adding bandwidth would be a top priority for 45% of hotels in 2016.

 

  1. Beefing up security

With increases in the sophistication of hackers and a rise in crypto-ransomware attacks, the hospitality industry’s attitude towards cyber-security is changing. Security is garnering investment particularly as payment becomes increasingly mobile and new non-bank payment vehicles emerge. Providing for more secure payments and data is the top objective driving technology investments for the hotels in this study receiving 12% of overall IT budgets this year, reportedly a 25% budget increase over the year prior.

Guest privacy in general is a growing challenge for the hospitality industry with the rise of mobile and social channels, and the increasing sophistication of data piracy drawing increased investment in intrusion detection and prevention.

 

  1. Energy conservation

Among capital IT rollouts planned for 2016, the survey reports that 20% of operators plan to focus on energy management. For most hotels, energy is among the top three largest costs, so efficiency efforts are an attractive proposition in order to yield financial savings. Intelligent technologies are helping hotels monitor and report on energy consumption.  At the end of 2015, Hilton Worldwide became the first hotel company to achieve Superior Energy Performance certification from the Department of Energy for energy management at three properties. Hilton has deployed a proprietary measurement platform, LightStay, across over 4,500 hotels. By gathering data from across its global portfolio, the company is able to analyze how hotels are managing energy performance and drive improvements. In addition to energy, the company has set targets in the areas of water conservation, waste diversion and carbon reduction.

So, the primary challenge for operators will be to ensure that the rising costs of installing, maintaining and developing this dynamic technology don’t spiral out of control placing upward pressure on pricing. Still, one this is for sure: as the hotel industry responds to the increasingly sophisticated demands of customers as well as the increasing complexity of the technology itself, it is safe to say that ‘high tech’ in hotels is here to stay.