Experience travel - Manet Mobile Solutions

Do more than just “visit”. Instead, immerse yourself into a new culture.

Does this sound familiar?

It’s a promise that many experiential travel companies, blogs, groups and guides promise. Because there’s a real demand for experiential travel — and it’s not just limited to third-party tour operators.

In fact, today’s hotels, B&Bs and even hostels compete on the experience they purport to offer guests far more than price. People don’t count themselves as “tourists” anymore but identify as “travelers”, “explorers” and, in some cases, “wanderers” and “digital nomads”.

In other words, there’s a shift from mere accommodation in the hospitality and travel niche towards experience as a major hallmark of a “successful” or “fulfilling” or even “memorable” trip.

And this shift has triggered a new competitive landscape for travel companies, hotels, B&Bs, hostels and even specialty cultural accommodations and lodging. So, is this just a new-fangled label or is there something deeper behind the hunger for experiential travel?

Why Offering an “Experience” Matters More than Price

If you’re reading this now and you were alive in the 90s (or even the early 2000s), you’ll remember that your travel decisions (or your family’s travel decisions) were based on the purse-strings.

Travel budgeting was a real thing — and it’s not that this concern has been thrown out the window. In fact, if the rise in sites that show consumers how to “hack” travel points on credit cards to budget travel around the world are any indication, pricing on accommodations still matters.

It’s just not the only thing that matters. Nor is it the most significant. In fact, even “budget” travelers are looking for something greater when they travel: the promise of an experience. There are very specific factors that have led to competition occurring on an entirely new playing field. Let’s take a look.

Enter the “Millennials”

There’s a new demographic in town and it’s beginning to enter into its peak earning years. That would be the generational group known as the “millennials”. And, in case you’ve missed the memo, they’re in the market with some serious buying power.

While it’s certainly true that “boomers are flocking to adventure tours” and that boomers’ tastes have taken a turn towards “non-traditional…bucket-list destinations…” with a focus on “exploring, learning about the history of a city, learning about the art”, millennials are parlaying their considerable influence into a taste for the exclusive, alongside the experiential.

While boomers are content to backpack and make the most of the wealth they’ve built or the time they have left, millennials are, increasingly becoming the generation of affluence.

Given that almost a quarter of U.S. adults making a household income of more then $500,000 are millennials, it might come as no surprise that, according to the United Nations, “200,000 million millennial tourists generate more than $180 billion in annual tourism revenue, an increase of nearly 30% since 2007” (Forbes).

So what are millennials looking for? That would be a preference for “traveling with their tribes” and so requiring larger or luxury accommodations, customization of itineraries, getting immersed in local culture and having access to a local contact or concierge to help plan activities because, “the travel is as much about the experience as it is the residence or accommodations.”

The rise of OTAs

In its infancy, OTAs or “online travel agents” — which were sites like Travelocity, Hotwire, Trivago and Priceline — allowed consumers to book tickets for several flights, comparing hotels, flights and rentals based on a variety of factors like price, location, connection duration, airline carrier or rental company.

Today, these predecessors have created a precedent and a shift in consumer behavior: Hardly anyone books a flight, accommodations or even a tour without first doing their “travel research”.

In fact, according to Phocuswright, “Viator and Expedia Local Expert” are the two most commonly used online travel agents” and “55% of leisure travelers…put a lot of thought into planning these trips”. (Google/Phocuswright, 2016)

OTAs suddenly made “price” levers a standard and accessible feature. As the novelty wore off and the travel market began operating as a staple in this manner, the competition shifted focus to something beyond just “price” — experience.

It was now no longer enough for hotels or even B&Bs to offer rooms based on price. To go above and beyond and retain a competitive edge, they now began to offer experiences. And, as will be seen, this “experiential” dimension is one that OTAs themselves started to offer as a major initiative (and opportunity).

A tale of social media and influencer marketing

Speaking of travel research, here are a few revelatory statistics that underscore consumer behavior at large:

  • 70% of travelers with smartphones have done travel research on their smartphone. (Google, 2016)
  • 1 in 2 traveler journeys start on mobile (Booking.com, 2016)
  • 50% of millennial travelers have discovered a new travel company while researching on mobile. (Google, 2016)
  • 30% of mobile searches are related to a location. (Google, 2016)

The shift in consumer behavior to a “mobile-first” approach has a lot to thank the social media movement for. Digital proliferation, in other words, hasn’t occurred in silos. At this point, mobile-first behavior for search and purchase also means that individuals are spending more time than ever on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.

These are also the platforms where major travel brands like Contiki as well as more boutique accommodations, luxury tours and more “niche” travel brands are serving up inspirational travel content for consumer consumption.

It’s not uncommon for users to see a location, accommodation or experience on Instagram, search through mobile and book online, expecting to book all parts of their trip at once and choosing a spot based on the experience it promises.

