The Tech Ten

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Why hotels must invest in these business boosters

Automated Check Ins

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Technology has successfully been able to eliminate human intervention at hotels as automated check-ins have come in the picture. The trend has been catching up as many of the international hotels have adopted the automated check in facility to change the way they serve their guests. The guests are able to book online, pay online and get immediate access to their rooms. Simplifying the check in process has transformed the entire experience to a more personalised one. Guests do not have to wait in a queue at the reception on their arrival but pass a simple process and go to their rooms. The facility not only assists a convenient and effective way of transaction,  but also allows the hotel to invest in other service options.

The guests using online check ins are usually sent an SMS or email with their room number and access code. The ones coming in directly can use a self check in kiosk in the lobby and receive a pin code for the room access. Through the reformed digital systems guests can also check in online 48 hours prior to their arrival, where the system automatically checks in the guest at 2 pm on their arrival date. This technology has enabled the guest to completely bypass the check in wait at the hotel receptions and conveniently head to their rooms. Often some additional kiosks are placed near the elevator, so guests can exchange their key cards in case they face any problems.

As the hospitality sector undergoes a massive change, innovation in technology is helping make service more flexible for the guests. The digital check in solution has already been used by some of the boutique properties in Europe and international hotel chains.

Business travellers who take year trips are more open to hassle free check in where in they can directly take the key and go upto their rooms. But, when it comes to leisure travellers some may not enjoy the self service check in and look for a human touch while on vacations. Therefore some of the hotels only use it as an additional option while still providing check in service at the receptions.

Big Data

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The emergence of new online portals backed with latest technology is constantly challenging  existing hotel business models. It has not only led the hotels to adapt new tools in their operational strategy but also study their guests from a different perspective. One such new tool is Big Data Analytics. Data in the form of customer’s information has been a key resource for hotels to improve on their decision-making and customer experience. But sometimes the hotels lack the right customer data, in the right format or the ability to analyse it. However, new systems have been effective in helping hoteliers understand their customers in a better manner and serve them accordingly.

Travel as a service needs to be catered in a very specific manner as every customer checking into a hotel comes with a different set of expectations. Since meeting those expectations is a top priority, many of the brands are using advanced analytics solutions for clues about how to keep the customers happy. Big Data Analytics is helping hotels to process the large customer information and understand the hidden patterns, market trends, guests preferences and other useful information. There are specific tools and researches that help reveal these details so professionals are able to guide the hoteliers in decisions of marketing and communications.

According to a renowned study by Amadeus – ‘At the Big Data Crossroads: turning towards a smarter travel experience’, Marriott has been using Big Data Analytics to start predicting the optimal price of its rooms to fill its hotels. They do this by using improved revenue management algorithms that can deal with data a lot faster, by combining different data sets and making these insights available to all levels to improve decision-making.

Nowadays, even before the user check-ins at a hotel, the team might suggest some dishes, nearby places to visit or restaurants based on their preferences. This has all been possible due to Big Data. Even during the marketing campaigns, the reservation department is able to predict the optimal rate for rooms. This further helps the sales and marketing teams to create tailored messages across different social networks and send completely personalised mails to the users.

A deep study into the user insights can help to improve guest satisfaction and enhance their experience. But at the same time it is important to make these insights available through all level and departments.

Cloud Services

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The cloud technology has been there since the existence of internet but only lately the hotel industry woke up to its benefits. A cloud service is made available to the users on demand via the internet from a cloud computing provider’s servers that can assist in hotel operations. Due to the introduction of cloud service in hotels, employees are no longer restricted to their desktops and can freely go around helping the guests through their devices. Unlike earlier times where any information related to the guest would only be available in the systems running on the desktops.

Mostly the hotel need not invest in buying and setting up the technology, but hire a service providing company who can take over the asset management. Once the cloud based hotel management system is in place, the hotel staff can start using the system within minutes. It can be used for various operations like housekeeping, check ins, front desk management and many others.

