Survival of the Techiest? The Future of Hi-Tech Vs Hi-Touch in Hotels

Posted On: 2018-09-06 Author : Siddharth Thaker & Ritu Chawla Mathur

“It’s not our task to predict the future, but to be well-prepared for it”-  Pericles (5th Century BCE)

There is no doubt that the hospitality industry is rapidly moving towards a future filled with automation and driven by technological advancements. Over the last few years, the industry has witnessed increased adaption in the use of Big-Data Analytics, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. It is certain that going forward, rapid innovations in technology, entertainment and energy sciences will completely transform hotel experiences of travellers. Think about it, even today, anyone who carries a smartphone, is already a part of the tech revolution, where each day multitude of innovations are touching their lives! However, the larger question is whether Hi-Tech will replace Hi-Touch in the future. The later has been the very essence and definition of hospitality since the dawn of civilization.

In this article we provide insights into certain technological transformations that are likely to play a pivotal role in hotels of the future. We discuss barriers to technological transformation in hotels along with our opinion on the future of Hi-Tech Vs Hi-Touch. We have also included an assessment of these innovations as it relates to management of key functions and processes within hotels.

  • Unified Access Control Systems (UACS)

The latest improvements in UACS technology will have a significant impact on key operating processes, primarily in the area of accommodations management. ‘Going keyless’ through UACS will redefine the guest experience at the critical touch points of ‘Check-in’.  A hotel’s UACS App will enable guests to pick a preferred room of his choice based on availability and enable him to get straight to his room upon arrival. Increased usage of UACS technology will allow hotels of the future to do away with staid lobbies with static reception desks. Hotels will dramatically change their public spaces designs, incredibly adopting the concepts of ‘living rooms’ & ‘social hubs’.

Hotel lobbies of the future will become multi-use dynamic spaces with increased allocations for co-working spaces, lounges, restaurants, art arenas and multimedia business hubs. In our opinion, increased adoption of UACS will also free up the Front desk staff from mundane repetitive activities, allowing them to engage with the guests with more relevant interactions.

  • Central Control Automation Systems (CCAS)

For some years now, hotels have started using the Guest CCAS interface whereby each room consists of a smart console from where the guest can operate all the lights in the room, manage the central air-conditioning, administer and connect AV components, adjust and view the temperature in the room, control ambient lighting & curtains etc. Going forward, these CCAS systems will be fully integrated with voice command technologies, such as Amazon’s Echo & Alexa and Google Home. Each room console will be seamlessly equipped to recognise a guest’s voice commands. The CCAS console will act as a guest’s personal assistant and offer many of the same services as a traditional hotel butler or concierge.

In the future, as we see increased integration and adoption of CCAS and voice command technology, the guests’ in-room experiences will be highly elevated and personalized. Upon request, hotels will be capable to fully integrate personal digital data from guest homes and offices with their hotel rooms. Each hotel room will act as an extension of the guest’s personal space. The CCAS will enable guests to control a majority of the smart design and individualised room experiences. Hotels will also be able to manage lights and air conditioning based on guest concentration, activity and density. Heat and motion sensors placed in public spaces will switch between active and standby modes. As use of CCAS becomes more mainstream, hotels will adopt better sustainable practices that allow reduction in energy costs while portraying an environmental conscious image.

  • Digital Display Systems

Increased usage of interactive Digital Display Systems will enable hotels to significantly improve their guest experiences. The technology will enable streaming of real-time views of surrounding landscapes, oceans, mountains etc. on floor-to-ceiling Digital Display Panels that are embedded within room walls or placed at small personal balconies that actually have no real views. The future of dining will also be dominated by usage of interactive smart tables that allows guests to custom select their food and wine preferences and also change their table-top presentations, pay their bills and much more.

Digital Display technology will also take centre stage at Meeting and Conferences venues. RFID badges, registration through facial and biometric recognition, augmented and virtual reality based product displays, simultaneous multi-lingual transmissions will be the new standard at most events. Neural Network systems will enable real-time data collection regarding gender, age, moods, session responses and other such demographic details at events which will be further communicate instant feedback to events planners’ Digital Display Systems.