Experiencing Expedia & AirBnB

Experience tied into travel is what big name travel spaces online like Expedia and even AirBnB are now offering. Much of this has to do with the ways we search, our digital behaviour and the way marketing has changed in the last 10 years.

But it also has to do with a real demand that consumers have for a more all-encompassing, memorable and “authentic” experience.

Let’s take a look.

On the AirBnB website, the messaging makes the company’s priorities (and offerings) plenty clear:

airbnb screenshot - Manet Mobile Solutions

“Book unique homes and experiences all over the world,” says AirBnB’s eye-catching main headline.

Next, we see that there’s a pre-populated and “suggested” search query already in the search bar: “Try ‘Hiking in San Francisco’,” it says. This, in other words, is a popular experience around which accommodations can be booked.

aribnb screenshot - Manet Mobile Solutions

The suggested search also gives a more directed suggestion — “Homes for families in Shanghai” — but, again, the very specific qualifier here is “homes”, which suggests an experience of travel rather than simply a size of accommodation. It seems to tell the user they can expect “all the qualities of home” while traveling.

aribnb screenshot - Manet Mobile Solutions

In 2016, AirBnB announced the addition of a new travel product to its traditional offerings, which might help to explain its shift in branding: “Trips”, which later evolved to “Experiences” in 2017 was, according to a Morgan Stanley survey, a response to levels of adoption tapering off for the app.

However, AirBnB’s $5 million investment into “Experiences” is, according to founder Brian Chesky, “a key initiative” focused on “evolving his company from a marketplace for renting other people’s homes into a multi-dimensional travel company” (Fast Company).

Experiences, essentially, is all about having AirBnB hosts providing activities that are local, alongside opening up their homes. These can be multi-day excursions like concerts or tours booked based on interests like food, fashion and music.

Expedia does something very similar. While it’s not an app for booking home rentals, it has spent a pretty marketing penny branding itself as a one-stop (online) shop for booking hotel accommodations, tours, car rentals, and local activities.

Just take a look at this “London Eye Experience Tickets” built right into the booking section for the site, alongside reviews on the experience “related attractions” suggestions.

Behind the obvious opportunity for these companies to take advantage of the shift in travel trends, there is something else going on here. A change in consumer behaviour, right now, is being more influenced than ever before by how we interact with the web at large, as consumers.

Besides social media hooking into every aspect of our lives, there are marketing-driven strategies that travel companies are using. Now, experiential travel is an invitation for consumers to “self-select” the kind of experience they want, based on their preferences or their “travel type”, as Contiki’s recent website revamp shows.

And then, there’s the question of search. 50% of search queries are four words or longer. (Ko Marketing, 2016)

Because keywords have become so competitive, there is a greater need for specificity. This means that there’s a rise in something known as “long tail keywords”, which are essentially phrases that are either questions or include four or more words.

Remember the AirBnB search suggestion? That’s a long tail keyword and it’s how people are searching more and more.

Why (and How) Is “Experience” More Alluring for Travel?

Reflecting on travel is always a very personal thing and, more and more, travelers express a desire to have an experience change them when they return.

In other words, they’re not looking to just skim the surface. They’re looking to get involved locally, meet people, blend in, partake and make memories. There is even a level of cultural preservation, awareness and sustainable travel inherent in this ethic of traveling.

Hashtag “Inspo”

First off, social media platforms and the rise of influencer marketing give would-be travelers a sense of being there without actually going. But this is precisely what creates a sense of inspiration and desire to adventure similarly and experience for oneself.

“#travelinspo” is just one of those popular and “trending” hashtags on social media that users can search to find experiences that suit their desires for travel.

End-to-end service

Expedia and AirBnB’s “Experiences” prove that there is a real focus by travel companies, apps and even OTAs to provide a real “end-to-end” service. Blame it on Amazon and the rise of e-commerce, online shopping, that promises consumers an “end-to-end shopping experience”.

Travel is headed the same way.

The psychology behind experiential travel

There is something very simple operating in favor of experiential travel: Emotion.

Expectations for travel have shifted, along with the way they search, buy, research and make decisions. All these changes have come together to craft an atmosphere where emotional buying is easier than ever.

While a traveler can be more aware and informed than ever before, this awareness is simply a means of persuasion that occurs through various channels. Travel companies now have the opportunity to give consumers a more memorable trip than ever before by integrating all points of their travel into an experience. 

In some ways, this is what travel is supposed to be all about: instilling a sense of, “want to go there too…” in every would-be traveler.