This technology is not only restricted to big hotels; even small boutique properties can use cloud computing to ease their operations without spending huge amount on installing new technologies. The only backdrop of using the cloud service is that most of these applications rely on offline data sync, so if something went wrong during the sync, the staff will be left with no other option but to do it manually. They do need constant updates and an initial investment to put the systems in place, not to forget a well trained staff that can use it efficiently.

One of the most widely used cloud based hotel management systems (PMS software) is Hotelogix. It automates a hotel’s operations with free channel manager, booking engine and front desk. Hotelogix offers similar solutions for the mid scale properties or small budget hotels with smaller room keys. The housekeeping module by Hotelogix works in complete sync with front desk, to keep it simple. It is a single-screen snapshot with the most-current room information, organised neatly in a tabular format. You get simple point and click controls to work directly on a single table.

Therefore the cloud computing services have helped the hotels to shift to a better environment friendly solution with reduced energy consumption and expense.

Conferencing Technology

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As MICE tourism is increasing across the world, hotels are looking to drive fresh revenues through meetings and conferences. This is not possible without the right kind of facilities and conference features. Meetings and conferences require up-to-date technology that facilitates a seamless event. Therefore new hotel venues are using the latest technology to make their spaces look more appealing to large gatherings. From LED lights, latest projectors to in-house facilities, hotels have been investing in multiple new tools.

Every venue is adopting a new tech driven approach to enhance an event experience. Brightened faces in front of projector screens, flexible stage furniture, automated lighting are some of the new features being worked on by the hotels. Some small affordable fixes in a meeting room or conference hall can be more functional. The end result is a happy client who shares a positive feedback on social media, indirectly advertising for the venue.

One of the latest venues in Andaz Hotel, New Delhi is an oval shaped ballroom with a sound equipment room hidden in the back of the room. The ceiling is well equipped with suspenders that hold the capacity of hoisting a car above the ground. The pillar-less ballroom is best suited for any kind of event,  be it conferences or large meetings.

The most important technology innovation for conferences was the introduction of video conferencing in the market. Now even ballroom designs are architecturally stronger to sustain various technological changes. Walls are being used as projectors for enhanced experience and existing technologies already show potential of 3D projections. Hotels can capitalise on the need of big companies hosting events on a large scale adopting these new changes as they come.

With new products constantly entering the market, hoteliers need to find a way to adopt these changes in the best efficient manner. New technology will help hotels to stay ahead of the competition and benefit from the trend.

High speed Wi-Fi

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The dire need of guests to stay connected to the online world has left hotels with no other option but to provide free Wi-Fi services. One of the first international brands to no longer charge the basic fees for internet usage was Hyatt International. But nowadays every major hotel brand offers free Wi-Fi services in the rooms or atleast in the common areas. Wi-Fi speed makes a huge difference to guest experience.

New properties are spending heavily on modernising their Wi- Fi infrastructure. As the demands of the data-hungry world are on the rise, it becomes challenging for hotels to avoid providing it as a free service. However some hotels are offering high speed data at an additional price. It has been predicted that within the next decade, data rates might exponentially increase. Given the cost of capital involved in upgrading a new Wi-Fi system, some hotels might not pick it as top priority.

The past few years have seen Wi-Fi as the most used amenity on the hotel premises. It not only leads to a good guest experience, but also allows them to instantly share it on their respective social media channels. With the rise of business traveller and data-hungry young millennials, this can no longer be avoided. Travellers who wish to enjoy uninterrupted free Wi-Fi service instantly check on a hotel’s website before finalising their booking. The Wi-Fi password is one of the very first things that a guest asks post a check in. So it is best to have the service than lose a potential guest.

But one of the things that need to be well taken care of is the security of the Wi-Fi network. A hotel’s Wi-Fi network lacks security and can be easily hacked, putting a lot of a guest’s data at high risk. While hotels are investing in providing free Wi-Fi services to their guests and ensuring they enjoy a smooth service, they should also ensure that their data is secure.

