New hotel technologies promise to improve attendee experiences in guest rooms and meeting spaces by personalizing services, amenities and activities. Technology also will also improve planning efficiency with software that manages myriad functions, including room blocks.
Experts say that hotels will use new technologies to collect customer data and create profiles of guests and groups that include information such as preferences, habits, interests, booking dates, who stays, length of stay and reasons for traveling. And the more often guests return and the longer they stay, the more information hotels can gather and the more they can personalize profiles and experiences. Hotels will use the data to tailor pricing and booking deals to specific groups and individuals, upsell services and promote guest loyalty programs.
But the adoption of new technologies doesn’t happen overnight. Says Beth Faller, vice president of meetings and events at Colorado-based Christopherson Business Travel, “We do seem to be in a bit of a crossover time where hotels are still boosting or incorporating their accommodation of new technologies. But hotels that can’t keep up will eliminate themselves from the game.” According to a recent Hospitality Technology Magazine survey, 84 percent of hotel operators plan to adopt mobile technologies within the next 18 months.
Brandt Krueger, owner of Richfield, Minnesota-based Event Technology Consulting, says that hotels’ adoption of new technology is proceeding unevenly. “It’s really catch as you can at this point, and I have to admit, not all that well implemented in some properties I’ve stayed at,” Krueger observes. “I was recently at an incredibly expensive, upscale property that had tablets in each room. Other than telling me what the TV channels were, they were pretty useless, and couldn’t even tell me when the gift shop closed.”
On the other hand, Faller says, luxury properties are among the earliest adopters of guest-personalization technology.
“Luxury properties have done a great job capturing personalization data,” says Faller. “With the advancements in data collection software — in both the volume and variety of information you can now collect — I find that hotels outside of the true luxury brands are also now able to increase their personalized guest services at a lower expense. Even simple personalization and awareness of preferences enhance the attendee experience. It always feels nice when hotel staff call you by name or send personalized amenities.”
The extent to which hotels will share personalized guest data and profiles with planners isn’t clear. But one thing is evident, says Krueger: “If planners are allowed to apply the knowledge they have about their attendees, and are allowed to tap into hotel systems, the guest experience can be enhanced even further. The ability of the planner to help customize the onsite experience would open up many more possibilities for hotels to surprise and delight their guests.”
While hotels may not merge their technologies with planners, they may eventually combine all of their own customer-centric systems. These include artificial intelligence (AI), keyless entry systems, virtual concierge, in-room voice technology and robots.
“When I look at that list, I don’t so much see a bunch of different technologies, but rather a blueprint for a customer service experience system.”
— Brandt Krueger
“Each one of the technologies plays a role in customizing the guest experience, and there are lots of ways they could interact with each other to improve it,” says Krueger.
Krueger offers a scenario to illustrate how various technologies could interact to provide services to someone traveling to a meeting. “Artificial intelligence noticed that your flight was three hours late and sends you a notification with the opportunity to check in using the hotel’s mobile app and unlock your door by phone,” says Krueger. “Once onsite, you’re guided by the app to your room via an online map.”
Krueger continues: “After unpacking, you ask the room’s voice interactive system whether the bar is still open. The system says the bar is closed and offers to suggest nearby nightlife options. But you don’t feel like walking anywhere, so you ask the system to order drinks. You continue unpacking and realize you left your toothbrush at home. You ask a mobile digital assistant for a toothbrush. By the time you finish unpacking, a small, waist-high robot brings two cold beers and a toothbrush.”
Following are examples of technologies that promise to revolutionize hotel services.
Many hotel companies are introducing their own branded mobile apps that guests can use to create individual profiles to handle a range of functions including bookings, check-ins and check-outs, television, room access, wake-up calls, spa appointments, room service, temperature and lighting, newspaper deliveries and providing feedback to hoteliers.
