New times call for new strategies and new tools. For the hospitality industry, both have been critical to getting back to the business (and joy) of travel.
During the recent Hotel Council of San Francisco’s virtual event, “The Future of Hospitality,” panel guests – including Matthew Fitzgerald, Senior Director of Technologies for Deep Blue Communications (a Comcast Business company); Amy Arbuckle, General Manager for The Clancy Hotel; Scott Dupuis, Principal for Network Technologies, Inc.; and Sine Scott, Executive Director of E-Commerce for Accor Hotels – discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their technology implementation plans. Panelists also highlighted how even post-pandemic, there will be more opportunities to learn from hotel guests and further tailor technology offerings to deliver high-quality experiences.
Here are three key takeaways from the discussion.
- Establish a strong technology backbone
There are two sides to technology, Arbuckle noted – the cool and fun side, and the side that’s not so fun.
“This entire experience made us take a hard look at how to accomplish things. The side of technology that isn’t so fun is the infrastructure, and we needed to enhance ours. We looked at things like cabling, connectivity, and servers. Once that’s in place you can start implementing fun things like mobile key services.”
Fitzgerald agreed, and pointed out that recent network demands across the board have made infrastructure upgrades a necessity for hotels.
“In 2020 alone, Comcast’s network experienced two years’ worth of increased use in the span of six months,” he shared. “So, what happens when people come back to hotels? Will they be working from the virtual office, or streaming more? Hotels have to be ready to receive these guests and offer services – and this involves improving the fundamentals of your network.”
Speed, reliability and safety are all critical components of a strong network infrastructure. Fitzgerald added that the demand for bandwidth and secure networking has never been higher, especially as hotel guests expect to see more new-age technology amenities.
“These components are not a bolt on, they’re a built in,” Fitzgerald continued. “They need to be foremost in your thoughts. If you want that cleaning robot roaming your halls, you have to have the block and tackling of the network done first.”
- Enable innovative amenities on top of your tech infrastructure
Once a network backbone is established, hotels can layer on more innovative services that will delight and comfort guests. At the very core of these services is guest health and safety – and for Accor Hotels, that meant creating a variety of tools for guests to use.
“We first experimented with keyless entry and QR codes, and used our digital platforms to seamlessly communicate changing protocols and to answer guests’ questions,” Scott explained. “We’ve also had a lot of success with text messaging once guests are on property because they can communicate with us as much or as little as they want.”
Personal mobile devices are a great tool for hotels to use, according to Dupuis, because they allow guests to easily control various room functionalities.
“The trend was certainly underway before COVID-19, but the need has been accelerated,” he said. “Apps that allows guests to control and interface with temperature, lighting and the TV, as well as access services like valet and room service really help minimize touchpoints in a guest room. Plus, guests tend to be more comfortable using their own devices.”
Dupuis noted that this feature is already rolling out at several hotel locations but said not to worry – for guests who are slow adopters to new technologies, traditional tools like switch thermostats and TV remotes will still be available.
- Expect constant evolution in the future
Technology will always evolve to accommodate consumers so that they’re given the comfort they’re accustomed to, even while they’re away from home, Dupuis explained. Fitzgerald agreed and pointed to the implementation of WiFi in hotels as a past example.
“In 2009, a new WiFi standard was ratified, and hotels had to change their standards soon after,” he said. “They were dealing with more network traffic because people were bringing more devices with them. Now, trends are influencing hotels to add services like IoT-enabled devices and cleaning robots.”
Arbuckle added that Marriott’s customer feedback has been a big influence on what new services they offer.
“We’re constantly asking for feedback so we can figure out where to drive our technology focus,” she explained. “We actually implemented mobile keys thanks to conversations with guests. Communication was a big ask too. Now, all you have to do is open our app and type a message out, rather than call and get transferred several times.”
The future of hospitality is full of possibilities
Now is the time for hotels to assess their networks and make adjustments, especially since most travel happening right now is all leisure.
“Imagine what things will look like when business travel is fully back in action,” Arbuckle said.
Hotels that are shoring up their network infrastructure, offering tech-based amenities that add greater convenience to a guest’s stay, and keeping an open mind to the future of technology in hotels are undoubtedly on the right track. All that’s left for them to consider is how best to re-incorporate the human element into their services.
“All of this still takes people, and we’re really mindful not to lose the personal touch that our colleagues bring,” Scott explained. “While people have great travel experiences thanks to technology, at the end of the day they will remember their human interactions – and we can’t forget that as hoteliers.”