Hospitality Digital Technology: Challenges, Priorities, and Buzzwords

Background:

Today’s typical online travel consumer is exposed to more than
38,983 micro-moments in a 60-day timeframe and visits an average of
18 websites via multiple devices across eight sessions before
making a hotel booking (Google Research).

With the explosion of the “digital way of life”, the
customer journey has become increasingly complex, forcing hoteliers
to overhaul not only their corporate and marketing strategies, but
also their technology stack in order to engage, acquire, service
and retain these digitally-enabled travel consumers across multiple
digital touch points and across all digital channels and
devices.

Today’s hospitality is being transformed into a 100%
digital technology-enabled industry
powered by online, mobile,
cloud, IoT, AI and blockchain tools and applications. Digital
technology is making its way into every aspect of the industry:
hotel operations, guest services, communications, revenue
management, distribution, CRM and marketing.

Today’s hotelier must understand, know and use digital tech
solutions in their everyday environment, and be able to assess,
evaluate, recommend and acquire technology solutions to improve
guest satisfaction, operational efficiencies, productivity,
customer service and revenue.

Types of Guest-Facing Hospitality Digital
Technology

If we set aside the traditional hotel operations,
administrative/back office and HR technology, and the hotel
engineering infrastructure and “mechanical” technology (all of
which are typically “hidden” from the guests), there are two
categories of guest-facing digital technology:

  • Guest Engagement, Acquisition, and Retention Technology
    – these are technology applications focused on engaging and
    bringing the guest to the property, continuing the conversation
    pre-, during and post-stay and eventually turning the guest into a
    loyal and repeat guest.
  • Guest Services Technology – these are on-property
    hardware devices and appliances, and software applications
    (on-premises or cloud-based) that provide or enhance guest
    services, improve guest comfort and satisfaction and enable
    customer service and communications.

Today, the vast majority of hoteliers are primarily focused on
and investing in Guest Services Technology, while underinvesting in
Guest Engagement, Acquisition and Retention Technology.

Unlike hoteliers, the OTAs are focused exclusively and investing
only in Guest Engagement, Acquisition and Retention Technology
since they do not have to worry about on-property technology and
guest experiences. In other words, hoteliers’ technology focus
and investments end where the OTA focus and investment
begin.

It’s no wonder that over the last 6 years the OTAs have
increased their market share by over 40% at the expense of the
hotel direct channel. By investing heavily in technology
applications to engage the traveler at all possible touchpoints of
the customer journey, OTAs have monopolized the guest relationships
and left hoteliers in the dust.

This is particularly true for independent hotels and resorts,
smaller and mid-size hotel brands.

1. Guest Engagement, Acquisition and Retention
Technology

There are crucial aspects of the Guest Engagement, Acquisition
and Retention Technology category which the hospitality industry is
ignoring, not excelling in, or dramatically falling behind in
including:

  • Online Distribution Technology:

Over the past 15 years or so, the industry has become somewhat
better at adopting online distribution technology: cloud-based
website booking engines (WBE), central reservation systems (CRS)
and channel management platforms. Yet, many independent hoteliers
still utilize separate WBEs, CRS, and Channel Management vendors.
WBEs are used that are not mobile-friendly or have a weak uptime
record, and some hotels are even a WBE and CRS provided by an OTA.
To reduce friction and lower costs and vendor management efforts,
evaluate and select a cloud-based distribution technology vendor
that provides all three capabilities: WBE with proven user
experience (UX) record, CRS, and Channel Manager, naturally with a
two-way API tom your property’s PMS.

  • Revenue Management Technology:

Over 95% of independent hotels, resorts and casinos do not have
an adequate Revenue Management System (RMS). An RMS is a predictive
analytics tech platform for accurate and often real-time data
processing, demand forecasting, pricing and segment optimization,
and channel optimization. An RMS allows the property to sell rooms
at the right price, at the right time, through the right channels,
and to the right customers, which can result in significant
increases in occupancy and revenue. Look for a cloud-based RMS
which have lower implementation and ongoing SaaS costs, typically
priced per room/month.

