When I think of hotels, I don’t automatically view them as technology-driven businesses nor incubators of innovation. But, if we examine how hotels operate, the amount of cutting-edge technology involved is remarkable.
Property management systems (PMS), for example, are complex software programmes that facilitate the entire guest experience from check-in to check out. Artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), in some ways, take PMS to a whole new level.
Smart hotels might look pretty much the same as regular hotels, but they operate in a completely different way.
The importance of connectivity
Like smart homes or buildings, futuristic smart hotels aim to connect devices and appliances to each other and the internet. This is where IoT comes into play — even ordinary devices can now send and receive data, which makes them ‘smart’.
As an enabler, IoT is accelerating smart growth. Even where multiple devices communicate with each other, they can still be managed by a single user from a remote point, smartphone or tablet. Some appliances can locate and decipher information from the internet, allowing them to respond independently or intelligently to user instructions, for example, lights, curtains, and sound systems amongst others.
It’s easy to see why there is so much excitement about AI and IoT. The possibilities are seemingly endless. Who doesn’t want to stay in a hotel room with automated check-in, intuitive temperature and lighting controls, entertainment-on-demand from your own streaming video or music accounts, and other highly personalised experiences, all enabled by these emerging technologies?
Why hotels should bother
However, doesn’t technology fly in the face of traditional hospitality – that human element, the personal touch? They certainly make strange bedfellows. Hoteliers often tell us, “the hotel business is all about people”, and in their defence, point to the capital outlay, technical maintenance, constant upgrades, staff training and potentially alienating or distancing the guest.
Well, I believe there are excellent reasons why major hotel brands have been early adopters. Technology can improve the guest experience. It makes hotels less labour intensive and more efficient, which ultimately saves money.
Technology improves the guest experience
- Guests don’t need to physically check-in. Registration can be completed via any smartphone
- Voice recognition can control in-room features such as TV, lights, curtains and A/C
- An instant voice-activated personal butler service can replace a switchboard
- Multi-language robotic concierge services available 24/7
- Automated room service menus improve delivery time and reduce human error
Technology makes hotels more cost-efficient
- Less security needed with facial recognition systems in place
- Computerised check-in/out means less front-office staff.
- No need for lift operators or baggage porters as these tasks can be automated
- Smart cleaning devices reduce the number of housekeeping staff
- Reduced requirement for room service staff when food delivery is robotised
- Smart A/C modules and lights lower energy demand and utility bills
Still, there will be some guests who prefer the personal touch — especially those who are not familiar or comfortable with technology such as the elderly. As a result, I believe hotels will largely offer hybrid services to make sure guests have options between smart-tech and human interaction.
Because leisure resorts have a more relaxed atmosphere than bustling city hotels, automation could be perceived as a novelty rather than a necessity. However, the hotels could still deploy smart devices via IoT.
At the other end of the scale, I can imagine certain hotel brands becoming synonymous with a fully automated service offering, appealing to, or creating demand for, a certain type of guest and priced accordingly.
Smart technology is undoubtedly not a passing phase; it is a trend that is here to stay. It will increase in the years to come with the notion of personal service taking on a whole new meaning.