The big tech debate

The big tech debate

Much has been made of the tech revolution and the effect it has had on our lives. In the world of hospitality, tech solutions are paving the way for a different kind of guest experience, as Andrew Wheal, founder and chief techspert at Hospitality Tech Expert Ltd., explains.

People say that variety is the spice of life, but is it better to offer customers an array of options? In certain cases, having greater choice can translate into less business. For example, as hoteliers, it is easy to create numerous rates and packages to appeal to different audiences. However, as a consumer, you will have experienced how confusing and frustrating it can be to scroll through a host of options on a booking engine, trying to decide which option is right for you.

Over the last decade, our use of technology has accelerated. The global smartphone penetration rate as a share of global population was estimated to have reached just over 78 percent in 2020 (S. O’Dea 2020). Therefore, it is no surprise that technology companies are finding more ways to push technology onto our devices in the form of applications, payment solutions and data harvesting tools. The hospitality industry is well known for its inertia in adopting technology. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, travelers often encountered technology in their hotel rooms that they did not have at home. In 1997, Sharp and Sony introduced the first large flat-screen TV measuring awhopping 42 inches — a record size at the time. This first model sold for more than USD 15,000, a price that was well out of reach for most domestic buyers. However, commercial buyers, such as hotel chains, could afford them. In today’s developed countries, it can be said that we often have more complex technologies in our homes than in hotel rooms.

The heightened use of our smart devices and the desire to experience the same technology, or better, while we travel has led to mass growth in technology in the hospitality industry. Moreover, the global Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for hoteliers to leverage technology to increase safety and cleanliness, drive automation and efficiency, and maximize opportunities for driving ancillary revenue. The question is whether these new hospitality technologies are widening our choices as consumers.

Recent technological advances in hospitality include mobile door access solutions. The ability to use your mobile phone as a door key using NFC, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth makes the check-in experience more streamlined and removes the need for less hygienic traditional keys. Companies such as 4Suites, Dormakaba, Valnes Weblock and Intelity provide operators with options regarding the replacement of existing locks or adding digital functionality to them. Digital concierge and mobile food and service ordering applications allow guests to explore the property before arrival. Once on site, guests have a single, centralized destination for all their needs, increasing interaction and driving ancillary revenue. NexGenGuest, Criton, Nonius and Servr are just a few guest technology solutions that provide varying degrees of functionality, often allowing for white labeling.

One of the most impactful technologies to be deployed by hotels is online checkin, payment and check-out. Many of the PMS companies, such as Mews, have these functionalities built into their solutions. Reducing queues at your reception desk by empowering guests to check into and out of the hotel themselves and pay their bills is a far safer option in today’s world. It also allows your staff to focus on delivering the exceptional service you should be remembered for. Do these new solutions provide consumers with additional choices or unnecessary complexity? Just because there is a plethora of solution providers offering these technologies, does it mean they are all suitable for our businesses? Certainly not. Operators must fully understand the functions and features of the technology before selecting it: how it integrates into the rest of the current technology stack and how it will improve the guest experience, drive revenue or cut costs.

As a guest, you are not given the choice of which solution you use for ordering food via an app on your mobile phone. I recently visited a newly opened and highly celebrated hotel which, partly due to the restrictions of Covid-19 and partly due to a move toward an “innovative” technology solution, was using a specialist food ordering app. As a consumer, I had to find out from the staff which app to download. I then had to create a profile, duplicating all the details I had already given the hotel. The app itself was awkward and did not list all the food and beverage items on offer. Staff were unable to assist me as the order needed to be placed through the app, which they did not have access to. We ended up in an infinite loop of me wanting a glass of water that needed to be ordered through the app, but the app didn’t offer the option to order it. This is a prime example of where technology can be an inconvenience and not what it should be: an enabler.

Herein lies the crux of the matter. When developing technology for our beloved hospitality industry, we are doomed to failure if we do not think about the “guest techsperience.” Providing more choice does not usually solve the problem. Having a tried and tested, smooth and reliant customer experience is key. We must also remember that it is very easy to become impatient with technology. Like me, many of you have probably considered throwing the phone or the computer out of the window out of pure frustration that the technology is complicated. In such situations, we usually seek the help of hotel employees, which totally undermines the investment made in the first place.

The skillful implementation of technology can lead consumers to purchase items or experiences that they previously may not have chosen or stumbled across. Who hasn’t been caught out by those “because you bought this you might also like that” hooks?recently had a conversation with a pizza restauranteur who told me that he had sold more garlic bread in a day than ever before after enlisting the help of a food ordering app, where customers were prompted to add garlic bread to their order upon checkout. Although guests had the same choices as before — garlic bread was always on the menu — through good design and an understanding of the customer journey and “techsperience,” the retailer was able to present the right options to the right guest at the right time.

In conclusion I heard a great phrase the other day that best describes my view of the role of technology: “ambient technology.” It exists in the background as an enabler, but in many ways, we don’t realize the breadth and depth of its assistance. If technology does provide us with more choice, then hopefully it will be the choice to broaden our interests, knowledge and horizons and not require us to spend more time reading manuals and investing in gadgets; unless, like me, that’s your passion.

Andrew Wheal
founder and chief techspert
at Hospitality Tech Expert Ltd

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