Hilton’s Connected Room platform, for example, allows guests to use their Hilton Honors app and mobile devices to customize room experiences. Guests can use the platform to control temperature, lighting, blinds, television and other functions. The platform also allows guests to load streaming media and other accounts into the room’s television, upload photos and artwork to display in rooms, and control room access.
MGM Resorts International has partnered with StayNTouch, a mobile hotel property management system, to install smartphone-enabled check-in and check-out systems at all of its properties. The cloud-based mobile platform also allows MGM to track guest preferences and upsell hotel services.
Some Hilton and Holiday Inn properties have implemented The AavGo mobile- and tablet-based hotel system, which allows guests to do everything that once required a phone call or visit to the front desk, including room service, communicating with staff and accessing any information about the hotel and its services.
Radisson Hotel Group plans to launch a technology platform named Emma that will encompass business analytics, property management, revenue management and more. Emma will include an integrated customer relationship management tool that uses data about past guest stays to personalize customer experiences.
Planners also are creating their own apps to customize the experience within hotel spaces. Kathy Miller, CEO of Schaumburg, Ilinois-based Total Event Resources, says she proposed to a recent group that they create a networking café and app in a hotel that allowed guests to customize their coffee/drink orders and pick them up. “This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of our ability to customize attendees’ experience in hotels,” says Miller. “Although we didn’t end up implementing the idea, it was one of extreme interest to both the hotel and the client.”
The popularity of voice-automated systems such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon Echo, IBM Watson and Google Home are leading hoteliers to adopt voice-activated in-room interactive technology through smart speakers.
Best Western Hotels & Resorts has a mobile engagement platform in more than 600 hotels that allows it to communicate with guests via mobile devices and Amazon’s smart-speaker platform. Together, the two technologies allow Best Western to message guests before they arrive, upon their arrival and throughout their stay.
Guests can use the Best Western platform to request information about basic hotel services such as dining and spas. Some specific requests such as late checkout are automatically sent via tablet to hotel staff, which responds by phone or in person.
Hotels also are starting to experiment with using smartphone apps to communicate with robots to handle services such as room service, snacks and items such as mouthwash, towels and toothbrushes. For example, a robot called Relay delivers basic services to guest rooms and is “smart” enough to operate elevators and navigate crowds.
According to Miller, “Once these robots and technology become more mainstream, the impact can be profound in many ways — directing attendees, providing customized user experiences such as directional information, and finding the nearest bathroom, hospital or FedEx facility. The robots could also provide signage.”
Experts predict that voice-activated in-room technology eventually will be as common as televisions in hotel rooms. According to a white paper by hotel technology companies SiteMinder and Integrated Systems and Decisions Inc., hoteliers believe AI is the key to personalizing guest experiences in the future, but they also fear that properties could eventually be run by robots.
Still, AI promises to be a valuable tool for planners. “From a meetings and events perspective, having this technology in a hotel is a definite benefit,” says Faller. “We are always looking for ways to create a memorable experience for attendees, and this technology satisfies those who are used to it and ‘wows’ those who are not. If attendees return from a program talking about their new or different experience with excitement, it adds to the overall value of the meeting or event.”
“These ‘intelligent’ services can help meeting planners by streamlining the information process and saving on the amount of staffing required.”
— Kathy Miller
She offers an example: “Currently, planners are building their own mobile apps with varied information for both a conference and its hotel,” says Miller. “Perhaps there will be an opportunity for savings on the planner side to have hotel information readily available that planners can export into their customized apps, saving time and staff resources in recreating this information each time they build a mobile app.”
Hotel brands such as Starwood, Hilton and Marriott are turning to keyless entry systems, which allow guests to use mobile phones to access hotel rooms. Eventually, keyless entry will be one of a wide variety of hotel functions, services and products available via mobile devices and apps. Some keyless systems will allow the management of room blocks and other functions useful to planners.
