Hotel operators face a deluge of technology-driven change that many are ill-prepared for.
No longer impressed by key cards and digital signage, a new generation of hotel guests expect more in terms of convenience, such as apps that unlock doors, watches that can pay the bar tab and voice-activated room service.
Hotels that fail to invest in the latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) offerings could find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain guests, while those that do implement exciting new innovations must ensure their network connectivity is optimized to underpin them.
The wide scale availability of on-premises Wi-Fi, key less access to bedrooms and the availability of online check-ins are quickly becoming benchmark offerings in the hotel industry. Although these innovations will benefit customers and ease strain on front-of-house staff, it is the IT teams behind the scenes who will suffer.
While the connectivity required to make them a success may seem expensive to hotels concerned with the most effective areas to spend their budgets, there are clear advantages that must be taken into consideration.
Perhaps the most tedious part of any hotel guest’s stay is queuing to check-in, particularly following a long journey. Taking cues from most major airports, automated check-in is now an offering available for hotels, enabling multiple customers to check-in at once which not only reduces guest waiting time, but also reduces pressure on front desk staff.
These systems can store valuable customer data that the hotel can use to target them with offers as well as save guests from filling out their details on repeat visits or during stays at other locations owned by the same hotel operator.
AI can also provide a truly memorable experience while still satisfying guests’ needs to be waited upon and made to feel special. Take Botlr, the guest-facing robot developed by start-up Savioke. Not only can this AI driven robot handle various front-desk tasks, it can also guide guests to their rooms and fetch refreshments, gliding along corridors and navigating elevator systems.
While smart home technology has been rising steadily in popularity, enabling home owners to control heating and other household utilities, large hotel chains such as Premier Inn have been trialling similar technology in selected hotels. Using the hotel’s own native app, users can unlock doors, control room temperature, order room service and even check-in and check-out from their smartphones.
Running any form of AI requires a strong Wi-Fi connection that can reliably serve the technology on offer without slowing essential business applications down by draining valuable bandwidth. After all, no hotel operator wants guests to experience rogue robots traversing the corridors during network downtime.
The Rise of AR
Augmented Reality (AR) is changing the way that people interact with places by overlaying graphics on the screen of a smart device like Pokemon Go which changes users’ experiences of their surroundings. It is true that there are currently few examples of AR implementation in the hospitality space, however the retail sector is beginning to innovate with AR applications allowing consumers to visualize themselves wearing virtual items of clothing instead of trying them on physically, or to visualize furniture in their own homes.
It’s only a matter of time before AR disrupts the hotel sector with innovative ways to bring convenience to the guest experience. Hotels could likely take their cues from apps like ‘The Nearest Tube’, developed to assist travellers in finding the closest tube station. In the hotel setting, such an offering could enable the hotel operator to guide the guest around the premises, ensuring customers spend more of their time and money in on-site facilities such as restaurants, spas and shops, instead of spending their money elsewhere.
The Connectivity Crux
Making these technology-driven innovations work will take a good deal of attention to more fundamental matters such as the IT infrastructure and bandwidth management. Failure to plan for their implementation is likely to leave a hotel with a network that suddenly slows down, preventing the use of essential applications or basic back-office technology. All those smart devices on site, whether owned by the guests, employees or the business, will require high-performing and resilient Wi-Fi that doesn’t leave everyone frustrated when it crashes.
These customer-focused innovations all demand high bandwidth which makes expert installation and management of connectivity essential. Older systems and their solutions will not have the granularity to give a complete and accurate picture of where and when bandwidth use is highest, yet it is vital that bandwidth is monitored and the right solutions are in place to allow for prioritisation of certain applications at certain times of day. The alternative is either costly downtime or unnecessary investment in expensive and superfluous bandwidth.
If hotels are to adapt to this new generation of hotel guests, they must plan ahead and give connectivity and bandwidth management the attention they deserve. Otherwise guests may take their custom to different establishments that have perfected their offerings through technology-driven change.