In room automation

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Guest room automation has been continuously evolving in recent years. It enables the guest to have full control over multiple functions like room lighting, temperature, drapes, audio/ video systems with the help of automated interfaces. Hotels have been able to offer better convenience and flexibility to their guests through this new technology. Further, going beyond room functioning, automated systems are also being used for architectural scene setting, common area lighting and audio/ video systems, engineering and security.

The specific remote for room control allows guests to control all devices, be it lights, fans, air conditioners and curtains. Nowadays instead of remotes, hotels offer an iPad or Android based tablets through which guests can control all functions. Some of the latest smart apps not only allow the control of lights but also enables the guest to order concierge services with just a few taps. At the same time, new hotels are equipped with facility monitoring system that can provide central control over all electrical assets like generators, pumps or the common lighting area. It also acts as a help desk to manage maintenance tasks and asset performance.

Few of the latest automated features include guest occupancy, do not disturb signs, make my room, need laundry services as they are just a click away in your room. Also, security features like intelligent door lock systems, safe and panic buttons in washrooms are directly connected to the security office.

Unlike earlier times, technology ensures optimal functionality of a property. For example, the room keys are also access cards to switch on the lights in the room. The automatic lighting in a room helps to save energy while the guests are out. The same goes for the common areas as automated systems dim the lights of areas which are not in use. Therefore, all the technology assistance and systems ensure optimal functionality of a property. Guest room management systems not only enhance the beauty of the hotel but reduce maintenance costs.

Infotainment

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Hotels have improvised on the use of technology by combining information with entertainment. A tablet in each room now serves as a guest directory, guiding the guests during their stay. It not only informs a guest about the various services at the hotel but also serves as a source of entertainment. Other ways to reach out to hotel guests can be through the TV systems, Wi-Fi landing pages or the hotel pages. All the above sources have limited reach and are hardly used during a guest’s stay. Therefore, these days hotels have started investing in infotainment systems to stay connected to the guests in a better manner.

According to a recent research by a digital concierge provider, more than 89 per cent of the guests use the digital guest directory daily. The infotainment messages are said to have a wider reach and as messages are accessible to all the guests at the same time. Hotels don’t have to invest in printing material to send a message, but can directly broadcast it through the infotainment channels. This strengthens the security and eases hotel operations as one can analyse carefully where the order came from.

Sending a message through the infotainment method makes it easily communicable and widely read. While some hotels are doing it in the form of a brand channel through the TV, some are directly placing tabs for ease in digital communication. All guests are informed about news and offers, and can book hotel services and have access to any hotel information.

The modern ways of entertainment offer intuitive handling, wide range of media, games for the young and old, various radio and TV programmes. In hotels offering a variety of additional services (such as spa facilities, restaurant, etc), the digital guest directory contributes to a significant increase of in-house sales. Guests can get information about the offers, and  if desired book them straight away.

A hotel brand can also combine hotel-group-specific information with the information provided by each hotel member. It can be in the form of combine bookable offers and sharing other facilities. This new technology in infotainment has introduced one system with a variety of possibilities.

IT Security

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With the rise of human dependency on technology and cybercrime threats, every industry has been challenged to increase its safety and security at all levels. The hospitality sector is one of the most vulnerable and faces constant threat from issues like identity thefts, credit card frauds, cyber crime attacks on guest data and hotel network among other security breaches. It is also important that hotels address cyber security from different angles including technical, insurance, payment systems and insurance.

An initial investment is required to put the systems in place, but it is better to be cautious as cyber security breaches can be very costly. It not only affects a hotel’s reputation but poses a threat to its basic functionality. Cybercrimes are the second highest risk the hotel industry is exposed to as hotels are constantly dealing with social engineering attacks. But with latest software a lot can be done to prevent and limit a hotel’s exposure.

The hotel industry holds massive amount of sensitive personal information about the guests which can easily be used for identity theft. Therefore, much focus is placed on raising security on credit card numbers and personal information. Nowadays hotels are also being cautious about interconnection of systems. This means breaking into a financial structure that can give access to door locks, heating and air conditioning systems, electrical, plumbing and other key structural and physical parts of the hotel. The damage here is far more than lost cards because it would directly affect a hotel brand and its owners.

