Let's imagine you walked into the office of a digital marketing agency in anticipation of a job interview, only to notice that employee desks were equipped with cumbersome, old school PC monitors paired with dial-up internet. Upon further inspection, you realize that rather than using the cloud for storage, they still rely on floppy disks. And the company phones they provide are not smartphones, but (brace yourself) - flip phones.
Of course, this paints a rather preposterous picture when we consider the stark contrast provided by the tech-savvy landscape in which we currently live. If anything, we find ourselves in something of a perpetual state of the digital revolution - industries across the globe are transformed, time and time again, by emerging technology. The days of dial-up modems, floppy disks, MP3's and CD players, tube televisions, Blockbusters (and so much more) are behind us. In their place, we welcome a hyper-digital age in which instant gratification, enhanced efficiency, self-service, and uninhibited digital connection are the norm. From Netflix to Uber Eats and Apple Music, artificial intelligence to voice-activated assistants, virtual reality and more, the digital landscape has never looked more promising and expansive.
Now, if you did walk into the office described above, you would probably find yourself asking, "How can you consider yourself a digital agency, without modern digital resources? How do you serve your clients effectively?" Nevertheless, it's this precise line of questioning that hospitality professionals must face, as we acknowledge our industry's longstanding reputation for slow technological adoption.
Today, when a traveler arrives at the airport, they expect to be greeted with a choice: self-service, or in-person service at the desk. Airlines have successfully streamlined their operational structure to cater to both a low-touch and high-touch experience that not only empowers each traveler to choose their preferred service model but better supports their staff. The check-in experience has become almost entirely automated; often, agents are only needed for assistance when an exception arises. However, despite this digital evolution showcased across our industry counterpart, hotel front desk processes have hardly changed over the last 100 years - and the front desk is only one piece of our (now stale) pie.
In a 2015 article coined by Buzzfeed speaking to the hotel industry's "race to escape the dinosaur age", Mariah Summers wrote: "How many times have you entered your room at a large chain hotel, thrown your luggage down to relax, and noticed the antiquated stereo system with an iPod dock from three models ago perched on the bedside table? Next to it lies a paper room-service menu and a clunky, ancient telephone to use if you want to order up a late night snack. And this encounter comes after you've just spent the better part of half an hour waiting in line to show your identification, leave your credit card for incidentals, receive your room key, and navigate your way into a scene straight out of 1999."
This outward resistance to technological change has become something of an industry-wide, accepted truism. However, if the hospitality industry is founded upon the on-going provision of exceptional guest service, how can we expect to thrive without implementing modern guest service technology? How can we best serve our guests, if we aren't investing in the technology and service style they prefer? After all, the solutions we need exist; they are finally (undeniably) within reach - so, why are hotels lagging behind? Is it a lack of budget or innovation? The fault of the franchise model? A general apprehension of new, digital systems?
In my experience as a hospitality professional, I've become hyper-aware of the reluctance many hotels express in the face of change. Migrating beyond the legacy systems that were once our operational backbone to more flexible, intuitive solutions requires investment and the dedication of resources to adopt new operational processes. While these shifts may seem intimidating or costly at first glance, we have to remember that every successful service or product, regardless of industry, has found (and maintained) their success through continued evolution. Within the customer service landscape, it is (unsurprisingly) the customer that ultimately decides the course that a business takes. And if a prospective company refuses to adapt to those expectations, another business will, and customers will follow.
Airlines took this realization and applied it to their operational model, adopting the modern, self-service technology that travelers crave with the understanding that, in the long run, that investment would:
- Reduce costs
- Create a more streamlined and efficient operational structure
- Establish a smoother, more efficient check-in experience for travelers
- Keep airlines on par with digital standards across other industries
Banks have also committed to on-going technological adoption, redesigning their customer experience to empower a self-service model that implores instant gratification and 24/7 efficiency. Exceptional cases aside, customers can manage their banking needs entirely from their phone, PC or at a self-service ATM. Much like airlines, banks understood that this operational overhaul with updated technology would reduce costs and establish a far more positive customer experience.
Lastly, let's turn our attention to an especially nostalgic example - Blockbuster. Driving to the closest Blockbuster and picking out a movie on Friday night was once a beloved family staple; and yet, it has been made entirely obsolete. With the emergence of Netflix, Crave TV, Apple TV (and more), we now simply hit the download button on our phone or TV to watch the latest movie anywhere, at any time.
In all three examples, the process of service has transitioned from the use of an agent or service representative to a self-service experience that is supported and delivered by digital technology. So, why haven't we?
The hospitality industry finally has a wealth of technology at its fingertips, with solutions available to offer:
- Mobile check-in and out
- Mobile keyless entry
- Self-service kiosks for check in and out
- Digital concierge service
Even better, some PMS platforms now have these capabilities built into the core of their application, leveraging Open APIs, and delivered via a cloud-based, mobile infrastructure.
So, hoteliers, I ask you this: How can we expect to remain flexible and progressive, without flexible and innovate technology? How can we expect to serve guests, without providing them with the digital platforms they expect? How can we curate a personalized experience, without next-generation systems that gather and employ actionable, insight-driven data? How can we expect our staff to deliver an exceptional guest experience if we don't use the latest technology to support them? After all, there are lessons that we can learn from Blockbuster's demise because they at first denied making the digital transition when streaming services like Netflix emerged on the scene, then by the time they did, it was too late - their customers had already fled. Are we destined for the same outcome?
Simply put, we can't be so intimately tied to our legacy systems that we are unaware of the forward strides being made by other industries. With the technology we now have available to us, it's time hotels truly invest in the digitalization of the guest experience - sooner, rather than later. Waiting for technology is no longer an excuse; technology vendors are ready (and waiting) to embrace this digital transformation with hoteliers. So, the real question becomes - hoteliers, are you prepared to define new levels of guest service and embrace new technology?