Graeme Kane, hospitality business development manager, Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, writes for Hotel News Middle East about the future of smart hotels in the region…
Regardless of the size or type of property, every hotel operator that wants to remain competitive and relevant will have to embrace IoT devices, and related wireless innovations over the next year to enable next-generation guest experiences.
Technology and the millennials
The problem with technology as a term in the hospitality industry is that it’s so ubiquitous that it becomes difficult to single out what developments are the most important for the next five years. Hoteliers have been cautious of technology taking away the human effect from the guest service and experience.
Rapid advances and disruptive technology is a constant challenge, where Artificial Intelligence (AI), wearable technology and Virtual Reality (VR) will become the norm when it comes to how potential guests search for and experience a trip. The smart ‘hotel of the future’ will have access to these technologies which have the ability to accelerate service, personalise the guest experience, build resource allocations to support guest requests, enable preventative maintenance and improve employee productivity. Mobile and keyless check-in options, mobile key access, digital in-room controls, virtual reality for booking, and advanced energy conservation systems will become the norm.
We all know reliable Wi-Fi and IPTV are now as vital to guests as much as hot water and clean sheets and these are key drivers for guests of all ages.
But if we look at the Millennials, with every passing year their spending power increases, which means more travel and hotel stays. The whole experience right from booking to checkout is expected to be seamless and flawless with as little direct human interaction or contact as possible.
Hotel operators will have to take this into consideration in the design stages of their hotels. A fully automated mobile payment system, via an online payment gateway using smartphones along with robust cyber security and tokenised payment methods ensuring complete security of guest credit card data, is becoming essential for an excellent guest experience at the booking stage.
With incorporation of the latest mobility solutions for the workforce, hotels can get real-time intelligence for quick decision making that increases agility, collaboration and productivity of the hotel staff which in turn enhances the overall guest satisfaction.
Artificial intelligence and hotels
From booking engines to chatbots and voice command software for room allocations – this may seem like a scene right out of a sci-fi movie, but is in fact a reality today. Customer facing AI robotic concierges and luggage handlers (already operational in some Aloft hotels) are getting a lot of media attention. In Japan, cyborgs programmed to make eye contact and respond with multilingual ability check you into hotels.
The question here is that should technology totally replace personal interactions or should the two co-exist? Digital assistants like Alexa and Siri lack human warmth, charm and personal connection, and yet perhaps this is what millennials want today. And incorporating technologies like this is also a cost saving proposition for hotels. More research needs to be done. But watch this space closely as it continues to evolve.
Location awareness and bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons – Creating a ‘home away from home’ experience
Location-based services opens a world of delightful use cases. By deploying Bluetooth-enabled IoT Beacon sensors along with the latest location-aware mobility and analytics innovations throughout the property, guests can be automatically recognised and registered as soon as they step onto the hotel premise, eliminating the stop at the registration desk and creating the same experience of walking in through the door at home.
As they proceed through the lobby, they can receive an automated update, via the hotel’s mobile app, on the status of their room. If the room is being cleaned or is unavailable for some other reason, the same technology can offer them a discount on a snack or free cocktail in the lounge.
When the guests head for their room, they don’t have to carry with them a key card – which let’s face it we’ve all had trouble with at some point or the other. Keyless entry via smartphone is the future – much more convenient than using a magnetic swipe card. A “key” with an encrypted code is sent via a push notification by the hotel to the guest’s phone, along with a message about the room number. The hotel room door unlocks when the smartphone with the code is held near it.
Advanced in-room controls are another technology of the future. The moment the guest enters the room, without any switches being touched, sensors turn the lights and the air conditioning on and open the curtains.
This undoubtedly is a delightful experience for guests. In the future custom-built apps for in-room controls will allow guests to access everything from their own smartphones and other mobile devices. They could for example set the climate controls to a certain temperature before they even arrive in their room.
Once in the room, the hotel’s IoT-enabled and location-aware infrastructure will work in other ways. For example, it can permit guests to stream personal content onto their in-room television while using the hotel’s mobile app to schedule a massage in the spa and order a beverage to arrive pool side the same time as they do. As wireless solutions advance, expect even more options, such as using a mobile device to project a preferred fitness routine onto a full-length mirror.
Hotels can boost revenue by sending push notifications via BLE beacons to guest devices that are connected to the hotel’s Wi-Fi – without invading privacy by promoting offers that are relevant to the guest’s interests, needs and preference as they wander around the property.
Geofencing using the wireless network allows property owners to know where the guest is in the property and when they pass a particular beacon they can receive a personalised message, coupon and loyalty points. Data analytics will be the secret sauce here.
Property owners can deploy navigation features within the hotel’s mobile app to guide guests to food and beverage and all amenities in the property as an option, again using BLE beacons.