Hospitality Thrives on Technology

In the twentieth and the ongoing twenty-first century, technology has had revolutionised almost every industry and the hospitality industry is no exception to this rule. In fact, hospitality industry has become much more guest-friendly during the recent years, as a result of application of new-age technologies. Today, to be successful in the hospitality industry, one must be open to using a variety of new tools to ensure enhancing satisfaction of both leisure and business travellers.

 

By Ashok Malkani

The common concept today is that millennials are most likely to reshape the hospitality industry over the next decade. This continually connected generation places a high importance on personalisation and memorable experiences in their travels, and technology is the enabler in this regard.

For example, the threat of a poor social media review is a highly powerful tool for the consumers, and hotels must now think not twice but many times over regarding the possibility of negative implications of bad reviews to potential future reservations. Large hotels now have social media departments to address bad reviews that guests have posted online in the hope of catching the guests while they are still on the property to correct the issue. 

The use of social media is just one of the pertinent examples of the application of technology in the hospitality industry. Overall, we can say that the role of technology in hospitality is gaining momentum with the passing years.

Sunil Bhatia, Director, Marketing & Commerce, The Mirador Hotel, Mumbai, asserted, “The use of technology doesn’t mean that customer experience can only happen online and through devices. All of these experiences need to be part of an integrated, dynamic system so that the guests’ experiences are at the forefront of the marketing and operational team’s mind. For example, if a guest leaves a comment about her stay when she checks out of the hotel, the right people need to reply and acknowledge this type of communication. If a guest leaves a complaint about not being able to stream mobile content during her stay, then processes should be put in place to ensure the right person follows up by communicating with the guest and solving the problem at the hotel.”

 

Importance of Wi-Fi

One of the important yardsticks to ascertain the technological efficiency of hospitality properties in India these days is their Wi-Fi connectivity. Nowadays, hotel guests who travel with devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers no longer see Wi-Fi as a perk, but as a must-have when they check-in at a hotel.

Hotel guests expect to be able to connect to the Internet seamlessly and without too many interruptions. Thus management of the hospitality properties need to invest in better, faster Wi-Fi infrastructure so that people can do business and use their technology devices with ease while staying at their properties.

 “Besides playing an important role in attracting the guests, Wi-Fi is also essential for meetings and conferences held in the hospitality property. Along with the Wi-Fi, hospitality properties also need to be able to offer access to audio-visual and digital facilities for conferences,” observed Bhatia.

 

CRM for Improved Efficiency

In this post-modern digital age, for managing the hotel efficiently it is important to organise hotel data in such a way that easily displays detailed guest profile information such as past requests, incidents, revenue, stay nights and guests’ personal preferences. This enables the hotel staff to shape the overall experience of the returning guest while building reliable, sustainable processes to capture and maintain meaningful guest service information for future stays and process improvement.

Mike Benjamin, Vice President, Guestware, an integrated CRM software solution used by hospitality companies around the world, believes that by using a CRM solution which is interfaced with PMS (Property Management System), the hotel staff is able to look up the profile of the guest – his likes and dislikes – and prepare for a suitable ambience for his arrival. However, he warns that this is a laborious manual process. “But it can enable not only for a positive atmosphere on his arrival but also meet his needs at an urgent pace,” he pointed out.

 

System Integration

Sanjay Garg, Senior Product Manager for Hospitality Marketing and Solutions with Aruba Networks,  feels integrating core systems further automates processes and is key to maximising efficiency and consolidating data. At the heart of operations, your property management system (PMS) can be connected to other core systems such as CRM, online distribution channels, revenue management software, point-of-sale systems, payment processing software, and phone and entertainment systems, to greatly speed up tasks such as managing distribution, guest check-in and check-out, managing reservation folios, building rich guest profiles and sending targeted guest communications.

When core systems share relevant data automatically, the need to manually duplicate data across systems is eliminated, thereby significantly cutting administrative workload and improving data accuracy.

Garg envisions a world where hotel operators will be in constant touch with guests, building loyalty and sales. “Imagine connecting with a traveller from the planning stage through every step of her/his journey,” he said. “Predictive, proactive and actionable data opens the door to new travel experiences, from offering a personal booking experience to a seamless and personalised check-in, to a room specially configured to a guest’s preferences, to ensuring that guests never get lost while they are on-site — the possibilities are endless,” he observed.