So, what are some popular types of experiences? While they certainly are as diverse and wide as a consumer’s interests and a location’s offerings, common experience holidays can include:

  • Winery tours
  • Food tours under one cuisine like, “A Taste of Asia in San Francisco”
  • 4-day nature/camping experiences in the Grand Canyon
  • Multi-day festivals and concerts like Coachella
  • Political and cultural parades and rallies
  • Rural homestays on coffee plantations
  • Volunteer work abroad
  • Cyclists who travel across multiple countries
  • Adventure tours like Karmayatri in Northern India
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hotel fidelity programs - Manet Mobile Solutions

In February 1983 Holiday Inn launched the first hotel Loyalty programs, and two months later Marriott followed the precursor launching its own hotel reward program. The foundations of one of the biggest hospitality trends were laid and, at the same time, Internet started taking its first steps (the word internet had been coined in 1982, almost a year earlier). Since these mythical times – the prehistory of loyalty programs – many things have changed and today the hotel industry players are now competing strongly for Baby Boomer and Millenial customers’ loyalty while trying to conquer and secure the future market segments.

happy traveler - Manet Mobile Solutions

Starwood and Marriott, the best rewards programs for frequent travelers

According to the best hotel loyalty programs ranking published in March 2018 by The Points Guy, a popular website dedicated to airline and hotel loyalty points, Starwood Preferred Guest is the best rewards program. The criteria used by The Points Guy are based on point utility. Starwood gives guests “Starpoints” (Regular members earn 2 Starpoints per dollar spent), a currency that can be used not only for getting a free stay but can also be transferred to a wide range of airline partners with considerable bonuses for elite members. It’s also relatively easy to earn the points through elite bonuses and spend them on the program’s co-branded credit card. SPG towers above competitors in The Points Guy ranking, but is only fifth in the J.D. Power ratings where Marriott is the winning horse instead (in The Points Guy ranking Marriott is sixth). The key evaluation factors of this ranking are generally geared towards mainstream and casual travelers and measured on a 1,000-point scale, that puts in order of importance four factors: ease of earning and redeeming rewards (35%); program benefits (27%); account management (22%); and member communication (16%). Anyway after comparing the two lists, Starwood apparently still has the best rewards program thanks to an incredibly versatile system of point redemption. Other hotel chains (like Marriot) grant more points per dollar but Starwood has a really vast array of earnings options(airlines, Uber, eating at Starwood restaurants, using Starwood credit cards, making a Green Choice etc.). For example, starting from a minimum stay, Starwood customers are awardedwith free internet, room or suite upgrades, free drinks, late checkout, free breakfastand more. Starwood also has one of the biggest networks o partnerships, especially with airline companies, and it’s possible to convert SPG points in upgraded seats, faster check-in, priority boarding, and free checked bag.

hotel fidelity programs - Manet Mobile Solutions

3 other top loyalty programs

According to the above mentioned classification comparison systems, (Points Guy and J.D. Power), on the Olympus of loyalty programs, next to Starwood and Marriott there is the World of Hyatt rewards program. Despite their small portfolio of properties they have a high percentage of Luxury Properties (about 6% of their total properties), and they can boast tremendous Elite Status benefits like suite upgrades,guaranteed late checkout and co-branded credit cards offering many opportunities to their guests. The wooden medal goes to Hilton with their incredible portfolio of hotels and rooms spread in over 100 countries all over the world. Hilton guests have a lot of perks such as complimentary wi-fi, member-only rates, and free sharing of points with the program’s new family pooling feature. The Hilton’s co-branded credit cards offer a wide variety of benefits and thanks to their programs, they have one of the biggest catchment areas in the hospitality industry. The fifth loyalty program in the comparative ranking here described,, is the Intercontinental Hotel Group Rewards. Their affiliated customers have guaranteed lucrative promotions and bonuses globally thanks to a large number of hotels scattered around the world with a unique geographic spread.

young traveler - Manet Mobile Solutions

Focus on Next Generation Guests

The hotel industry, in a constant effort aiming to attract new customers, is creating new strategies focused on next generation guests. An interesting study published by Taylor Short – Market Research Associate at Software Advice – shows why Millennials are so attractive for big brands. They are not just customers of the future but they represent the next lucrative customer base because they have more money available for travel than their predecessors and in the future, entering their peak earning years, this generation will provide the majority of spending for travel and leisure. According to this research next-geneneration customers are spending more than ever on travel, with 26% saying that they spent more on vacations than in the previous year. Furthermore,there is no doubt that these individuals are more technologically inclined and connected to the internet than the previous generations, so the opportunities of reaching them are many more than thaosefor other age groups. The research also show that the “new guests” are very attentive to their expenses and they tend to spend their earned points on rewards such as free or discounted hotel stays (51% of respondents) because redeeming points in this way helps them save money on purchases they would likely make anyway on future trips. Another interesting fact is that millenials (58% of respondents) find hotel loyalty program apps valuable. Their segment accounts for the largest percentage of mobile app users and offer big opportunities to hotels as the latter can use these technologies as a preferential channel to communicate with the former and send them notifications for upgrades and services. It would be a mistake to underestimate the fact that the new generation of travelers considers travel a priority and they want to feel like they’re part of their favorite hospitality brands’ worlds. With apps, social media and new technologies, hotel companies can establish fast, continuous and direct communication with Millenials who seem to enjoy this technological contant with brands of their interest. Summing up what is written above, loyalty programs in the hospitality industry have evolved as a reflection of major societal trends focused on digital interaction and constant contact with new generation travelers. The world wide web andmobile apps are vital tools for the success of any hotel loyalty program as they provide hoteliers with the ability to stimulate and surprise their prospects and customers easilly and effectively.

