The hotel industry is realising it has to be about more than just a place to stay – revenues are being driven by the ability to create great experiences and satisfy guests.
In April, academics at the University of Delaware published a paper in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management describing how hotels should offer a higher standard of technology than guests would have at home in order to increase satisfaction during their stay.
There’s certainly no shortage of hotels embracing technology to improve their offering.
In Tokyo, the Henn Na hotels are staffed by multi-lingual robots that help guests to check in and out, while doors can be opened using facial recognition.
Yotel, too, employs robots. The chain recently opened in Boston – it already has hotels in Amsterdam, Paris and New York – and unveiled YO2D2, a three-foot tall butler programmed to summon the elevator and deliver snacks and clean linen to rooms. Yotel’s hotels also have motion-activated air conditioning.
Available at selected hotels, Aloft has offered an SMS-based room service for the last few years. Guests simply send a message with emojis corresponding to items on a menu, along with their room number.
Then there’s Eccleston Square Hotel in Pimlico, London, where each room is equipped with a tablet, which acts as an in-room concierge. Guests are given a complimentary smartphone with unlimited data and free calls on arrival – travellers are often faced with the problem of getting mobile connectivity while abroad.
Going beyond providing free WiFi is a legitimate proposition for hoteliers. A global survey of 1,680 consumers carried out by Zebra Technologies in 2016 found that 66% of them would have a better experience if hotels adopted the latest technology. Meanwhile, 68% of those surveyed expressed a desire to be able to use their smartphone to speed up the check-in process.
While larger hotel chains may be cautious about investing in new technologies, especially given the costs that would be involved in rolling them out across multiple locations, it is the younger and bolder brands that are more willing to take the risk.
Olivia Byrne, director of Eccleston Square Hotel, which she opened in 2011 with her brother, believes that investing in technology can make the difference between winning business and missing out on it. ‘While the cost of introducing technology might seem preclusive at first, the [long-term] benefits certainly outweigh any initial investment,’ she adds.
The technology on offer at Eccleston Square Hotel also includes TVs built in to bathroom mirrors and privacy controls to turn glass shower doors from clear to frosted. Byrne says that even though such technologies may be perceived by some as gimmicky, they help to improve the way guests interact with the hotel’s products and services. They are also a unique selling point and can drum up interest in the hotel, which, consequently, can lead to more bookings.
For any hotelier, the goal is to be fully booked over a sustained period. In order to achieve this, business owners need to capitalise on all the data that is being generated by smart devices and the like. The survey conducted by Zebra Technologies also questioned 1,200 hotel and resort workers. Just less than half (49%) of them said their establishments are continuously looking for ways to turn guests’ data into enhanced in-stay experiences.
As well as the customer-facing smart technology on offer at Eccleston Square Hotel, Byrne says there is much going on behind the scenes. Though she isn’t specific about what exactly this entails but does allude to the use of analytics to chart guests’ behaviours and preferences.
One such software designed specifically for this purpose is the HotelPortal system developed by US firm Handy. Another is developed by Belgian startup Juyo, which utilises machine learning to analyse data and identify future trends.
By paying close attention to how guests behave and the way they interact with their hotel’s products and services, hoteliers can use the knowledge gained to tailor the guest experience based on what they know the guests like. Hoteliers can also use data to predict the preferences of guests of a certain demographic or profile and, for example, personalise marketing and offers.
‘Connecting with guests on a personal level can have a significant impact on the decisions they end up making,’ says Byrne – especially whether or not they stay again.
Despite hotels being more and more hyperconnected, one thing technology is yet to master successfully is replicating the human interaction side of things. Luckily, artificial intelligence-powered software can help to liberate staff from time-consuming administrative tasks and ensure they’re available in person to attend to the needs of their guests.
‘Of course, guest loyalty cannot be guaranteed by technology alone,’ says Byrne. ‘In the hospitality industry, it’s always going to be aided by excellent interpersonal customer service and balanced with a continuation of the conveniences and services guests have access to in their own day-to-day lives.’
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