This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows
The lack of innovation in the hotel industry has been lamented by many, but a recent report has found that in an effort to keep pace with their guests’ expectations, most hotels are upping how much they’re prepared to invest in technology. Hospitality Technology’s 2015 Lodging Technology Study said they spent just over 2% more of their total revenue on IT in 2014 compared to the year before, and the figure for this year is expected to rise further.
“Hoteliers are embracing modern technologies to differentiate their brands,” says Greg Jones, managing director of the Worldwide Hospitality Industry at Microsoft. “Most are focusing their investments on one or more of three distinct areas to help them deliver a better, more personalised guest experience; run a more efficient, connected operation and empower the workforce.”
According to the same Hospitality Technology report, guest-facing technology will account for the single largest investment area for IT in 2015. This covers in-room technology upgrades, beefing up in-room bandwidth and wireless internet access, as well as introducing innovations such as next-generation electronic locking systems (RFID, mobile key), smart TVs and infotainment systems.
Major brands, particularly those in the premium sector, are leading the charge. Guests staying in certain Mandarin Oriental hotels will find Microsoft Surface tablets in their rooms, which they can use to request services such as housekeeping, laundry and in-room dining; find information about the hotel’s facilities; and leave feedback thanks to custom-built Windows apps.
Enter the recently renovated lobby in the Hyatt Regency Bellevue and you can browse hotel and area information, view flights, surf the web, and even play games like air hockey and 3D chess on 55-inch touchscreen tables.
“Hotels are beginning to use the power of digital to create that ‘wow’ factor and connect with their guests in more meaningful ways,” says Jones. “By putting technology in their guests’ hands, they’re able to offer them the digital experience they have become so used to in their personal lives, while providing that extra level of convenience that will make their stay more enjoyable.”
Jones adds that in Hyatt’s case, it has also succeeded in turning what in many cases has become a dead space into a thriving meeting place. “It’s become a big challenge in the industry for hotels to make better use of quiet spots such as lobbies,” he says. “Rather than simply being a space that guests pass through, Hyatt wanted its lobby to become a go-to gathering place where guests will want to spend time.”
By equipping staff in the lobby with tablets, Jones also believes that hotels can succeed in creating a more welcoming environment where staff can easily approach or be approached by customers, knowing that they have all the information they need at their fingertips to provide the best possible service. “In future, we can expect to see more open greeting areas instead of staff standing behind a desk,” he says.
As Microsoft and its partners demonstrated at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference (HITEC) this June, hotels can now avail themselves of tried and tested technologies to make these visions a reality.
“We’re showing the industry how they can leverage the likes of Windows 10 and Microsoft’s cloud platform combined with partner technologies to create engaging in-room experiences where guests are greeted by name as they enter the hotel, can check in via their mobile devices, are able to use their voice to turn on the lights and remotely control the TV, and where they’re sent personalised offers and notifications straight to their device during their stay,” says Jones.
Hotels can use these technologies to connect their back-end operations too. “Developments around mobile technology, data analytics and the internet of things are making predictive building maintenance a reality,” says Jones. “Thanks to connected sensors and devices, staff can now ascertain what is happening in each room – whether a lightbulb needs changing or the air conditioning needs servicing, for example.”
With so many new innovations coming to market, it can be difficult deciding where to invest your money. But if he were running a hotel, Jones says he would want to focus on two areas: gaining better insights into what’s happening within the property, and gauging social sentiment from guests in order to better serve them and anticipate future demands.
As a third area of consideration, Jones adds that he would also like to be able to use technology to get closer to his peers. “We should be looking to make it easier for hotel managers to get together and collaborate,” he says. “There are some great developments taking place within the industry; by sharing best practices with each other, we can really drive innovation.”
Unless you’re staying in the hotel at the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Japan this summer, don’t expect to be greeted and served by robots any time soon. However, you can look forward to seeing more hotels embrace technologies that make your stay even more comfortable, convenient and memorable – a home-away-from-home experience with all of the mod cons you’d expect, plus a few more.
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