Industry Update
Opinion Article29 January 2018

The Top 2018 Mobile Technology Predictions for Hotels

By Michael Schubach, Chief Technology Officer at Rosen Hotels & Resorts

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There is no question that the digital revolution is here. All you have to do is look up from your phone and observe the rest of the world connected to their mobile devices with any information you want in the palm of your hand. In the hotel and hospitality industry, we have been monitoring this consumer shift carefully. While traditional practices continue to change, the core of the hospitality business is still intact: the importance of the guest experience. Therefore, adapting to this new digital frontier lies in altering the hotel industry's expectations of what the guest experience entails while working to create more ways to meet consumers where they are.

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The most obvious shift in how we conduct business, of course, can be seen in the dwindling numbers of our face-to-face interactions. The mobile universe has all but eliminated the need for some of the hotelier's more traditional guest touch points. These touch points are now being replaced with automated processes that are custom-tailored to the wants and needs of each guest. Even age-old practices like wake-up calls are a thing of the past.

Despite these changes, it is important to remember that we are also in a time of great potential – one that will undoubtedly lead to increased satisfaction in the guest experience. The technological revolution has opened new modes of guest interaction, including more guest exchanges that can be driven by new, data-centric loyalty strategies. This potential can be extended with a solid mobile plan, which can further solidify client connection in an era where people are more loyal to their search engines than they are their brands. By putting the needs of the guest first, adapting to a technology-first approach is a no-brainer.

So, what can guests, staff, executives and others in the industry expect the digital revolution to deliver in 2018? And, most importantly, what can we do to keep pace while never betraying the customer experience?

More "Frictionless" Millennials

Millennials, who brought on the mobile revolution, are expected to make up 75 percent of hotel guests by 2020. Millennials grew up with mobile technology—they are used to having everything at their fingertips. These frictionless consumers are continuing to change the culture of the guest experience, and that goes far beyond hotel reservations.

Today's consumers want to check in and out, remotely, on their smartphones, whether in advance of or on the day of their arrival. In-room check in, already in place at many larger hotel chains, lets guests select their rooms via digital floor plans displayed on their tablets or phones. Online locking systems that allow guests access through their smartphone will also proliferate. We will see less and less paper receipts, as more properties start tabulating room minibar and other product and service consumption, in real time, while consumers review charges on their device.

What you can do today: Start instituting a service culture built around frictionless consumers. For example, hotels can check in guests on the iPad curbside or at the conference registration desks. If you want to start small, deploy iPad check-in at the front desk to speed up the process.

Wider Staff Mobilization

Today's guests no longer want to engage in traditional phone conversations when they have questions or are requesting services. Instead, they prefer texting, and moreover, expect swift and immediate responses. We will start to see direct service optimization input, guest messaging and services contacts through text messaging platforms. That means a lot more tablets and devices in the hands of employees, ranging from housekeeping staff to room service to the concierge.

Electronic housekeeping dispatch based on real-time room occupancy is a big guest satisfier in terms of scheduling and minimizing guest privacy disruptions. Further, for the staff itself, it increases efficiencies. For the concierge, expect more access to integrated systems that include local attractions and events, which can then be shared directly with a guest's device – no phone call necessary.

Better systems, hardware devices and on-site networks will continue to enable more associate-facing technologies. As staff and guest interactions occur, hoteliers can be curating crucial guest preference data and providing staff with more reporting capabilities, by role. This will increase guest satisfaction, and, in turn, loyalty.

What you can do today: Start building a mobile strategy that ensures all guest-facing employees have 360-degree visibility into the same information.

No More Room-Anchored Services

Mobile technologies and better broadband capabilities will continue to bring about a BYOD (bring your own device) culture that eliminates room-anchored services. In fact, many guests travel with multiple devices for their entertainment (or work) purposes. As mentioned above, phones and other connected devices will affect more than just the happenings inside the room, but this BYOD shift adds great potential for hoteliers.

The hospitality industry pours an enormous amount of resources into providing guests with all the entertainment they could possible want during their stay. This runs the gamut from gaming consoles to on-demand movies. Guests now prefer to stream their own content via services like Netflix, HBO, and Hulu, and take in their own curated content, whether through their personalized Facebook timeline or carefully chosen Spotify playlists. This shift allows hoteliers to reevaluate what services are provided in the room, and where they can save or invest more to better meet the needs of guests.

What you can do today: Scrutinize your revenues from services and products that are likely to migrate to a guest's own device, and plan alternative revenues that capitalize on mobile technology.

Guest Location Tracking and Rapid Response

Mobile devices also act as GPS trackers. With the utmost attention to guest privacy, hoteliers will be able to receive alerts when their VIP guests are on property. From there, they can be dispatched, rapidly, to provide whatever service the special guest might want or need (which can be determined from previously gathered data), whether it is food and beverage or other amenities.

While this may be the most "Big Brother is watching" type implication of mobile technology, it is the truth and holds many opportunities to increase guest loyalty with VIP customers. However, if this is something hoteliers are going to consider utilizing on their properties, they must ensure the safety of their guests and their guests' personal information. Cloud-based solutions often offer the most secure options to store and analyze this kind of data, taking some of the burden off the hotel staff. By utilizing the data while still enforcing the importance of security, it is a win-win for both the staff and guests. Another benefit to the cloud is the real-time advantages that cannot be seen by other types of solutions that are hosted on-premise and must be manually updated. Real-time data, both delivered and updated, means real-time insight and therefore, real-time action.

What you can do today: Implement a cloud-built PMS that gives all relevant employees access to customer preference data so they can offer VIPs on-the-spot services.

Data Gathering and Analysis

While many believe it holds a potentially threatening nature, and can work to dilute a brand, always-on, mobile engagement can do the opposite. Always-on mobile engagement can allow hoteliers to gather data on both a granular and global level. Properly analyzed, that data can be used to build personalized guest relationships, and in turn, continuously build loyalty and engage them for the long-term. The key is not approaching mounting data with a more-is-better approach. Instead, the right data needs to be selected, managed, tracked, and analyzed to optimize the guest experience.

What you can do today: Upgrade your PMS system to analyze data volumes and fully integrate with all systems, including POS, CRM and guest loyalty applications.

The promise of mobile technology and its ease and convenience has been realized. However, as hoteliers and the entire hospitality industry keep abreast of its evolution and effects on guest behaviors, they should look as far as the PMS as the source of truth for any strategy.

It is important to remember, though, that not all next generation PMS are alike. Hoteliers should look for a system built on mobile-first technologies. Today's frictionless consumer is intolerant of downtime and anything that is not an immediate, flawless delivery can derail even the best mobile strategy.

That leaves one final technology trend that feeds into a mobile strategy: the cloud. Once an abstract and futuristic technology trend, the cloud is now a fully realized system that benefits enterprise software greatly across a plethora of industries, most specifically in the hospitality industry. More hotels are migrating their legacy systems to the cloud. This year, we have seen a growth in cloud transitions, due to decreasing complexity, and we expect that to ramp up in 2018. More hoteliers understand the benefits of a cloud-based system and how it provides the least risk to system downtime or lag, while also reducing the burden and cost of additional IT resources. Most of all, the cloud allows hoteliers to focus on their most important asset, and the one that will never change, regardless of technological evolution: their guests.

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com

Michael Schubach

Michael Schubach, CHTP, CHAE, has more than thirty years of Hospitality industry experience and is currently the Chief Technology Officer at Rosen Hotels & Resorts. Previously, Michael was an industry writer and consultant working with many different organizations to develop strategies and content across the industry – from vendors to small and large hotel properties in North America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

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