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The importance of reputation management for hotels - Manet Mobile Solutions

Managing the reputation of hotels in the digital age is its own animal. With multiple channels of engagement and bookings come multiple opportunities for strategic management — and, equally, the risk of having one important piece of the puzzle go awry.

With the industry turning to online sales and lead management systems for everything from bookings to traffic and marketing, it can be easy to forget that hotels operate in the hospitality industry.

But just because the primary sphere of operations and reputation management has shifted doesn’t mean that hotels can forget this one crucial rule. In fact, with the turn to digital operations, hotel reputation management stands to benefit from things like newly emerging review sites, social media platforms and search engines.

These simultaneous spheres of reputation management matter when it comes to the overall success of accommodation facilities.

The importance of reputation management for hotels - Manet Mobile Solutions
Photo by Bill Anastas on Unsplash

Revenue management

For hoteliers, B&B owners, vacation rental owners and the like, revenue management is intricately connected with review sites. Why? Like restaurants offering a unique experience through a combination of customer service, cuisine, and ambience, these accommodation facilities also promisean experience.

In simplest terms, hotels and other accommodation facilities must rely on bookings — which is, essentially, a volume of sales. They can certainly increase or decrease a price, based on availability and demand, for a room.

But their overall revenue relies heavily on whether their property’s reputation is one that inspires trust and confidence from a traveller.

Revenue management - Manet Mobile Solutions
Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

Review portals are where reputations are being built, burnished or tarnished. And this, of course, also has a longer-term effect of web rankings and search engine visibility.

Reviews matter. According to a study by TripAdvisor, more than half of global respondents say they won’t make a booking until after they’ve read more than a few reviews, figuring out what previous travellers thought of the entire experience.

In response to reviews, reputation management should focus on actually engaging with problematic feedback. The study also found that:

• 87% of users say that if management were to follow up with an empathetic response, it “improves
my impression of the hotel”

• 70% of users agreed that a defensive response, on the other hand, “makes me less likely to book
that hotel”

• Overall, however, any response is better than none: 62% of users say that seeing responses to
reviews helps as it “makes me more likely to book it”

Clearly, the key to success for managers of accommodations, when considering revenue, is to focus
instead on being proactive with their end customer — the traveller. Instead of a liability, it’s useful for
managers to look at the explosion of review portals as an opportunity to build relationships with
customers in a more direct way.

RevPAR

If reviews are intimately tied into revenue management and a hotel’s reputation, how can we quantify it in order to improve on it?

Luckily, there’s a KPI for that and it’s called “RevPAR”. As industry-insiders will know, RevPAR “is a measurement of both a hotel’s average daily rate and its ability to actually fill those rooms.”

Since RevPAR gives accommodations managers a sense of current performance while also making a recommendation on how much to charge for a room, this KPI is not only a measurement, it is a metric that can be used to optimise revenue.

While a low occupancy rate, for example, would tell accommodations managers to reduce the rates for a period of time, a higher RevPAR number might indicate room for increase. But it doesn’t rely on occupancy alone — it also relies on the overall revenue created per room. So, a larger hotel who’s margins are much larger might have a lower RevPAR but a higher overall revenue.

RevPAR - Manet Mobile Solutions
Photo by Alexander Videnov on Unsplash

A consistently low RevPAR number, especially for a smaller property, could prove to be problematic. But it’s the first sign of something needing to be addressed. RevPAR is the visible metric of revenue management which, as we’ve seen, is directly linked to “review” and “response” management.

OTAs

Part of hotel reputation management is managing, populating and updating OTAs. Online travel agencies, as they’re better known, are spots like Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity, and Priceline, amongst others.

Besides being able to book and find deals using these portals, travellers can also visit the reviews section or make use of a reviewing tool on any of these sites. How can accommodations managers decide which to respond to?

Even though many OTA sites say that they provide “verified” reviews, cutting down on the number of fraudulent reviews, the level of scoring is still quite arbitrary. This means that the experience of staying in a property could be quite subjective.