Majorly 95 per cent of all data breaches can be traced to human causes. The possibility of individual mistakes cannot be eliminated and therefore while a hotel adopts technical measures for security, it also requires individual training. It only takes a click on a wrong website, opening a fraud mail or responding to a wrong mail. Therefore, it is crucial to address the human factor while dealing with cyber security problems. Today, many hotels are holding training sessions for their staff to avoid any human breach through the systems.

Hotels are now complying with the industry standards and evaluating their own risk profile to apply meaningful security plans which suits their property functions. Hotel brands are now creating a culture of security by investing in stringent systems at all levels.

Mobile Apps

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A recent Criteo report on digital traveller’s journey stated that 56 per cent of millennial travellers were using mobile to book their travels. Smartphones aren’t just used for browsing data but is also the number one device to book holidays. As the world has shifted to mobile devices, hoteliers will be missing out a great deal if they don’t make their presence felt through apps. Statistics depict that there are more mobile devices in the world then there are people. As today’ guests deeply rely on their smartphones to do everything, the hotels are building apps which can serve them in the best manner.

The Marriott hotels app lets its users check into a hotel anytime after four the day before their arrival and can pick their pre-programmed key card at the special mobile check in counter. The app also sends an automatic notification to the guest in case their room is ready before the check in time. Similarly, Conrad Concierge App serves as a full time concierge, allowing users to order room service, make special requests, book spa treatments, re-stock room amenities or book car rentals for pick and drop at the airport.

Some of the recent hotel apps like Mandarin Oriental let the users enjoy 3D views of the hotel. Taking the features to another level, the new W Hotels app also provides music streaming functions. Users can send in treats to guests residing at the hotel even if they aren’t guests themselves. The image sharing function lets the guests click pictures and share them directly from the app. These mobile apps have paved a way for the guests to directly engage with hotels and understand the services in a better manner. Hotel apps have introduced a new way of convenience and flexibility of guest experience. It has helped hotels to connect with their guests, be it business or leisure travellers. However, since every property cannot invest in mobile apps of their own, they prefer to use OTAs like TripAdvisor, Expedia, Trivago, etc, to reach out to target segments. It helps to increase a hotel’s brand presence and also reach out to a wider span of users at one go.

The idea to build better apps helps to create a long term relationship with the users and turn them into loyal guests. In a service oriented industry like hospitality, it has become way more important to re-connect with the users and retain the brand value through virtual presence.

Social Media

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The rise of digital travellers seeking inspirations through social media has made the hospitality industry wake up to the wide impact of apps like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. From simply being a platform to raise awareness about the brand, social media is slowly being used as a medium to convert users into guests. It has become more important for hotel brands to have a strong social media presence where people are able to discover them easily. Hoteliers are investing in strengthening their brand recognition by reaching out to guests before, during and after their stay.

The new social media trend is to know where your potential guests are and focus on the specific platform. Hotels across the world are creating special social media campaigns to target specific segment of travellers. It can vary from their offerings like food, comfort, luxury, etc. Some of the hotel brands are also leveraging on the medium to directly engage with their customers and ease the process for booking a service, by answering to users’ queries and help them book their trips. The direct engagement also helps hotels to tell users about new deals and features at their property, successfully gaining some loyal customers.

Facebook had recently rolled out a new ‘city guides’ feature that allows users to connect to  hotels to book rooms. A user directed to a hotel’s website and easily make an online booking. Facebook started this as a discovery platform which has now become more of an informative page where users are updated about the hotel’s new offerings, special events and packages. At the same time, Instagram is where people come to seek inspiration for their next travel journey. It is being used as a creative medium to attract users’ attention and inspire them to book the property for its sheer experience.

Nowadays, guests have also started using social media as their primary source of contact for the hotels. From leaving feedbacks to booking a special service, one can see that the users enjoy it as medium to make some special demands. The social media is here to stay and hotels will be missing out a lot if they don’t make the best of it.

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