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Technology:

Over 95% of independents have no meaningful CRM application as
part of their hotel tech stack. A CRM technology platform typically
provides guest profile data management with ongoing cleansing and
de-duping, guest pre-stay communications, in-stay communications,
post-stay communications, guest satisfaction surveys, marketing
automation, ongoing marketing, loyalty, and guest recognition
programs. If your property’s repeat guests are 10% and above, you
need a CRM solution to help you double or triple that number. A
cloud-based CRM is the best way to go today.

  • Online Reputation Management Technology (ORM):

Monitoring and reacting to your customer reviews has become a
must-do in hospitality. An ORM system typically includes sentiment
analysis, comp set analysis, reputation monitoring, guest
satisfaction surveys, and analytics. Using ORM, hotels can
understand what the sentiments of the traveling public are toward
their property versus their competition, and can proactively impact
their guests’ online reviews and ratings by better understanding
their guests and by making improvements that address issues brought
up in reviews. By default, ORM services today are cloud and
subscription-based.

  • Digital Marketing Technology:

All marketing efforts of the property involve digital technology
and applications. Marketing is used to engage travel consumers in
the Dreaming and Planning Phases, acquiring them in the Booking
Phase, and re-engaging them in the Reminiscence and post-stay
phase. The digital marketing tech stack includes:

  • SEO technology to manage rankings, monitor competition and
    provide keyword and ranking recommendations.
  • Dynamic rate marketing applications to engage and convert
    customers who have expressed interest to travel to your
    destination.
  • Programmatic and native display advertising.
  • Metasearch marketing.
  • Multichannel campaign applications for offers and
    promotions.
  • Audience segmentation applications.
  • Demand-side platforms (DSP).
  • Email marketing technology.
  • Social media management tools.

Typically, independents and mid-size or smaller hotel brands
outsource digital technology needs to specialized tech-enabled
digital marketing firms.

  • Website Technology:

The property or hotel brand website has become the gravitational
center of all hotelier’s efforts to engage, acquire and retain
the customer. Any marketing efforts of the hotel today lead the
potential customers to the hotel website. Today’s website
technology includes cloud-based Content Management System (CMS),
comprehensive merchandising suites, reservation abandonment tools,
personalization pricing and content, technical SEO, cloud hosting,
and robust analytics suite.

 

Case Study: What Should Your Website Technology
Do?

Many hoteliers often fail to understand the crucial role the
hotel website and its user experience (UX) plays in the overall
health of the property and the bottom line. With nearly 59% of
online travelers now visiting the hotel website from mobile
devices, a mobile-first website design is a must.

According to Google, 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile
site takes longer than three seconds to load. On average, hotel
websites download in 6 seconds or more. Mobile-first responsive
website with cloud hosting and CDN (Content Delivery Network)
provides far better server response times and faster download
speeds.

Your property’s mobile-first website must be backed by a
mobile-first website technology platform and Content Management
System (CMS) that includes mobile-first functionalities specific to
the hoteliers’ needs, such as:

  • Mobile-first website design, ensuring an optimum mobile user
    experience and content access plus best-in-class UX booking path
    strategy to ensure users can easily complete a booking across
    devices.
  • Automated Schema Markup on the mobile-first hotel website,
    which help the search engines understand the content and intent of
    websites, especially dynamic content elements.
  • Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), greatly increasing hotel
    visibility and creating another entry point to boost mobile
    visitors and bookings.
  • Advanced merchandising technology platform for pushing
    specials, including last-minute offers for mobile users as well as
    automatic time-based offers, etc.
  • Personalization capabilities to target users with one-to-one
    marketing messages and promotions, based their demographic info,
    geo location, feeder market origin, loyalty member affiliation, and
    many more.
  • Secure cloud hosting platform, featuring a full stack of
    automated download speed- enhancement tools and bandwidth,
    specifically designed for mobile users.