Because of this, hoteliers and property managers are encouraged to respond to views that are specific in their feedback, giving detailed information as to an incident or issues directly relating to the hotel (not necessarily other aspects of the trip).

OTAs - Manet Mobile Solutions
Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

OTAs, like RevPAR, can also be a useful metric — albeit, a qualitative one, rather than a quantitative one. If a RevPAR number returns low, for example, accommodations managers can use feedback posted on OTAs to check the pulse of their reputation, so to speak. In this way, they can use OTAs not only to funnel new bookings; hotels, B&Bs or vocational rental owners can list an extra room on major OTAs. Since the ranking online will be based on the overall authority of the OTA, not the hotel, a new listing can help override an outlier negative review.

Customer loyalty

Responsiveness is one way to capture a customer’s loyalty. But nothing beats a face-to-face, human- to-human connection.

When it comes to reputation management, it’s a good idea for accommodation managers of any format to go the extra mile and give it the personal touch. Take the time to walk around the facilities, interact with guests, and engage in conversation — online and offline.

Customer loyalty - Manet Mobile Solutions
Photo by Crew on Unsplash

Customer loyalty, however, is built on multiple channels — both in the physical, experiential world and in the digital plane. As such, every manager’s in-person efforts must be supported with analytics software that is able to market effectively as well as offer incentivised bookings and customised offers that take the most granular details under consideration.

For example, a robust platform would be able to automate booking, capture the details of a guest’s experience within a room, noting down any discount initially offered, how quickly they booked, what they might have ordered, any preferences they requested and then create a compelling offer a few months down the road. It would also have to include a follow-up sequence — all from the vantage point of not just hooking the customer but having them return.

Brand equity

This all leads to one final and overarching goal: Brand equity and recognition.

Building a reputation online is one thing but managing and maintaining it is an everyday task that requires consistent actions.

A study by Hotel Advantage finds that there are three components to building a reputable hotel or
accommodations brand:

1 Listening and responding to guest reviews

2 Building your community and content

3 Upgrading your visual presence

Above this, ROI on social media, the study finds, only begins at 6 hours a week — and that’s six hours of meaningful and live interacting, content creation and commenting, besides strategic efforts like sponsorships and ads.

The study also finds that:

• Unfavourable reviews are the primary driver in lost bookings

• Companies that achieve the best customer service ratings are able to, through a combination of marketing and outreach, minimise the amount of time between learning about a customer’s needs and taking action on it.

At the core of every hotel’s reputation, then, is guest satisfaction. And even something as large as brand equity and recognisability can come down to employees, who are the frontline of a customer’s experience.

In other words, a brand does not only comprise a customer’s experience but its strength is also a
testament to an employee’s satisfaction and commitment toward the brand.

 

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the future of hospitality - Manet Mobile Blog

Every time you think about or plan your next trip, do you ever wonder what the future of travel and hospitality looks like? Digitization has brought massive changes to the travel industry delivering highly personalized experiences to travelers. So if you really want to get an idea of what’s next in the hospitality industry, you better watch out for these 5 major trends for the upcoming year.

1. Blockchain technology

Blockchain - Manet Mobile SolutionsBlockchain technology is about to take hold and radically change the global economy including the hospitality industry. Originally devised for the Bitcoin digital currency, the blockchain is starting to be used in new applications every day aiming at eliminating middlemen and intermediaries from provider-to-consumer transactions, allowing people to execute contracts (bookings for example) without the need for a “trusted” third parties (online travel agencies for example). Within the hotel industry horizon, numerous brand new companies are already showing up, offering platforms on which customers and rental providers can directly contact each other for free, without paying any commission. Winding Tree, Lockchain, Trippki, Fujinto, Emphy, Abab and Pally are some examples of companies using the blockchain to disrupt industries in the belief that travelers shouldn’t have to pay high rates to OTAs to get a good room, and hotels shouldn’t have to raise their rates to account for the cut the agencies take. Their claim is to ”make travel cheaper for the end user while making it more profitable for suppliers”, moreover “allowing small companies to compete with big players”, quoting Winding Tree.

2. Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Chatbots - Manet Mobile SolutionsAt present, the most widely recognized AI application in the hospitality business is chat-bots. Due to their ability to provide answers in many languages, 24/7 and by means of familiar online services like direct messaging apps, they have become extra-useful tools for hoteliers, freeing up precious time for the staff and providing fast and tailored responses to customers. Accor Hotels designed it’s bot to be able to collect stories and experiences related to places and therefore to guide guests throughout them by means of geolocation. The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas equipped its bot, named “Rose”, with an unprecedented flirty and funny personality she uses to recommend amenities and make reservations for clients in a totally new way.

