Hotel technology is a long game, and it seems many of the hottest hotel innovations may finally be at an adoption tipping point. So, what’s next?

For hospitality professionals, this is undoubtedly the question dominating the final stretch of 2019. Hotel services have been revolutionized over the last few years, trying to catch up with the changes in guest journeys and behaviors. Hoteliers are always on the hunt for technology that can help to streamline their processes and bring them closer to guests while optimizing operations, productivity and revenue. For many hotels investing in the latest innovations and advanced platforms, those demands have been answered, and it’s only the beginning.

No longer reliant on antiquated legacy systems, hoteliers around the globe are redefining their offering to establish new standards of service, ‘wow’ guests, and inspire long-term loyalty. From chatbots to AI, to smart rooms, to Internet of Things (IoT), increased mobile functionality, and intuitive management optimization platforms, what stretches before us is a tech-oriented hospitality landscape, centered around the provision of exceptional guest service.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the technologies and emerging trends positioned for wide-spread adoption as we head into 2020, and those which promise to further transform the hotel experience for everyone involved.

1. Chatbots, Assistants, AI, and Big Data

Convenience and automation go hand in hand, so the rise of AI-powered platforms and services comes as no surprise. Chatbots equipped to service guests’ needs and answer questions throughout the entire traveler journey are not only providing guests with uninterrupted service pathways but also help to reduce operational stress. Hotel staff is empowered to focus on those touch-points of the guest experience which matter most, while AI-powered devices help to streamline multiple tasks at once (managing inventory, basic guest requests, gathering guest data, and more). As guest expectations continue to pave the path to a more convenient, gratifying, and personalized guest experience both online and offline, the use of this technology will become integral.

Beyond chatbot technology, we’re also witnessing the rapid inception of in-room AI-powered assistants, and, taking it even further, some hotels are exploring the use of AI-powered robots. In fact, Hilton Hotels introduced Connie, the first-ever concierge robot in 2016, and now Henn-na Hotel in Japan operates as the world’s first hotel entirely staffed by robots. Although robot-powered hotels are still a novel concept at this point, and many guests still prefer a more traditional hospitality experience, we cannot deny the continued push for a frictionless experience. The use of these technologies also breeds the potential for enhanced, data-driven experiences that are better suited to the unique needs of each guest. With more real-time data aggregated, hoteliers are better positioned to refine their offering, streamline processes, and personalize each touch-point.

Ultimately, guests prefer hotels which can easily anticipate their needs, offer personalized service and recommendations, and provide the comforts of home within a luxury environment.

2. Mobile Everything

We live in a mobile world. As consumers, our experience with brands is largely determined within the mobile environment. For hotel guests, the same rules apply. Let’s consider the following statistics:

– 85% of international tourists have a mobile device with them while traveling

– 76% of travelers say their smartphone is the most important travel companion
– 74% of guests would use the hotel app if their favorite hotel had one
– 70% of last-minute hotel bookings are made on mobile devices
– Hotel apps and other hotel technology influence the booking decisions of 70% of travelers
– 88% of guests want a mobile app which allows for a personalized experience

With this in mind, curating a mobile experience for guests should be a top priority for hoteliers. From mobile check-in/out to keyless room entry, the utilization of a native hotel app, mobile concierge, and more, there is no shortage of opportunities to optimize the mobile guest experience. However, let’s take this a step further. What about the employee experience?

Although traditionally, hotel staff may have expressed certain apprehension towards the implementation of new technology, many new-age platforms offer a transformative, user-friendly experience. Unlike legacy platforms of the past, which demanded hours of training and often created more work for employees, modern mobile platforms are often built with the employee in mind. Tapping into the power of a more flexible work environment, employees can utilize a hand-held device to have uninterrupted access to guest information, manage tasks and reporting, communicate with other departments, and so much more. Leveraging mobile technology on both sides of the hospitality service arrangement is a critical step in the right direction.

3. Smart Rooms

Hoteliers, the era of the smart room is officially upon us. Smart hotel rooms harness the power of IoT to offer guests the level of comfort and convenience they are likely used to at home. This can include everything from built-in streaming services to keyless entry, smart mirrors, digital amenities like lighting and temperature control, voice-activated assistants, and more.

In fact, the ‘hotel room’ as we know it is seemingly undergoing an exciting transformation. Beyond the use of smart technology and IoT, we’re also witnessing the inclusion of virtual reality (VR) amenities. With the help of VR, guests can immerse themselves in a virtual environment during their stay, for a richer and more memorable hotel experience.

Ideally, guests can exhibit complete autonomy over their in-room experience, by way of their mobile device, a tablet, VR, or with voice-activated prompts. As you might imagine, this continues to push the envelope on personalized service, and we can’t wait to see how this continues to transform the hospitality experience.

4. Self-Service

When we delve into the specifics of modern guest needs, we reveal a rather simple takeaway: guests want what they want, and they want it quickly. 24/7 convenience provided through the means of data-backed insights and hand-held technology is no longer novel; it’s deeply ingrained into the way we live. Guests, as a result, demonstrate a desire for increased control over their experience. When it comes to service style, they want options, and one of those options is self-service.