Today’s hoteliers must create and manage a robust digital
presence and engage, acquire, service and retain travel consumers
in this increasingly mobile-first world. They must understand and
invest in digital technology and marketing that enables the best
possible user experience, provides the best customer service,
increases efficiencies and boosts revenues.

2. Guest Services Digital Technology

Until recently, hotels offered better technology and amenities
compared to many guests’ own homes. This is no longer the case.
Quite often, today’s travel consumer enjoys better technology and
amenities at home: high-speed internet, voice assistants like
Alexa, streaming media like Hulu or Netflix, smart TVs, and
IoT-enabled refrigerators and A/Cs.

From a technology perspective, the challenge to hoteliers is to
create a hotel and room environment that at least matches but
preferably exceeds their guests’ home environment. In other
words, hotel and room technology, amenities, and features should be
the same or better than what guests already enjoy at home. These
include:

  • Smart Room Technology:

    • High Speed Internet (HSIA): true HSIA of 200 – 500 Mbps
    • Entertainment: including big screen 4K, Ultra HD or OLED smart
      TVs, seamless multimedia hubs to enable the “synching” of the
      guest-own streaming media accounts (Hulu, Amazon Fire TV, AppleTV,
      Google Play) with the room TV.
    • Voice personal assistants: these natural language processing
      devices, typically based on Alexa or Google Home, allow the guest
      to access room service, facilitate guest requests, and manage
      utilities and amenities such as adjusting room temperature or
      lights.
    • Smart Barista and Beverage Center: hubs that “know and
      remember” the guest’s preferences and taste.
    • RFID keyless mobile device-enabled locks and security.
    • Smart Utilities Management: through voice assistants, IoT
      controls, thermal occupancy sensors or hotel app (ex. Cirq+).
    • Frictionless Messaging Communications: with front desk,
      housekeeping, engineering, concierge and room service (ex.
      ReviewPro, Zingle, Whistle).
    • Issue Resolution Technology: guest incident tracking, logging,
      dispatching, and follow up. Virtually connect guests to
      housekeeping and engineering or work order automation (ex. Runtriz,
      Guestware)

The future of this technology is the Smart Guestroom which will
be completely personalized to guest preferences and loyalty member
profile. Hilton Hotels via their Connected Room and Marriott via
their IoT Guestroom prototypes are already working on synching
loyalty member profiles and preferences with the room experience:
room temperature, lighting, bathroom accessories, streaming media
preferences, beverages, bedding, and more. Recently
Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta stated: “Imagine a world where
the room knows you, and you know your room.”

  • Self-Service Guest Technology:

For DIY-obsessed consumers, self-service kiosks, devices, and
mobile applications have already entered the marketplace and are
enjoying wide adoption, both by hoteliers and guests. The most
common devices and applications are:

Hotel Check-in/Check-out Kiosks: these lobby-based devices
typically provide guest Identification, room upgrades and special
offers, early check-ins, room selection/assignment, online
registration card and signature, acceptance of the hotel policies,
credit card payments and keycards issuance.

Mobile Apps: all major hotel chains, and many midsize/smaller
hotel brands, provide their loyalty members with mobile check-in
from anywhere, room selection/assignment, ability to customize
stay, ability to receive alerts (traffic, weather, when the room is
ready), get key from Mobile Check-in Desk or mobile key, credit
card payments.

Interactive Information Kiosks: these guest information kiosks
serve as a 24/7 virtual concierge and information source for both
property and destination information, which increases lobby
functionality, shortens concierge wait times and enhances the guest
experience.

Virtual Concierge: these mobile or website apps allow 24/7 guest
interaction via messaging with the Virtual Concierge, which can
make suggestions, order services, and track the status of requests.
This technology enhances the guest experience and generates
additional revenue from auxiliary services and upsells.