3. Robots

Robots - Manet Mobile SolutionsThe Frankfurt-based, International Federation of Robotics, predicts a 20 to 25 % increase in sales of professional service robots (defense robots, cleaning robots, medical robots and logistics systems robots) per year through 2020, from around 79,000 last year. Robby Pepper, developed by Japan’s Softbank Robotics, is the first robot concierge deployed in an Italian hotel on Lake Garda; he can speak Italian, English and German, answering guests’ questions regarding topics like the spa, restaurants and opening hours. This summer’s tourist season will provide Robby with the crash course in unanticipated questions, not to mention accents, that will help him improve his knowledge, vocabulary, and his ability to answer. In 2016, 7200 public relations robots, providing mobile info and assistance like Softbank’s Pepper, were sold — a full 135 percent increase over the previous year. German hotel chain, Motel One, uses a lederhosen-clad concierge named Sepp to greet guests arriving in its newest location in Munich. Sepp can answer a wide range of guests’ questions, from personal to general. Meanwhile, Singapore offers two cutting-edge examples of this fast-growing technology. The first can be found at the M Social hotel, “employing” Aura, a front-of-the-house robot, used to deliver small room amenities like water, towels, and toiletries to its guests. Elsewhere in the city, the Jen Hotel uses a pair of colorful butler robots named Jeno and Jena for guest-oriented services like the delivery of in-room meals. LG gave us a glimpse at the next generation of hospitality robots with CLOi during this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. CLOi represents the next development in hospitality robotics, with even more engaging robots that can clean up, serve food and drinks with a built-in sliding tray, handle baggage and payments during check-in and check-out, and provide directions.

4. Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet of things - Manet Mobile SolutionsThe Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the network of interconnected internet-abled devices and physical things. IoT means that cars, kitchen appliances, hotel rooms can all be connected and exchange data. Today’s hotel rooms are packed with devices that give customers access to now indispensable services. Hilton has even built a room to beta test technologies including voice-control and the management of room settings like temperature, and lighting. By combining interconnected devices, sensors and machine learning, with virtual assistants, hotels can leverage the existing IoT to further enhance the customer experience.
With the amount of guest data being already available, hotels can generate predictions about customer preferences, and thanks to recent advances in artificial intelligence, hotels have begun to equip their rooms with smart devices that use voice recognition. Wynn Las Vegas equipped as many as 5000 hotel rooms with Amazon’s Echo speaker, allowing its guests to control many features in the room with Amazon’s voice-controlled virtual assistant, Alexa.

5. Mobile devices

Mobile devices - Manet Mobile SolutionsMobile phones have unveiled a whole new world to travelers: mobile innovation is key to the future of the hospitality business, and guests can’t fail to enjoy a holiday without a mobile phone. This is the reason why more and more hotels are providing mobile phones in their rooms. A single small device can enclose an entire and amazing world of services: payment gateways, sales and catering systems, wi-fi connectivity, mobile check-in/check-out programs, smart door lock management etc. Smartphones have already become essential not only to booking and paying a room but also to ordering room benefits as well as discovering activities and restaurants in a new city. For instance The Buddha Bar Hotel in Paris has enhanced its mobility services making its staff contactable anywhere on-site and therefore endowing it with extensive awareness of the guests’ demands. Moreover an app enables its employees to instantly report any room availability through a code on their mobile devices. The Winery Hotel, in Sweden, has opted for a fully mobile guest approach and completely refused the idea of in-room fixed telephones. By implementing a mobile eConcierge app the Winery Hotel now provides hotel services and enterprise-grade telephony entirely through their smart devices. This allows the hotel to be active 24/7.

The above mentioned trends are just a short list of all the trends that are shaping and revolutionizing the hospitality industry whose future seems full of exciting possibilities! Stay tuned to our blog to discover how technology is changing the way people travel.

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Smart locks

At the dawn of history, keys and locks were made of wood and until the ‘70s the only big change in key and lock manufacturing involved the introduction of new materials and the substitution of wood with iron, then with bronze and subsequently with stronger metals like titanium.

From the Egyptians to the Tor Sørnes turning point

The Egyptians were the first to invent keys and locks. This advanced civilization developed the first security systems for houses and coffers and they also were the first to give a symbolic andsacred meaning to keys. The ankh is an ancient Egyptian symbol also known as crux ansata (the Latin word for “cross with a handle”) symbolizing “the key of life” a mystic sign connected to sex (intended as sexual act but also as m/f gender identification), tothe sun (god Ra bring ankh in his hand) and to other esoteric concepts. The gesture of inserting a key in a patch certainly conveys a highly erotic meaning therefore it is no coincidence that it has often been used in movies to increase their sexual load. Keys have always been powerful signifiers either they give access to an alcove, to a drawer full of secrets, to an apartment or to a hotel room.
Focusing on hotel rooms,, until 1975 they were equipped with conventional iron keys and locks.
The same year, Norwegian inventor Tor Sørnes created the holecard-based recodable keycard lock. With this new system each hotel guest could have his/her own unique key formed by a pattern of 32 holes on a plastic card. This invention is still used worldwide in hotel security under the brand VingCard. The 32 holes on the key generate 4.2 billion key combinations, the same number as the population of the earth at that time.
The first hotel to install the keycard lock in 1978 was the Peachtree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta (USA). Since then, this invention spread like wildfire all over the world until it became obsolete because of the introduction of new technologies.