Self-service technology offers a dual benefit to the hotels which employ it. Not only are guests provided with the choice of which service model they prefer (high-touch or low-touch), hotel staff are also empowered to better serve those guests who prefer hands-on interaction. This also helps to streamline operations, expediting certain touch-points that were often notorious for creating delays, such as front desk lines and inquiry delays.

5. Blockchain Technology and On-Demand Workforce

Blockchain has been a major talking point at evidently every hospitality event this year, and the technology shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, $2.1 billion was spent globally on blockchain solutions in 2018 alone. Blockchain is a public ledger, or list of encrypted digital records, where transactions are recorded anonymously and permanently. In short, it’s a way to move information from one point to another in a highly secure manner.

The excitement surrounding this emerging technology stems from the potential influence blockchain has on payment security and fraud protection within hotels. Within our sector, specifically, the goal of blockchain technology is to eliminate third-party costs and encourage the direct provider to consumer interaction. Ideally, this will vastly reduce the market share of OTAs and intermediaries as we move into 2020 while making booking more affordable for the travelers and more profitable for the suppliers.

Another exciting trend that has recently emerged is On-Demand Workforce for hospitality, which would, in theory, provide hotels with on-demand hospitality staff. While this is still a very new and currently untested concept, its conception is hardly a surprise. A study run by IMPOS in 2017 found that the #1 issue facing hospitality businesses was the difficulty of hiring and retaining staff. Much like ordering an Uber or booking an Airbnb, On-Demand Workforce for hospitality would allow hoteliers to log onto their on-demand staffing platform, view profiles and ratings, and find staff who are skilled in areas where they need assistance. As you might imagine, this could have a revolutionary impact on the cost and ease associated with hiring qualified candidates, and the Human Resource departments within hotels at large.

6. Tech-Powered Improvement of Hotel Processes

The trends we’ve listed here all have one primary thing in common: with the help of technological updates, they improve traditional aspects of the hospitality experience. This, in itself, is an important shift as hotels around the globe seek out technology-powered improvements in hotel processes. Gone are the days of broken, manual processes that aggravate guests and hotel employees in equal measure.

In many cases, this continued technological revolution leads hoteliers in the direction of mobile management platforms. Eager to transform the efficiencies of various departments across a property, hotels are investing in cloud-based, mobile software applications that help their employees better manage their tasks, communicate and submit reporting in real-time, and attend to guest needs in a timely manner.

These applications are often fully customizable and offer easy integration with a hotel’s existing operational infrastructure. Leveraging the power of an agile, centralized system, a management application allows staff to automate the handling of guest requests, maintenance jobs, housekeeping duties, and so much more. The front desk staff, housekeepers, maintenance workers, sales staff are all able to establish new standards of efficiency, benefiting from the convenience of mobile, staff-centric technology that truly transforms hotel processes. Moreover, by assembling a “stack” of modern management applications that complement a hotel’s existing PMS, hoteliers are able to closely manage service quality and, in turn, inspire guest loyalty.

The Near Future of Hospitality

The current hospitality landscape presents challenges and opportunities, giving traditional hoteliers little choice but to embrace technological transformation head-on to maximize guest loyalty, grow revenue, and to support future growth. Ultimately, understanding the needs of guests, and the way in which those expectations are subject to change based on emerging trends will allow hoteliers to remain agile and, in a position to succeed well into 2020 and beyond. 

What innovative hospitality technology trends are you most excited about for 2020?

About the Author

Nikhil Nath is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Knowcross, a leader in SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) technology for the global hotel industry.

Nikhil’s professional career began at Goldman Sachs in 1993. In 1995, he joined the now Deloitte-owned Monitor Company as a strategy consultant, dividing his time between the company’s offices in Hong Kong, London, New Delhi and Paris. In 2000, Nikhil joined Antfactory, a London based technology fund that invested in the first wave of internet companies.

In 2002, Nikhil set up Knowcross with the aim of modernizing hotel operations with technology. Today, Knowcross has offices in Washington D.C., London, New Delhi, Singapore and Shanghai and clients in over forty countries.

Nikhil studied Economics at University of Delhi and completed a Masters in Management program at HEC, Paris. More recently, he completed a Masters in Entrepreneurship program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston. 

Nikhil is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization and the Entrepreneurs Organization. He is also a former Chairman of CII-Yi (Delhi Chapter), a not-for-profit organization which plays a proactive role in India’s development process.

About Knowcross

With a global customer base across 40+ countries, Knowcross is a trusted partner to some of the world’s most well-known global brands including Aqua-Aston, Capella Hotels & Resorts, Cheval Residences, Hoxton, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, Kempinski, Minor Hotel Group, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotels, Rosewood, Sydell Group, Taj, The Doyle Collection , Sutton Place Hotels and Shangri-La; as well as marquee independents and hotel collections such as Angad Arts Hotel, Dolder Grand Zurich, Grand Pacific Resorts, Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa, Le Bristol Paris, Mandarin Orchard Singapore, Royalton New York, Sixty Soho, The Century House, The Curtain London, The Mark New York, The Ned London and The William Vale Brooklyn.