As your car flies over the city, you see the magnificent outline of a hotel below. When you land on the roof, an AI concierge greets you in whatever language you speak, scans your retinas, leads you down to a room that has been prepared especially for you. If you need anything—fresh towels, a new toothbrush, dinner suggestions—all you have to do is think it, and within seconds you’ll hear a knock at the door.
Of course, this is mostly the stuff of science fiction. We’re unlikely to be comfortable with telepathic robots (because of course the robot staff are already here) and retinal scans are unlikely to come anytime soon; but hotels are changing. Owners and managers are moving toward mobile and cloud technology, direct bookings, vibrant common areas and a high degree of personalisation. So how the future will actually look?
1. Check-in will be anywhere
There may be a sentimental value to walking through tall double doors and approaching the figure behind the stately oaken desk, and I don’t think this will die out completely, but the traditional check-in process is changing quickly. Many hotels are already using “smart” check-in technology, wherein guests are sent an electronic or RFID key which effectively checks them into the hotel before they arrive. Or they may arrive and have a geo-locator pick up on their arrival and alert staff to their arrival or turn on the airconditioning. All they have to do when they reach the hotel is find their room and enter.
The industry is not adopting this all at once, but it is becoming commonplace. Traditional reception staff will persevere, but staff will often use tablets instead of stationary desks and monitors. This are interacting with guests anywhere in the property, at the airport, or before they even arrive.
2. Direct bookings will come through social media or tailored aggregators
Online travel agents are taking a bigger slice of the hospitality pie each year, and recent mergers mean that fewer companies now control more of the OTA landscape. Is this bad news for hotels?
Not necessarily. Like many other businesses, hospitality properties are striving harder to reach customers in the social media sphere. Sophisticated digital services already exist to alert properties when their names are mentioned on popular sites, and help them to manage their online reputations. Being listed on large OTAs is still part of our marketing and although owners and managers grow weary of increasing OTA fees, the market for robust alternatives will expand. More properties will seek ways to generate direct bookings through social media, e-mail and business cooperatives that don’t exist yet, whilst still listing their properties elsewhere to maximize their online profile
3. Personalisation will be big
Ok, this shouldn’t be anything new. Guests may not care so much about being waited on hand and foot, but they do like it when their preferences are known and remembered. In the old days, the long-standing concierge/receptionist would have either remembered guest preferences or else had a thorough (manual) system for remembering. Nowadays, staff don’t stay long enough in service roles to build the corporate memory so hotels have systems that capture data and preferences about each individual guest, so that action can be taken to strengthen the individual’s relationship to the hotel. It may be something as simply as a decaf capsules in the room, a welcome back message, or a schedule of nearby yoga classes. In an age of personalisation and social sharing, improving one individual’s experience has (and will continue to have) a profound impact.
4. Cloud computing will take off
When it comes to hospitality, the benefits of cloud computing are too compelling to ignore. Sure, some properties will continue to host their own systems on their own servers. And they’ll continue to need tech support, expensive equipment and plenty of storage. Problems arise that have to be solved. Energy costs increase.
One of the main barriers to cloud computing—security—is constantly improving. In the future, most properties will use highly secure and sophisticated cloud computing services that require only wifi infrastructure and mobile devices for employees. Overheated server rooms and emergency visits from “the tech guy” will be relegated to the hotel history books. I’m surprised it hasn’t taken over already.
5. Lobbies (and other common areas) will be busier
Who knows what future generations will want—but millennials are shaping the future now, and they want more social interaction. Hotels designs are moving away from empty, impersonal lobbies where people aren’t encouraged to spend time. Guests now want places to interact, meet existing friends and make new connections. Part of the millennial revolution is feeling involved and engaged, with a strong sense of place and social interaction. This is one of the reasons why AirBnb has enjoyed such wild success, and why so many hotel groups now have designed brands to suit. Citizen M, Moxy by Marriott, Radisson Red, Aloft by Starwood, Hyatt Centric….they are all designing busy, dynamic lobbies with free wifi, cafes and even live entertainment which will become the rule. Guests will mingle in other common spaces which reinforce their sense of place and make them feel at home outside of their rooms.
Preparing for the future
Whether you’re an existing property or a new development, it pays to look at these trends and explore ways to reinvent your business. Flying cars and multi-lingual cyborgs may be a long way off, and the human touch will never go out of style—but those who gain a strong foothold in the future of hospitality, especially in areas like direct bookings and online reputation management, will naturally find themselves ahead of the curve.
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