Smartphones for smart lock management

Smart door locks: a big new trend

Today, smart door lock use seems to be one of the biggest trends in the hospitality industry as Brian Shedd, VP of sales and marketing at OpenKey, said. His words were “I believe all new hotels at this point will be installing BLE – buetooth low energy – locks for the next five or 10 years based on trends in the hospitality industry”.
Nicolas Aznar, president of Assa Abloy Hospitality Americas Group thinks the same way: “It’s about utilizing the most advanced technologies available to accomplish the aforementioned objectives, the next technology for door locks will be solutions that streamline the check-in process to benefit both hoteliers and guests, and as door lock technology continues to advance they will incorporate more user-friendly and robust technologies”. This revolution will simplify the life of both hotel guests and managers, and comes from multiple channels as it is not only through mobile apps that the hotel industry is trying to outdo conventional keys.
Companies like the italian “Sofia” are trasforming smartphones in keys that can be used by their respective owners only. This unlocking solution offers many new possibilities as access can be restricted to specific time slots and days, within a given timeframe, can be extended to multiple individuals and it can also be used to study which rooms are the mostly accessed ones. This high tech key innovation allows managing access of multiple users or user groups and multiple keys with a single clickat a low price and with ease.
“Vikey”, another italian hi-tech company focused on the B&B market, offers new interesting opportunities to hosts and allow homeowners or house managers to handle guest check-ins remotely at any time of the day.
Apple is instead working on implementing hotel check-in and room door management functionalities in its latest smartwatch with the intent to make it complementary to the iphone and launch it commercially. This is whatKevin Lynch, Apple’s VP of Technology, explained in a recent interview: “When I arrive at my hotel room, I get a notification and also when I get near hotels like SPG’s W Hotel, you can see it’s got all the information I need to check-in, my confirmation number, my room number. These are really rich notifications; they have images, they have great typography and rich layout and it not only looks great and reflects the brand and the company, but it also makes it easier for you to understand very quickly and you can act on these. In this case I can use this to unlock my door right from the notification from my watch. So I press ‘unlock your door’, I can bypass the front desk entirely, go to my room and then my watch is my room key. I just wave it in front of the door and I go into my room.
Big hotel brands like Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and Starwood are also working on the adoption of keyless access systems so the whole market seems to be going towards the smart-lock directions even if problems like device loss, battery capacity limits and lock hacking have to be dealt with to make new lock technologies easilly usable and reasonably safe.

the future of hotel smart locks

Innovation has its downsides: what will the future of locks look like?

We certainly see more keyless innovation in the future of the hospitality industry. However, the recent cases of an Austrian luxury hotel that was hacked by an angry guest, who paralized the hotel’s entire electronic system and demanded a substantial bitcoin ransom, or of the hacker group named “DarkHotel” that attempted malware attacks towards luxury hotel guests, stimulate some important reflections on the actual safety of smart locks. Nevertheless, it seems that the power of innovation is taking the smart lock industry towards a very clear goal consisting in freeing hotel guests from all key-related hassle and making their check-in and door opening experiences as fast, carefree and natural as possible. After all, today more than ever and thanks to technology, Pablo Picasso’s saying “Everything we can imagine in real” is true and the future of locks seems full of surprises!

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Futuristic Hotels

We are not yet travelling on spaceships, we are not yet living on Mars, but our “travelling space” has changed dramatically in the last years and as tourists sometimes we may feel like aliens in strange places called “hi-tech hotels”. A rapid digital revolution and incredible technological innovations have transformed the hospitality landscape. However this wasn’t an unpredictable change as the digital revolution has steadily been pervading all aspects of everyday life – public administration, culture, education, industry etc. – affecting travelling habits as well. Technology and digitalization are changing the way travelers of all kinds travel both in the luxury and in the budget travel segments.

Facts and trends:

According to Europe’s Digital Progress Report 2017, drawn up by the European Commission, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands have the most advanced digital economies in the European Union, followed by Luxembourg, Belgium, the UK – before Brexit – and Ireland. On the other side Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy have the lowest scores on the index.

The world-wide-web, social media, apps and digital maps have given travelers of the world the opportunity to explore any place without moving away from their sofa. This is a huge change compared to the way people used to travel just 20 years ago and things keep changing and evolving fast! So what’s next now? Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence applications are bringing new experiences in the hospitality sector. Expedia is introducing the possibility for its users to experience a room by means of virtual reality applications before booking it.