  • Robotics

Robotics will play an increasingly important role in the hospitality industry, primarily because of its ability to carry out traditionally human functions much quicker, more consistently and at any time of the day. In hotels of the future, Robotics will automate standardized food production assembly lines and easily reduce dependency on high end human resources being deployed to undertake low end and repetitive functions. Standardization and automation of food assembly lines using robotics will significantly benefit hotels with large meeting and conference spaces.

Robotics will also be deployed at restaurants to efficiently manage the wine cellars and wine labelling functions. Guest’s preference for food, grape type and region, vintage etc can be analysed to select the most appropriate wines. We further believe, that increased use of robotics will also significantly improve stores management and supply chain functions and potentially save significant costs, eliminate human error and deliver superior efficiencies.

  • Artificial Intelligence & Big Data Analytics

In our opinion, the use of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Analytics, Neural Networks and Machine Learning will completely transform the ability of hotels to deliver personalised services through targeted custom service delivery programs based on guest history data using predictive analytics. In Hotels, the usage of big data analytics i.e. identifying complex patterns in consumer behaviour through statistical analysis will play a vital role is design and delivery of guest services. The future of the hospitality industry will depend on how well they can know their guests. The role of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Analytics, Neural Networks and Machine Learning  will encompass the entire guest life cycle.

Guest data will be the single most valuable asset. Organization of data to facilitate predictive and actionable service insights, for delivery of a highly personalized guest experiences, will define brand leadership in the future. With the use of AI, hotels will be able to better integrate and optimise multiple Guest Management Systems. AI will also enable companies to deliver targeted marketing campaigns and develop custom service delivery programs. Further, travel management which is subject to constant changes in weather, geopolitical risks, and unforeseen delays in meeting schedules and flights will depend upon increased use of AI. Hotels will be better equipped to analyse and accurately predict the probability of a certain outcome based on data analytics and present solutions to proactively address these uncertainties and improve the overall travel management experience for their guests. 

Barriers to Implementation

  • The initial capital outlay for implementation of future technology can be prohibitive and not in line with the expected ROIs from the long-term investment plan in these future technologies.
  • Since technology is increasingly being perceived as an invasion of privacy, it is unlikely that traditional management processes will disappear altogether suddenly. The usage of data records will be impacted with higher regulatory oversight and significantly enhance compliance requirements.   
  • The worlds of virtual conferences and live global events will blur the need for assembly at a unified location. As number of networked virtual events increase demand from traditional large volume segments such as MICE will be impacted negatively and this will act as a barrier for adoption of technologies that adversely impact business.
  • The brand service offerings and key service differentiators is the hospitality business are highly people oriented. Currently delivery of personalized service is what defines value for money proposition to clients. A complete transformation from people orientation to technology orientation can be extremely risky and hotels will be careful in embracing technologies that have a direct impact on guest experiences.
  • Currently, the hotel technology landscape is dotted by disparate systems & applications that function independently. Limited integration and augmentation capacity of best-in-class technology platforms remains a challenge. Non-standardized implementation of future technologies will lead to high degree of fragmentation in end process management and this will act as a barrier.

In Conclusion

As Hotel brands continue on a growth path through ‘asset light’ strategy, they require just as much emphasis on systems and processes, to ensure they are more efficient to deliver enhanced revenues, optimum costs and improved profitability margins to their investors. The adoption and usage of future technologies will continue to grow and play an important role in hotels. In the future, while we will see increasing use of future technologies, it’s usage will continue to remain primarily in the domain of ancillary support areas. The very roots of hospitality are embedded in the idea of creating immediate and personal engagement that can enhance guest experiences and drive loyalty. While we at Prognosis Global Consulting believe that technology adoption can certainly increase staff efficiency and help hotels meet their business objectives, personalized customer service delivery will always continue to remain at the core of the hospitality sector and guests will always find solace in the human smile and warm touch of services. While technology can drive efficiencies and deliver reduced costs through back of the house automation, energy management and power conservation, guest services and interactions should be left to trained employees, who do it in the best way!

Smart technologies of the future will ‘assist’ hotel managers and teams improve their overall capabilities to serve their guests better. The operative word being ‘assist’. Hi-Touch cannot be replaced, but it certainly can be enhanced by use of Hi-Tech. However, we will all have to wait and see if this is still the case 20 years from today!

About the Author: