In 2008, just before the peak of the great recession, I wrote a syndicated article titled “Back to the future: Meet the hotel guest of 2020“. This included optimistic predictions about the hotel industry, combining advances in science & technology with shifting consumer needs and behaviour. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to revisit these predictions to see where we’ve actually ended up. So here goes…
My stay. My choice.
I can choose and book all elements of my stay before I arrive, from my king sized bed, a fabulous view of the sea, non-allergenic pillows, a romantic dinner at the hot new fusion restaurant on my 3rd night, a pampering at the spa on the 4th, a round of golf on the 5th and a super chocolate sundae, served cold upon arrival (not to forget my airport pickup and drop with a virtual interactive city tour, of course).
Hotel revenue and inventory management systems have evolved to a level where every amenity and service can be chosen, packaged, sold and delivered.
October 2020: We haven’t quite gotten to the seamless ‘experience booking engines’* we need in the world of travel and hospitality, but we’re inching ever closer. The biggest stumbling block remains legacy tech used by the biggest industry players and a lack of seamless interconnectedness across systems. Some companies are tweaking their approach by evolving the number of travel related services offered on their own booking platforms, while others are improving and expanding the number of variables that can be booked online (e.g. specific rooms, bed types, views, features, etc.) for greater consumer choice and monetization.
I stay. I sell.
I choose where to stay and what to do based on the recommendations of my personal social network. Why should I trust all the hype, marketing and advertising when I have perfectly good friends & like-minded acquaintances who’ve been there, done that? If I like what I experience, I may recommend the hotel to my network…and get paid doing it.
Hotels have realized that their guest’s virtual and physical social networks are a long ignored distribution channel and start monetizing it…with spectacular results. Not only are the distribution and commission margin costs a lot lower, but the quality of the referrals is a lot more credible and brings in exactly the kind of guests the hotel is looking for.
October 2020: Referrals remain a largely underutilized distribution channel, restricted to affiliate and traditional reseller channels. No one (to my knowledge) has quite cracked the peer to peer referral tech and process yet…especially one that would be easy to adopt from a consumer standpoint, easy to plug in from a supplier standpoint…and have the right fraud protections built in. Should be an interesting (and promising) space to watch though.
Get to the point. Inform and Entertain me.
I’m tired of all the ‘in-your-face’ advertising, biased news and media hype. I choose what I want to see, hear and feel. I trust the news that is generated by people like me. I can use my intelligence to differentiate between false promises and the true sincerity. I don’t have time for long, boring and irrelevant pitches…I want you to get to the point. I want to be entertained!
The unilateral media age is at an end. Citizen reporting and livecasting is the order of the day. News importance is dictated by the zeitgeist of these reports on the Web…every minute, every hour, every day…in vibrant photos, sound and video. Tiny mobile communication devices with projection capabilities & virtual interfaces connect everyone to everything on the global intelligent Web. Hotel marketing campaigns are created based on collective user experience and are as real as they are entertaining. Hotel PR Managers have become viral marketers and spend time reaching out to niche social networks.
October 2020: A few different items to unpack here… (1) The prediction about social media empowering democratized access to news and information has certainly come true (with a few dystopian leanings, as explored by the recent Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma‘). (2) Mobile phone tech has also evolved considerably in the last 12 years…with powerful capabilities and always-on access to the web and everything that matters to individuals. For now we’re still stuck with small(er) screens, but projection abilities aren’t that far off. (3) Social Media marketing has certainly become a key aspect of any marketing strategy. Most good marketers have moved past the early hype and now treat social media as channels that are a customized part of their overall marketing channel and content strategy. Savvy travel and hotel companies have also seen success with curating strong, participative and purpose-driven social media campaigns (that in some cases have even achieved that ever-so-elusive virality).
This works for me. This doesn’t.
Life is made up of moments. It’s these you remember, cherish, crave. And sometimes service experiences blow you away…a lot of times they leave you a nervous wreck. I want to be able to share my feelings, be they elation or frustration immediately…when they are at their most intense. I want to ensure my voice is heard, is handled with discretion and is acted upon.
Welcome to the age of instant feedback. Hoteliers have learnt to capture moments of truth when they happen. This is done with no hotelier involvement and captured by an intelligent hotel, at the choice of its guests and in vibrant video, voice or a ‘mood snap’. This feedback system is considered the keystone to the hotel’s Guest Satisfaction Index at any point in time. The General Manager can see at a glance how guests in his hotel are feeling and drill down to the causes of exemplary service…or dissapointment. This system serves to quickly correct service & product lapses…and is ultimately a deciding factor in hotel performance.
October 2020: Guest satisfaction and sentiment monitoring tools have evolved considerably in the last decade. The more sophisticated options do a great job of amalgamating internal survey data (including traditional email and live sourced feedback via tablets given to guests, prompts in the company / loyalty app and even stations that allow for instant mood checks) and providing hotel leaders the ability to pinpoint both problems and moments of exemplary service. I haven’t quite seen the ‘Minority Report‘ style user interface in hotel GM offices yet…or privacy-friendly facial/mood recognition in social spaces…but the geek in me remains ever hopeful.