Imagine if you could search for flights, walk to the plane to select your seat, book and pay for your trip using Virtual Reality. We live in a 3D world, why shouldn’t we shop for travel that way?” That’s the question Navitaire, the travel technology company asks. The company, which is a subsidiary of Amadeus, created a Virtual Reality simulation in which people can search for global destinations and view airplane’s seats and places where they could travel. For now it’s still in a development phase with a patent pending, but Navitaire’s project could change the whole idea of travel.

Thaks to Virtual Reality, tourists can use their iOS or Android phones to visit places normally closed to the public, destinations that are off-limits, dangerous places or protected heritage sites. Talking about Artificial Intelligence, online players are exploring the possibility of introducing chatbots to aid in trip planning, providing real time and user-tailored information. Furthermore Artificial Intelligence is not only experienced through software anymore but it’s also delivered through smart devices and real robots providing lots of services and assistance to their users.

So let’s see now what some of the most high-tech hotels of the world look like:

Yotel in New York, aims at solving the problem of luggage storage once and for all. No more mess in the room thanks to a hi-tech storage space for luggage: a robot takes care of your suitcase placing it into a glass-walled storage area assigned to guests by typing a pin number. This is just one of the many computerized services offered by the Hotel, services like motorised beds, kiosk check-ins and motion-activated air conditioning.

Aloft Cupertino, in Silicon Valley, United States, in 2014 inaugurated its first hi-tech humanoid Sanbot Hotel Robot Butlercalled Botlr. Thanks to multiple sensors, 3D cameras and Wi-Fi, this robot is able to move up and down across the hotel floors performing room deliveries. Since then several other hotels started introducing robots used to handle repetitive tasks. Las Vegas luxury hotel Mandarin Oriental, has a humanoid robot that’s called Pepper. It is very similar to a human: thanks to facial recognition technology it can guess guests’ gender, age and even mood! With its lifelike gestures it can also entertain guests by providing directions, telling jokes and posing for selfies. The Sheraton Los Angeles San Gabriel, which opened recently, is a 288-room hotel with eight robots that can deliver luggage and towels, offering also directions to guests.

In the japanese hotel Henn na, Tokyo, guests are welcomed by robots. The real oddity is that they are dinosaur-shaped ones. The Henn na has been the first hotel entirely staffed by robots speaking all the languages needed to satisfy even the most demanding foreigner. These robots greet you at the reception and they carry your luggage to your room where thanks to face recognition capabilities the room keys are not necessary anymore. In Japan again, the Weird Hotel, in the southwestern city of Sasebo, went one step further intruducing humanoid staff members waiting at the front desk to check you in. These robots speak English, Chinese Korean and Japanese.

The hotels mentioned above are mostly high end hotels. However technology goes beyond luxury and is also present in budget hotels! The City Hub, in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, is a valid and new alternative to old-school hostels and an excellent solution for low-cost travel. This innovative hotel has 50 minimalist private cabins, called Hubs, with a double bed, wifi, app-controlled lighting and a personal audio streaming system. You can’t loose your room’s key because you’re given a wristband that electronically unlocks your door. Thanks to the hotel’s custom app, it is also possible to change the lighting color of the rooms according to mood.

Robot Butler

Another technology worth mentioning is Virtual Reality that never ceases to amaze its users. If you order “The Origin”, a whisky cocktail, at the Lobby Bar of the One Aldwych Hotel in London, you will also get an immersive virtual reality experience. “When someone orders it, we give the guest virtual reality goggles and a headset and explain we are taking you to the origin of the drink. You fly to the distillery where the whisky is aged, and then to the fields of barley and to the water source”, said the drink’s creator, bar manager Pedro Paulo. Last but not least, we want to mention a very peculiar technology application in the hospitality business: thanks to Nissan, the ProPILOT Park Ryokan, located in Hakone, Japan, is equipped with self-parking slippers, tables and floor cushions! Yes you read it right! This hotel looks like any other traditional Japanese inn, but these accessories are equipped with a special version of Nissan’s ProPILOT Park autonomous parking technology meaning that when not in use, they automatically return to their designated spots, with the push of a button.

Despite all the hi tech “whistles and bells” and exciting futuristic services described so far in this article, more conventional technologies like social media and phone apps are still strong players on the battlefield of innovation and are always pushing forward.

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The advent of the internet has made available an infinite range of information to tourists and the web, along with new technologies, has undoubtedly revolutionized the way we travel.
Big internet portals like Tripadvisor and popular social media like Facebook and Twitter assist travelers in gathering information, guide them in their choices through reviews and opinions about travel-related content and often engage them in interactive forums.

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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).

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