According to Miller, “Keyless entry systems save time and frustration. Most attendees want to use their phones for convenience in as many ways as they possibly can. There would be no more lost keys or having to go back to the front desk when your key isn’t working. The check-in and checkout processes would be more efficient. All of this information would be provided to the hotel in advance and it creates a better customer experience all the way around.”
A 24-hour virtual concierge service would respond to requests such as those regarding restaurant dining on and off property as well as room service; housekeeping; room and travel reservations; maintenance requests; spa reservations; show tickets; and extra pillows.
Caesars Entertainment properties in Las Vegas recently introduced its personalized 24-hour virtual concierge service called Ivy, an automated guest engagement platform powered by IBM Watson. The system now services more than 6,000 rooms in Caesars Las Vegas properties, including Caesars Palace and The Linq Hotel & Casino.
Ivy allows guests to use mobile phones for dining, entertainment and spa reservations as well as maintenance and housekeeping requests. Ivy also surveys guests. Plans call for Ivy to be introduced to Caesars’ remaining Las Vegas resorts by the end of this year. In addition, Hilton and Marriott include virtual concierge services in their hotel loyalty apps.
Marriott has introduced an in-room virtual reality headset program that allows guests to take virtual trips to other locations. Guests can share the experience with others on a VR content platform called “VR Postcards,” which are designed to encourage vacation bookings.
Guests desire more wellness amenities along with more technology, so hotels are starting to combine the two. The technology uses biophilic design, which offers sights, sounds, scents, and views of nature. Guests can use apps to control options such as wireless lighting, living green walls, hydroponics and temperature to create a natural, relaxing setting. An environmental system, Hilton’s LightStay program, uses technology to analyze and manage energy consumption and performance in 4,500 of the chain’s hotels to increase efficiency.
Experts predict that new hotel technology will, in one way or another, eventually become essential to most guests no matter their current technology habits.
According to Faller, “For younger generations, mobile apps and AI are the norm and the expectation. For others, too much technology at a hotel may feel foreign. Then there are those in the middle who, though they may not know or use all the latest technologies, are excited to try them. Regardless of where people fall on that spectrum, how technology impacts the way meetings are planned depends on the type of program and the needs of the client.”
Challenges of adopting hotel technology include educating consumers and training staff on new systems, and security/privacy concerns, since every guest will have physical access to any of the voice-activated devices. “I would venture that some might not find these devices appropriate in a hotel room for security and privacy reasons,” says Faller. “But as long as there is an easy way for hotel guests to turn it off if they don’t want it, it could be a benefit for those who do.”
According to Tyra Hilliard, CMP, J.D., associate professor of hotel, restaurant and meetings management, University of Alabama, “The law is notorious about lagging behind technology, so one of the biggest legal issues that planners need to keep in mind is that there are likely to be gray areas around the legalities associated with the latest technology — meaning planners should tread with care.”
Hilliard adds that “general legal principles such as reasonable care, privacy issues and negligence will apply, but specific doctrine may be slow to be developed and applied or may be extrapolated by courts from cases dealing with older technologies.”
Hilliard expects the hospitality and legal industries to eventually determine liability risks for hotel technology as regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) take hold. The regulations streamline data privacy laws across Europe. The GDPR became effective in May and applies to organizations within the EU and any organization outside the EU that provides EU citizens with goods and services.
According to the Meeting Evolution Technology Solutions (METS) website, the technology provider for Irving, California-based Meeting Sites Resource, GDPR will impact meetings and planners in several ways including the following: Planners who run meetings in an EU country or where its citizens might attend need to provide all attendees from EU nations with an opt-in check box with a date/time stamp and a link to a GDPR compliance document that details how their data will be used and stored.
Meanwhile, guests are likely to demand even more from technology as it creates additional options for service and speeds up its delivery. However, no matter how sophisticated technology becomes, face-to-face engagement will remain essential. Technology will enhance, not detract from, personal engagement by hotel staffers because they will have more time for guests.
The bottom line for planners: New hotel technologies will provide more ways to enhance attendee experiences. C&IT