Chat Bots: these AI-powered applications have already received
wide acceptance and adoption in the marketplace, especially for
customer service and call center reservations. All OTAs and major
hotel brands have deployed some form of chatbot or AI-powered
customer service application. Some OTAs already handle as much as
85% of their online customer service via an AI-powered chatbot,
which has led to huge cost-savings and improved customer
satisfaction.

Self-Ordering Kiosks: these F&B kiosks typically provide
full menu ordering with real-time order information sent to the
kitchen, inventory management, credit card payments, and printed or
emailed receipts.

What are the main challenges for hotels to adopt digital
technology?

Hoteliers are overwhelmed by the amount of technology, data, and
digital marketing silos and the need to work with a multitude of
vendors in their guest acquisition and services efforts. The
typical hotel uses a myriad of vendors that do not talk to each
other, and in many cases do not even know each other. There will be
one for CRM, a second for the property website, a third for SEO, a
fourth for SEM, a fifth for online media, and so on.

Each property team, from revenue generation teams like RM,
S&M, and CRM to guest services teams such as housekeeping,
engineering and front desk, operate in isolation of each other.
Each team has its own technology tools, databases, and vendors
which are not in communication with the other teams.

These are the major impediments to the industry becoming a
digital technology-driven and technology-savvy industry:

  • Reluctance to invest in digital technology: This
    reluctance to invest in digital technology comes from the lack of
    understanding that we are serving technology obsessed travel
    consumers who demand a hotel technological experience be equal or
    better to what they have at home. In this digital age, hospitality
    technology goes way beyond the flat-screen TV or the property PMS,
    and should focus on guest-facing digital technology applications
    and devices like streaming media hubs, voice assistants, messaging
    capabilities, mobile-first property website, personalization
    technology, and one-to-one pricing and marketing applications.
  • Antiquated accounting in hospitality: Most of the cloud
    Guest Engagement, Acquisition and Retention Technology solutions
    and many of the cloud Guest Services Technology applications are
    accounted for from the Sales, General and Administrative Expense
    section of the property P&L. In other words, these new
    technologies are not being amortized like capital expenses or
    considered COGS (Cost of Goods Sold). This singular fact makes many
    property owners and managers reluctant to invest in new types of
    digital technology applications, most of which are being sold to
    the property on a subscription SaaS basis.
  • The technology and data fragmentation in hospitality is
    another big challenge and impediment to progress the industry faces
    today. Guest data lives in multiple “data islands” that do not
    talk to each other: PMS, CRM, CRS, Social Media, Web Analytics,
    Marketing Data, and BI. Very few properties and hotel companies can
    boast a single view on customer data with live data feeds from ALL
    touchpoints with the traveler.

Most of the time, CRM data is not being utilized to engage and
retain past guests. Quite often different teams at the property use
different sets of data in their day-to-day operations, creating a
total “data integrity mess,” which directly affects the
property’s guest acquisition and retention efforts.

The goal here is very clear: bridge the guest data and
technology silos in hospitality and create an end-to-end solution,
empowering hotels to acquire new guests, engage current guests, and
retain past guests by combining digital marketing, website, and CRM
data into one cohesive marketing and personalization platform.

  • Lack of proper education and professional development
    opportunities on digital hospitality technology and the latest
    technology innovations, trends and best practices. How many
    hospitality schools today teach hospitality technology courses?
    Only a few. New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality
    launched a brand-new course on Hospitality Technology in the Spring
    2019 Semester, which is a great start to educating future hoteliers
    on the importance of technology in this industry.
  • And finally, we have become an industry of buzzwords and
    flashy gadgets
    , in the hope of impressing guests, owners, and
    investors. These show that your hotel brand is not “falling
    behind the curve.” Recently, an independent hotel introduced room
    service delivery robots, which would have been great if the rest of
    the hotel tech stack were in order. The hotel was still using a
    6-year old website and had no CRM technology.

