The past year has seen a number of exciting technology trends and developments that promise to have a major impact on the hospitality industry. Here are five of the most significant technologies that hoteliers should know about.
1. Voice Assistants and (AI) Artificial Intelligence
In 2018, the role of artificial intelligence in the travel industry has continued to evolve in a number of key areas.
Voice assistants have become increasingly advanced, and their prevalence in the hotel industry continues to grow. This year, both IBM and Amazon introduced hospitality-specific voice assistants that are tailored to meet the needs of hotel guests.
A promotional video of IBM Watson for hospitality reveals some of its more impressive capabilities. Including welcoming a guest by name, arranging transport for a scheduled business meeting, and asking the guest if they want their “usual order” from the in-room menu.
In June Amazon announced Alexa for Hospitality, a special version of the company’s voice assistant that will be distributed on an invitation basis to hotels. Hotels can use Alexa for Hospitality to “measure engagement through analytics” or “customise the deployment” by choosing default music stations from iHeartRadio or connecting custom skills to their Echo devices.
We also said hello to Angie, the world’s first cloud-powered, interactive guest room assistant, created just for hotels.
AI was also leveraged as a trip-booking tool by Expedia as the OTA giant announced the launch of the Expedia Action for the Google Assistant. Using just their voice, Expedia customers can now carry out hands-free requests, such as searching and booking hotel rooms, accessing trip itineraries, receiving packing list recommendations, and checking the balance on their Expedia Rewards account.
New AI-powered trip-planning tools also showed impressive potential. Of particular note, German travel and tourism company, TUI Group, struck a deal with AI firm Utrip to create a personalised trip planning service. This sophisticated online tool can produce tailored itineraries based on a user inputting a simple number of preferences and trip details.
2. In-room Streaming Services
In the on-demand age, hotel guests increasingly want to watch their own entertainment when they travel. This is why services such as RoomCast (powered by Google’s Chromecast) have huge potential for industry-wide adoption.
Using Chromecast, guests can ‘cast’ their own movies, TV shows, music and games securely onto the guest room TV from their smartphone or tablet. There’s nothing to download. Guests simply have to join the hotel’s personal area network, open their favourite apps on their personal device, and then tap the ‘cast’ button.
Video streaming and casting provider BeyondTV is taking the frictionless nature of in-room entertainment even further, following an integration with voice-based guest engagement software Volara. When paired with Amazon’s Alexa, guests can use BeyondTV’s newest upgrade to control almost all TV functions, including turning the TV on and off, changing channels, and requesting a specific station by simply saying its name.
In addition, Apple recently announced that they will support credential sharing between an iPhone and an Apple TV remote. This means that guests will be able to make the Apple TV in the room just like their Apple TV at home.
In 2019, expect to see in-room entertainment and casting services become more widespread, as both tech giants and innovative start-ups roll out updates to existing technology.
3. Energy Management Systems
Unoccupied guest rooms can place a huge financial drain on a hotel’s finances. On average, guest rooms account for 90% of wasted electricity usage. That’s why all new-build hotels (and hotel refurbishments) now include an in-room EMS (energy management system).
Energy-saving systems such as ECOSYSTEM use in-room infrared sensors to detect if a room is unoccupied. If a guest leaves the room and no movement is detected after a given period of time, the system switches to “unoccupied” mode. Energy-saving adjustments can then be made, such as switching off the air-conditioning or setting a temperature range pre-determine by the hotel. These automated interventions can save a hotel between 25-40% on their HVAC costs.
However, cost savings are just one benefit. A 2018 study by Booking.com found that a huge 87% of travelers now want to travel sustainably. So a hotel can use energy-saving technology as a powerful selling tool to attract a growing number of environmentally conscious guests.
4. Employee Communication Tools
Self-directed technologies are transforming how hotels interact with guests. But there’s also a sea change in how hotels communicate internally. Digital communication platforms such as Beekeeper allow hotels to share information, announce property updates, gauge staff sentiment, and coordinate tasks through a real-time employee app. Staff don’t need a company email address nor a computer.
Using this kind of centralised communication platform, hotels are able to streamline their entire operation and transform departments from independent silos into a single unified team, helping to create a culture of harmony and collaboration. The technology also gives hotel staff a way to easily share their opinions, which further boosts team morale and loyalty.
5. Wireless Charging
Despite being around for over a hundred years, wireless charging technology has been relatively underused, but things are changing. In simple terms, wireless charging allows smartphones to be charged without cables, and it’s the kind of technology that more and more hotel guests will be looking for in 2019.
The industry standard Qi (pronounced “chee”) is now supported by most new smartphones, including Apple’s iPhone 8 and iPhone X. This ubiquity could well be the catalyst that drives consumer demand for wireless charging and cements QI as the industry leader. In turn, it’s likely that wireless charging will soon become a hardwired (sorry for the pun) expectation among hotel guests, in much the same way that Wi-Fi is currently.
As for the benefits of the technology? The most obvious advantage is that guests don’t need to bring power cables to charge their devices and overseas guests are also saved from having to bring travel adaptors with them.
In addition to added convenience for guests, the Qi wireless standard can directly benefit the hotel. There are some solutions available that use Bluetooth beacon technology integrated into the wireless charger to allow for continuous, real time monitoring and data analytics for each individual charger. This helps monitor success, optimise the placement of units and provide useful diagnostic information. The Bluetooth beacon technology also allows the hotel to interact with the guest in real time, using the wireless charger via opt in intelligent push notifications.
Looking Ahead to 2019
From hotel-specific voice assistants and wireless charging, to internal communication platforms, energy saving systems and in-room casting services. The technology available to hoteliers continues to evolve at lightning speed.
In 2019, disruptive new technology such as block chain, AI-powered trip-planning tools, and recognition technology (think retina scanning and fingerprints at hotels) are likely to make a real impact on the travel landscape.
For hoteliers, keeping abreast of the latest trends and leveraging some of the technologies mentioned above will be crucial to keep up with guest expectations and retain a competitive edge in the year ahead.