 

Other Popular Technologies

The influence of IT in hospitality has shown a marked improvement during the recent years.  There is no dearth of new technologies that are finding favour with the hoteliers. One of them is the keyless entry. Starwood Hotels launched mobile keyless entry from March 2015 at 10 properties in its Aloft chain, allowing guests in those hotels in Florida to get into their rooms using a cell phone.

 “Redefining the way business travellers arrive at hotels and check-in to their rooms in India, Starwood Hotels & Resorts has introduced ‘keyless’ entry, allowing guests to bypass the front desk, go directly to their rooms and unlock them with their smart phones,” pointed out Dietmar Kielnhofer, General Manager, The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace.

Elsewhere, the Marriott Hotels are offering detox salads through vending machines; hotel guests are checking in with WhatsApp; robots are delivering fresh towels, and more hotels are using new and improved software, designed to forecast demand and supply management.

With increasing number of millennials as tourists, there is an increasing need for the hoteliers to adopt new technologies to keep customers coming back.

According to a study by Hospitality Technology, 54 percent of the hotels had acknowledged a desire to increase spending on technology, especially in payment & data security, guest room tech, bandwidth and mobile engagement.

One can say that cloud technology is now here to stay. A greater number of hotels, during the current year, are expected to adopt cloud technology to keep their distribution strategy real-time and minimise the manual errors. They will delve deeper into the implementation of game changing technologies such as IoT, virtual reality, wireless charging, robotics, interactive digital displays, smart control apps, and beacons to take the guest experience to the next level. Hotels will continue to leverage technology as a game changing strategy in the market.

Starwood and Hilton have already upgraded a few of their properties to allow their guests to unlock their rooms or access hotel facilities such as spa and fitness centres through a smart phone app. Guests can also use their smart devices as a remote control to control the television channels, lights, fans, blinds and temperature in their rooms.

In India, hotels and hotel chains such as ITC Grand Chola, The Oberoi, The Leela Palace, and ITC Maurya offer a similar experience through iPad for room controls, for streaming movies on demand, for ordering food or for chatting with other guests.

Some of the trend-setting technologies, which the hotels are keen to adopt are:

• Upgrading of in-room technology available to the guests

• Installation of fibre optics lines to avoid costs of installing new cables every few years

• Improved security against hackers for those making online payments

• Technology to help reduce energy costs for hotels.

Some of the technologies which have proved popular for the hospitality industry are service automation, fixed-mobile convergence, guest apps for personal mobile devices of the guests, having broader bandwidth to enable guests to operate several devices at once among others.

Technology which will enable quick location of the hotel staff to help serve the guests at a faster pace, and technology that will enable the hotels to listen in on the guests’ comments about the hotel to enable them to solve the issues if any before the guests can put them on the social media are also popular.

Sagun Sawhney, Head Sales, Oracle Hospitality, had delved on Oracle’s next generation solutions for the hospitality industry in his talk with a section of the press. One of the solutions, like Simphony, can increase the hotel guest’s pleasant experiences by enabling him to order dinner as soon as he lands in the city. No doubt this is an experience which will leave the guests with pleasing memories.

He has averred that through modern, mobile and cloud-based solutions his company has enabled hotels to deliver exceptional guest experiences. He has gone on record as stating: “By delivering our solutions via the cloud we are able to reduce the complexity and cost of IT investment, provide greater operational visibility to management and increase business agility.”

“Another trend that is happening is cutting the proverbial cord and moving wireless wherever feasible. We already saw this shift in terms of Internet connectivity. These days 90 percent of our guests connect to the Internet using Wi-fi rather than a network of cables, which will become redundant before this decade is over. We will see a similar shift in two other aspects — media streaming in guest rooms and charging of mobile devices. The customer of today decides what content he wants to watch where and when and on which device,” elaborated Kielnhofer.

 

The Future Ahead

Yes, times are changing and next generation of technologies are to be adopted in the hospitality industry rather than those technologies which are likely to become obsolete soon. Some of the next gen technologies which can greatly influence the hospitality industry are IoT, wireless charging, robotics and interactive walls among others.

However, how much the technology may thrive, the role of personal interaction with the guests is unlikely to diminish in the realm of hospitality industry, for many years to come. Though the number of personal interactions between guests and the hotel’s personnel would get less with the growing influence of technology, but its importance would remain. With fewer interactions with hotel staff, there will be fewer opportunities to get it right if lapses in service occur.  A warm smile and thank you will always be timeless in the hospitality industry, no matter where technology may lead us.

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