Industry Update
Opinion Article24 December 2019

The Tech List that Hotel Brands Need for 2020

By Margaret Ady, Co-founder of Apaleo

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Hotel tech lists—Hotel Tech Must-Haves for 2020 and What All Hotels Need in Order to Succeed Next Year—are like the sloganned-out t-shirts everyone's wearing to the gym these days. Less Whine, More Wine. Already Planning What I'm Going to Eat After This. I Work Out... Just Kidding, I Take Naps. We kind of love to hate them. Maybe it's because we've been working toward a tech revolution for years now, one that leaves hotels ahead as an industry rather than continually pulling up the rear. But the lists, even as they may seem similar from year to year, are important to setting a baseline about what guests expect and what hotels can do to run a better operation. The thing is that what works for a big brand doesn't necessarily work for mid-sized and smaller brands. Mid-sized (MS, for short) brands require a more nuanced approach to technology, especially considering shifts in the economy that also impact your hotels differently than big brands.

The future of mid-sized hotel groups of all categories doesn't necessarily look like robots and facial recognition, at least not in the short-term. Bells and whistles should take a back seat to subtler efficiencies that address the challenges of owning a mid-sized group. The same issues that plague a large brand have an even greater impact for smaller brands; however, you have the opportunity to pivot more quickly and reap the rewards of changing course more immediately.

Without further ado, here's our own hotel tech list for a new decade (complete with some modern kitsch.)

1). Namaste in Bed, Because Everything Is Integrated.

Yeah, you may not stay in bed all day, but you'll sleep better. We've all been banging our heads against the wall for years now about integrations. The pressure is on tech providers to evolve and on hotels to choose tech with open APIs above and beyond what the technology does or how it performs. This should be the first line item on the RFP.

Many MS brands have been stuck with bulky legacy systems that don't integrate or with companies that charge hefty fees to integrate. In the same way that big brands can negotiate special commission agreements with OTAs, an MS hotel brand doesn't always have the buying power of a big brand to negotiate a way out of it.

If nothing else, the new decade will usher in more demand for legacy providers to become more open; however, waiting around for that to happen isn't an option if you want to keep pace. MS brands must look for open APIs at every turn with every technology in order to have seamless operations and to avoid the extra integration fees, because in a downturn, those dollars are even more critical to sustaining the organization.

2). Slay All Day. Seriously, Like 24/7.

According to Hotel Technology News, The hotel guest of 2020 wants "instant human assistance" and "omnipresent service lines via mobile device."

We're not exactly here to tell you that you need chatbots to solve this 24/7 problem, a problem that is harder for smaller hotel groups with typically fewer staff resources to go around. But what your guests want is the fastest possible response, whether to a reservation inquiry or a customer service problem. Forty percent (40%) of consumers don't care whether a chatbot or a person helps them, as long as they get what they need (InvestPro). But some do care, especially your older guests. So, first and foremost, understanding your guest base is essential to deciding how to provide them with immediate responses.

So the solution might look like chatbots, which do create efficiencies. IBM reports that chatbots can answer 80% of questions and save up to 30% in support costs. However, 50% of UK respondents in a survey and 40% of U.S. respondents said that they prefer a person (Forbes). This leaves hotels with live chat and/or round-the-clock answering services. Forbes suggests a "blended approach" in which "channels should work seamlessly together allowing a human agent to pick up where a customer left off with the chatbot" because "making it easy for a customer to transition without repeating information or starting from scratch lends to a successful customer experience."

3). YOLO, So Don't Screw Up Check-In

Here's the thing about check-in: every single guest is going to do it so it's among the top of the list of things to get right. Screwing it up signifies a glitch in guest service from the get-go. A study by the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research, one that has aged by now, showed 5 minutes was the breaking point for a U.S. hotel guest to wait in line for check-in. After 5 minutes, guest satisfaction decreased 47%. With the rise of on-demand services like Uber, consumers have come to expect service even faster, so we'd expect this time to have decreased in recent years.

