Hoteliers who came of age in the 20th century can remember a time when the year 2020 once seemed very far away. By then, people would be making payments on flying cars. We would send hologram messages, like in early Star Wars films. Whatever the world looked like, it would be drastically different. Arthur C. Clarke, the British science fiction writer, predicted the Internet in 1964 with startling accuracy. But at that time, flying cars and holidays to the moon sounded equally plausible.
Now that 2020 is right around the corner, we can safely say that Internet is the single greater driver of change for any industry you care to mention — including hotels. The way we promote ourselves and compete with other properties has been transformed by online booking and OTAs. Online reviews give individual guests the ability to affect a hotel’s reputation and inventory. Reliable Wi-Fi and charge points, as well as better workstations for remote workers, are now as vital to guests as hot water and clean sheets. New horizons include “chatbots” for customer service, mobile and keyless check-in options, digital in-room controls, virtual reality for booking, and advanced energy conservation systems.
Given the blinding pace of change, you’d think hoteliers simply would not have time to rest on their laurels and breathe easy. Unfortunately, our foray into science fiction has some distance yet to cover. Here are some key developments we can expect by 2020.
1. Artificial intelligence will show its strengths and limitations
Artificial intelligence has been creeping into our lives for while now, with giants like Amazon and Google aggressively pushing devices that answer questions and do shopping for you. Sophisticated chatbots and voice command software will continue to be an area of interest for hoteliers as we find the appropriate balance between personal warmth and digital convenience. Other, more assertive forms of A.I. are already being explored. Robotic luggage handlers (no tipping required, even in America) are already operational in several Aloft hotels, as well as the Yobot Hotel in New York City. In Japan, you can stay at a hotel where cyborgs check you in.
Will guests find it “creepy” to interact with this technology beyond a certain point? Will they long for the days when hotels had people and personality behind them? The tech itself doesn’t appear to be a problem; but the extent to which A.I. actually improves the guest experience remains to be seen.
2. Advanced in-room controls will be the norm
The Peninsula Shanghai is one of many properties now offering digital touch panels for in-room controls. There are also examples, such as the ARIA in Las Vegas, of smart-entry capabilities. Three simple things happen when the guest enters the room: the lights turn on, the HVAC system starts running, the curtains open. It sounds basic, but it has the power to surprise and delight — and that’s what creating a better guest experience is all about.
It’s worth mentioning also that “the internet of things” is quickly becoming more ubiquitous in people’s homes. By 2020, devices that were installed in hotels “back in 2017” might seem dated. The question hoteliers face is whether to invest in high-tech infrastructure now, or wait for that infrastructure to evolve. It’s even possible that custom-built apps will dominate the market for in-room controls, allowing guests to access everything from their own devices.
3. Bigger bathrooms, smaller guestrooms, optical illusions
Traditional wisdom on guestroom dimensions has been up for review since millennials started pouring into the workforce, leaving countless ping-pong tables and treadmill desks in their wake. But it’s not just millennials who have inspired a new look at how guestrooms are laid out. It’s a decreasing amount of urban space and a shifting sense of what’s important.
Larger bathrooms are commonly seen as a benchmark of luxury in hotels. Obviously building a bigger bathroom will decrease your dimensions for living and sleeping — but what if you trade those bulky, enclosed closets for open storage solutions? What if you add foldaway workstations and tables? By 2020, more hotel renovations and new hotel developments will be following these space-saving and optical trends. Wall-sized screens that mimic forests and deserts might also solve a spatial problem or two — but that might be something we commonly see by 2025.
4. Hotels will design with social media in mind
Guest reviews will continue to be an important driver of success in 2020 — but so will social media shares. In particular, activity on photo sites like Instagram, Pinterest and whatever comes next will be a more powerful channel for hotels. If a property can design a guest room, amenity, or common area that inspires delighted Instagram posts and shares, they will have harnessed the best type of publicity. Negative posts, on the other hand, will become ipso facto negative reviews.
5. Personal interactions will continue to define the guest experience
Finding ways to invest and adapt to the times, while remaining flexible and ready for new changes, remains one of the great challenges of our profession. But no matter how much the hotel of the future looks like a science fiction story, personal interactions will remain important. They will continue to endow the guest experience with something no device ever can: The warmth and personality of human connections. If you are not convinced, just ask Siri.
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