Jens Busch has vast experience in the luxury service sector over the past two decades. As he reflects on the changes observed in the last 24 months, he feels the technological advancements in hospitality are more than the past ten years combined! We are quickly moving into a new era, where services in hotels and restaurants are being delivered digitally and it’s all moving towards the mobile device.
Consumers across the globe expect the “anywhere & anytime availability” of offerings, not constrained by hours of the day or location. To better understand the rapid developments taking place in our industry, Jens recently sat down with Stefan Renziehausen from Saba Hospitality for an in-depth discussion.
The focus of the conversation was on how hotel guests’ needs are predicted to evolve in luxury travel and how owners and operators will be required to adapt. The computing power of smartphones in guests’ pockets may be the biggest disruption factor in hospitality in the time to come.
Top 5 Trends in Hotel Technology
- Guests will want to experience seamless service at hotels similar to their home
- Self Check-In will become more prominent for hotels with wider capabilities
- The next thing is “casting” from your device, to show your own content on the hotel’s TV in your own room or the meeting room.
- QR codes are here to stay.
- Proper usage of NLP and Chatbots will continue to evolve and enhance the guest experience.
Do hoteliers need to be prepared for further technology innovation to keep up with guest needs?
Stefan: Technology is here to stay – just the way we consume, the way we use it will become more integrated. You sit at home in your living room and watch TV, you order UberEats via your own smart phone as it’s convenient – why can’t you do that in a hotel? Most travelers these days are very savvy, they are used to using their phone for most things.
We see that for luxury hotels, whilst it’s not there yet in many locations, this will become an option over time. For a guest who seeks that personal touch and wants to engage, they’ll go down to the restaurant or sit at the bar. For luxury hotels, it is all about options. Whereas in 3 or 4 star hotels, it is all about convenience and customers being more price sensitive.
The goal is to provide the same service they are used to from being at home – being able to have everything available on your own phone at your fingertips.
What hospitality industry problems are you trying to solve?
Stefan: The biggest challenge which we are assisting hotel owners and operators in is to solve the labor shortage. We see this as a global challenge in our industry, it’s a problem everywhere on every continent and in every one of the 25+ global locations where we are now engaged with our clients.
When we look at the airlines, there is now self check-in, you print your own boarding pass at home and even your own luggage tag. Airlines are very quick to respond and to adapt to the latest trends.
We believe that at least a part of hotels globally will move towards the same direction for check-in and check-out. Self-check-in for hotels is the next big topic this coming decade and we predict it will become the norm.
Additionally, we predict this for other types of services being offered like room service. It’s all about labor optimization and making things more efficient across the board.
What are the owners’ common pain points as it relates to hotel technology?
Stefan: The biggest opportunity lies with operators not having sufficient funding to develop global solutions to every challenge involving technology. Take Marriott for example: To develop a global self-check-in for every one of their hotels is impossible. Every jurisdiction has different requirements, different regulations, every owner has different priorities when it comes to funding.
To give you an example: whereas in parts of the US you can just check-in with a Credit Card, the requirements are completely different in China. The goal at SABA Hospitality is to bridge that gap with technology, resources and knowledge.
What implications will 5G technology have for hotels?
Stefan: 5G will push mobile technology even more. Many luxury hotels have tablets in the room – that is very expensive. We predict that will start to move to your own mobile device where you can do things such as live streaming with your own device. The next thing is “casting” from your device, to show your own content on the hotel’s TV in your own room or the meeting room.
5G will open up a lot more opportunities allowing guests to choose what they want to do. The computing power in your pocket is the biggest disruption factor in hospitality. What does this mean?
The possibilities are endless. Apps are very expensive to develop, advertise and maintain. Additionally, hotels need to ask the guest to download the app, which many guests can’t or won’t do. It’s much easier to just scan a QR code, be directed to a web page and then go from there.
As you reflect on the past two years with Covid, how has it affected hotel technology?
With the pandemic now everyone knows how to use a QR code. 2 years ago that wasn’t the case. The pandemic has been one of the biggest disruptors in living memory and technology being offered is available at a very affordable price point to bridge that gap. We find that consumers in Asia are generally less concerned about their privacy and usually quicker to embrace new technological solutions.
We find that hotel owners and operators are more willing to embrace technology, because it is forced. But, also because the guest has evolved so quickly.
What will set apart technology providers for hotels moving forward?
Stefan: At SABA Hospitality, the biggest differentiator is the experience we put in our products. We are not technology executives who have never worked in the industry but try to change things for guests and staff alike. From a guest perspective it may be easier to address the root causes for people not from the field, but making it valuable for the staff and user friendly at the same time is a whole other ballgame.
What is NLP and how should hotels embrace it?
Stefan: NLP stands are Natural Language Processing. The use and capabilities of our Chatbot leverages NLP in an advanced way. The NLP content was designed by hoteliers and is very difficult to replicate. By leveraging Chatbots and automation, hotels can take some of the heavy lifting off the staff. Technology can be integrated into various steps of the customer life cycle to enhance their stay.
As Chatbot technology has evolved, it is much more cost effective and does not guide the guest via buttons or pre-filled responses. This makes the conversation human-like and many guests actually do not realize that they are messaging with a robot.
Where do you see your greatest risks as people start to travel again and yearn for in-person contact / in-person meetings?
Stefan: I don’t see this as a risk, but as a huge opportunity. The current uptake of our solutions at the hotels is already high, even without international travel. How will that usage look like when everyone is travelling again and used to digitization?
Staff shortage is a risk and opportunity at the same time. We see the impacts of staff shortage in hospitality across all continents at the moment.
The opportunity is that operators use technology to automate some of their processes: order taking, guest communication, provision of information and recommendations. The risk is that if and when normalcy returns, the ongoing staff shortage will leave hotel leaders battling for time to implement then train on new technology. This could potentially be a downward spiral, resulting in more staff leaving the industry.
Are your regional priorities for the Greater China region different vs. the rest of the world?
Stefan: The biggest difference lies in the Mainland China market with some of the common technology providers being unavailable (e.g. Google). While we utilize many Google based components, we designed a solution without any Google products for Mainland China. The look and feel is exactly the same, just running on different infrastructure with different technology in the backend.
From a hotel operations perspective, how is technology positively affecting the guest experience with new traveler preferences?
Stefan: Guest experience: 24/7 availability, no language barriers, immediate answers without the need to wait or be placed on hold, consistent answers that are the same every time.
An example: We have a client hotel in Australia that recently implemented a pizza menu as a trial. Pre-made dough, couple of toppings ready and available all day. They didn’t have any F&B before. Now they do 2000 to 3000 USD per week because of the technology we offer. With us, you can implement ideas very quickly: if it works great, if not just take it out again.
Jens Busch is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.