Think of check-in, and by extension room access, as part of user experience. As Forbes Contributor Dan Gingiss notes, "User experience is an important subset of customer experience, but it is a critical piece. According to the International Organization for Standardization, user experience is a "person's perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service" and is "a consequence of brand image, presentation, functionality, system performance, interactive behavior and assistive capabilities of the interactive system."

MS hotels that offer mobile or kiosk options will excel at user experience, keeping lines short for those who prefer the in-person experience. There are a multiplicity of tech solutions for check-in, including tablet check-in with QR codes, facial recognition, fingerprint recognition, and, of course, basic mobile check-in. Deciding which one works really comes down to the overall cost versus the efficiency gained and the level of projected adoption by guests, but suffice it to say, the time for creating options for check-in is now.

4). Make Engagement Great Again. For Your Employees.

Guest engagement is the buzzword of the last decade, but now hotels need to shift their focus to employee engagement, and technology is at the core of it. As Deloitte notes, the labor shortage in the hotel industry in 2009 was 353,000. In 2018, it was over 1.1M. One of the ways Deloitte suggests combatting the scarcity of staff in an industry already dogged by high turnover is to bolster engagement, which will also "empower smarter, more efficient workforces."

In Engaging workers as consumers, the authors suggest creating forums where staff can offer advice, answer questions, and provide perspectives. Streamlined access to basic needs, "such as onboarding, knowledge and data access, and routine transactions" creates efficiencies while also minimizing friction for staff. And, finally, providing staff with the means to communicate with one another easily, whether via messaging app or text creates more opportunities for engagement, especially for a staff that is constantly moving about the property. Just as with your guests, relationships are at the heart of a consistently satisfied and happy staff of employees.

5). The Struggle Is Real, But It Doesn't Have To Be

Most MS brands we talk to fret over access, cost (there are those pesky integration fees again), and whether or not they have the resources to implement the new technologies that will keep them competitive. The struggle was real. Now, we have Hotel App Marketplaces connected to cloud-based, open API PMS, which means that virtually any technology becomes instantly integratable. This may be the biggest boon to MS hotels ever. Get whatever tech you want with the touch of a button—revenue management, CRM, housekeeping, mobile check-in, POS. The list goes on and on. It's never been easier to try out a technology and decide if it has the big guest service and financial benefits you thought it might.

I'm Not Happy, You're Happy

Clearly, the opportunities for hotels to grow a superior tech stack are endless, and this list really could go on and on. Across our hit list, we're advocating for MS hotels to look toward not just a singular technology (for instance, a check-in kiosk or a maintenance app or AI-powered energy systems) but, instead, to look at the broad operational areas where technology can have the greatest impact on the bottom line by increasing efficiencies.

Hotel News Now predicts, based on past recessions, that full service hotels will take the biggest hit in the impending downturn, though all categories typically see declines. Despite an economic dip, hotels must still make progress with technology in order to meet guest expectations. Doing so in a way that creates more opportunities, like a PMS with an App Marketplace, and that sustains operations, like more emphasis on employee engagement technology will not only help weather the storm, it will position the brands that do implement new technologies better on the other side. Even if an economic slump might get it going, there's a whole new decade of progress ahead.

PS - We're keeping the conversation open - see what other industry leaders have to say about hotel tech in 2020 on the #apaleoholidaychallenge. Have great thoughts? Join the conversation! Record your thoughts on where you think hotel tech is headed, upload the video to LinkedIn, and challenge two people in your network to do the same. Don't forget to tag apaleo and use the hashtag #apaleoholidaychallenge so that your post gets added to the wall of fame.

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Margaret Ady

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    About apaleo

    At apaleo, we are the only modern property management system that is built with an API-first mentality. This lets us focus on what we do best, which is to be the central heart for any tech provider to easily connect with our system. We work with 100+ best-in-class apps to help hotels create their dream hotel tech stack without paying for features that they don't want. With apaleo, there are no setup fees, no hidden costs, and no on-site visits necessary.

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