Once upon a time, on hotel reception desks, there was the bell and behind it the bellhop that jumped up at the customer’s call. After the bell came intercoms and the first phones. Since then things kept evolving rapidly and today the fate of the hospitality industry seems to be inextricably linked to the advent of smartphones.
According to analysts, 2017 has been the year of these “mobile allies” and now as technology moves the world and firms of all market sectors cannot survive without it, the hospitality industry is riding the digital revolution wave with a particular focus towards digital mobility as the use of smartphones seems to affect all businesses including hotels. Smartphone diffusion indexes, that had already been impressive in 2016, grew from 2.1 billion users to 2.31 in 2017 and will be around 2.5 billion in 2019 (just over 36 percent of the world’s population is projected to use a smartphone by 2018).
At the same time, another impressive growth was observed in the artificial intelligence field. At the release of the Pixel 2, Mario Queiroz, Google’s vice president product manager, commented on AI development: ”AI is a big trend. How many times do you long press on the word and it just selects that one word. Why when you press on Palace does it not take into account Buckingham?”, a big question according to Queiroz who also said “There’s probably only one consumer product that’s actively used for more hours a day than a phone and that’s the mattress”.
Analysis and numbers combined with experts’ opinions would therefore seem to offer a favorable framework for the diffusion of smartphones in hotels and tourist accommodation facilities. Despite this, it seems that, on a mainstream level, tendency is still to rely on mobile apps that are interesting tools ,certainly, but at the same time seem to have several drawbacks.
Hotel apps and their limits
Smartphones get faster, smarter and more powerful every day and we spend more and more time using them. These amazing mobile devices use the internet to deliver services and information to their users. Thanks to them the distance between travelers and hoteliers has been reduced and our attitude to planning and booking holidays has changed as these operations have become easier and more accessible. Big holiday booking portals and OTAs such as Booking and Expedia introduced consumers to a different way of planning their trips whilst generation X-ers and Millenials were soon ready to throw themselves into new adventures discovered and booked by means of electronic devices (baby boomers seem to be low men on the totem pole in this mobile revolution). Frederick Becker (associate professor of Hospitality Management at the York College of Pennsylvania) speaking of mobile apps said: “Hotels seem to be getting the message that to appeal to a younger market, they need to have more than just a sophisticated web page; they need to use mobile technology to interact with the guest before, during, and after their hotel stay”.
However, despite the general app boom, hotel apps haven’t delivered the expected results. Developing apps can be really expensive and – investments apart – hotel guests seldom use them (adoption rates are low and difficult to increase) due to many reasons like time needed to learn how to use them, short stays or web connectivity issues. Therefore the ROIs delivered by hotel apps have always been extremely low.
From hotel apps to mobile platforms
At first glance we all might think that there’s no limit to the services that can be delivered through apps.
After all, hotel apps can offer city guides, POI suggestions, SPA reservations and any other sort of travel assistance service.
But wait! What happens if a guest’s personal device is not compatible with the hotel’s app? Or if its outdated and laggy? Or if it’s not provided with web connectivity? The answer is easy to figure out: the guest does not use the app and the hotel does not reach its related marketing objectives. So that’s where apps stop and smart devices thrive! Hardware wins over software in this case because it guarantees compatibility, usability and connectivity to all users. This way digital service delivery is ensured and user experience for hotel guests is always standardized and efficient. Furthermore, these smart travel companions grant connectivity and usability during all the stay, in and out of the hotel so hoteliers can use them to design a much richer experience for their guests, prevent dissatisfaction of their clients and enhance the uniqueness of their offer. This way hoteliers achieve two very important strategic advantages: they improve their reputation and they develop unique experiences for their target market segments. After all these are the fields where the hospitality competition battle is fought today: reputation and experience!
Emerging trends: IoT and smart rooms
The future seems full of surprises as technological evolution gives life to new and intriguing possibilities for mobile devices. Emerging trends in the IoT and Smart Home industries are very interesting. For example, in the United States, by 2021, 28% of Americans will live in a house powered by artificial intelligence with voice assistance systems such as Google Home and Amazon Echo. Furthermore, some big hospitality brands are already exlporing these new technological opportunities. Marriott and Hilton are beta testing smart-room concepts that should be adopted in their hotels around the world by the end of the year. Smart digital assistants will soon be able to prepare a warm bath for hotel guests or adjust the light and temperature in their room while the old keys are destinated to be substituted by smart devices.
Last September, while presenting the new “Connected Room” and referring to a guest’s smartphone, Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta said: “Imagine a world where the room knows you, and you know your room, imagine a world where you walk in, the TV says, ‘How are you doing, John? Nice to see you,’ and all of your stuff is preloaded and not only preloaded, but the only thing you ever need to touch to control in the room is in the palm of your hand”.
According to him there are infinitive new possibilities for the hospitality industry, increasingly influenced by technology, or better, driven by it.
So let’s sit back and observe how technology is changing the way we travel. The future of hospitality seems very exciting and full of surprises!