Hotels should first focus on the fundamentals of the technology
stack before implementing more advanced things.

Fragmentation in the hospitality tech sector.

The global hospitality industry a highly fragmented industry
with a lot of technology deficiencies and needs that require smart
solutions. The U.S. hospitality industry is a $155 billion
industry. This provides endless opportunities for smart technology
vendors to thrive and service the industry with state-of-the-art
solutions.

The technology and data fragmentation at the property,
discussed above, is further exacerbated by the fragmentation in
tech vendors. The industry needs fewer, as opposed to more,
technology vendors.

Due to the increasing complexity of hotel tech, vendors are
already in need of significant investments to innovate and scale
up. As a result, it’s expected there will be consolidation and
M&A in hotel tech over the next few years.

What are some next-generation hotel technology
applications?

Hoteliers need to monitor, proactively inquire about and
familiarize themselves with the Next Generation Technologies
that are already making their way into hospitality, including
Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Voice
Assistants, Chat Bots, Robotics, and Blockchain.

It is up to hotel tech vendors to carry the torch and help the
industry overcome its technology deficiencies by embracing the
rising tide of digital-obsessed travel consumers. Hoteliers need to
embrace, learn about, and invest in the next-gen technologies
already being adopted.

Labor-intensive hotel positions that involve repetitive or
structured work such as housekeeping, customer service and call
center reps, and F&B waiting staff will see wider adoption of
robotics, automation, and other AI-powered devices in the years to
come.

Over the next 3-5 years we will witness wider adoption and
implementation of the following next gen technologies:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): Customer service (chat
    bots), personalization (one-to-one marketing, one-to-one pricing),
    database management (single-view customer data) and loyalty
    programs.
  • Voice Assistants/Voice Search: Integration of major
    hotel brand CRS with voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google
    Assistant and Apple Home Pod, customer service (voice assistants in
    hotel rooms).
  • Internet of Things (IoT): Customer service (concierge,
    hotel lobby, room service); hotel security, operations (power and
    A/C management).
  • Robotics: Robots will replace jobs around the property,
    from front desk to housekeeping to kitchen staff.

Blockchain:

The much-promoted use of blockchain in all aspects of hotel
distribution, marketing and operations is another affirmation that
we are an industry of buzzwords. Over the past two years, many
hoteliers got overly excited by this new technology and its
perceived “magic wand” ability to solve industry
deficiencies.

In my view, blockchain technology will have the following three
potential uses in hospitality:

  • Procurement: a mega brand like Marriott deals with tens
    of thousands of vendors in hundreds of geographies. Utilizing a
    public or a private version of blockchain technology (like the IBM
    Blockchain Platform), a major hotel brand can introduce
    unprecedented traceability and transparency in its supply chain and
    streamline its procurement logistics.
  • Secure Contracting: blockchain can power secure legal
    contracts between hotel chains and numerous legal parties: from
    franchise agreements, preferred vendor contracts, and corporate
    groups.
  • Universal Digital IDs: in the future, blockchain could
    provide travel consumers with Universal Digital IDs which could be
    used for voice hotel reservations and loyalty program memberships.
    These could ultimately facilitate easier and more secure online
    transactions.

One thing blockchain technology is not good for at this
point is hotel distribution. In order to utilize blockchain for
hotel distribution, any blockchain player has to tackle the
complexity of hospitality technology which consists of many moving
parts.

Conclusion:

The “digital way of life” adopted by today’s tech-savvy
travel consumer is forcing the hospitality industry to accelerate
the adoption of digital technologies and become a 100% digital
technology-enabled industry
.

By being primarily focused on and investing in Guest Services
Technology, while underinvesting in Guest Engagement, Acquisition
and Retention Technology, hoteliers are allowing the OTAs to gain
more visibility and engage, acquire and..

Source: FS – All – Hotels – News
Hospitality Digital Technology: Challenges, Priorities, and Buzzwords