I’m sick of having a passport, 2 identity cards, 3 credit cards, 6 membership / retailer discount cards and 25 internet profiles. Oh…and I’m not a fan of the room key card when I check into a hotel either! I’m unique. There’s only one of me…be it in the physical world or the virtual world. Therefore one identify would be most fitting. This is my virtual avatar, which travels everywhere I go, be it on the internet or when I shop, travel and share my experiences with those I know.
The introduction of the ‘ONE’ virtual fingerprint. This is a global, non-replicable key to user identity, credit, travel preferences, health and history…an RFID + DNA based identification & encryption system. This ‘fingerprint’ contains layers of information that users choose to make available to other entities based on need and transaction. No more awkward and feeble attempts at hotel CRM. The intelligent hotel utilizes a guest’s virtual fingerprint to check them in, configure their room, charge them at outlets (no more clunky cash registers and POS systems!), organize a birthday cake on their special day at the hotel, check them out and keep in touch with them long after they’ve departed.
October 2020: OK, I admit it…we’re nowhere close to this happening…yet. Though we’re making inroads in some parts of the world. Digital tech is the best way to bring all this together, plus the blockchain offers an early glimpse at what’s possible with decentralized, distributed ledgers that can be used for everything from building cryptocurrencies to other types of asset and identity tracking. The most interesting example of digital societal transformation I’ve seen is in Estonia, which now has 99% of all public services available online. Watch: CNBC Report / TED Talk.
I need help. I need to talk.
I love technology and the convenience automation offers. But sometimes I miss just talking to someone…another human who will listen to me, empathize and help me.
Enter the age of a one-touch, omnipresent, always-on service line. All guests have to do is access their mobile device or projection panels in hotel rooms and facilities to converse in live video with their very own concierge, order-taker, host, guest service agent and guide…all rolled into one very real Hotelier at the other end of the line. The ultimate mix of tech, personal touch and convenience.
October 2020: The hotel industry remains pretty high touch…though the unexpected COVID19 pandemic this year has left most companies scrambling to embrace a more ‘contactless’ approach to operations. Mobile guest services are the quickest way to achieve this and while most hotel apps only offer live chat functionalities, incorporating video at some stage may not be so difficult.
Over the coming decade or two, it isn’t inconceivable that the tech / human balance is likely to skew further towards automation and AI. It feels like personal human contact is likely to become more of a luxury, available to those willing to pay for it. That being said, tech-free holidays and environments are also likely to gain popularity as we seek to escape the shackles of our tech to reconnect with what matters most.
I want my hotel room to take care of me.
I want my hotel to be a place of refuge, rejuvenation and hey, even better than home! I want to be looked after, pampered and edu-tained. I want my hotel room to help me be the best that I can be… to do what I need to do.
Welcome to the intelligent hotel room. A normal hotel room to the naked human eye…but one that hides nanotechnology and gizmos aplenty. A room that can adapt to your desired textures, colours and moods (and even put a new twist on the term ‘home away from home’ by re-designing itself to that space most familiar to you!). A room that cleans itself but can also take care of its human occupants, from determining what temperature, music and lighting best suits their bio-rhythm to what supplements their body needs in order to feel their very best.
October 2020: We are still some way off from nanotech and other technology being effectively used in hotel guest rooms to personalize environments. However hotel design is maturing and becoming more thoughtful about creating impactful personal and social spaces. IoT (the Internet of Things) and the rapid proliferation of smart, connected devices allow for some user-driven personalization already…from TV programming to lighting, music, temperature, etc. The pandemic will also ensure that safety and hygiene (for both guests and employees) are kept top of mind when designing the hotel of the future. Given the hotel investment and development cycle, plus cost considerations, it is likely that the cutting edge tech experiences will only be available at prototype new properties and the rest of the industry will take a decade or two more to catch up to the early adopters, especially for the features that are considered non-essential or do not positively impact operating costs in some way.
I can teach the chef a thing or two.
I’m no longer interested in being told what I can and cannot eat. Sometimes I enjoy a little ‘breakfast’ in the afternoon. And maybe I’d like to mix and match my accompaniments, garnishes and dressings, despite what the chef thinks is a good idea! It’s my palate…I decide what’s creative. I’d like a menu that understands me like my doctor and fitness trainer do…and makes gentle recommendations that help me please my palate, appetite and keep me healthy.
A gastronomic canvas and a doctor’s delight – the Intelligent Menu. Hotel Restaurant menus take choice to a whole new interactive level, with a variety of fresh ingredients, cooking methods, suggestions and health recommendations based on the guest’s health, tastes and moods. Plus you always have the choice to leave creative license to your chef…the virtual menu or the professional in the kitchen!
October 2020: The core hotel dining experience still remains grounded in the past to some extent. However there are chefs as well as operators pushing the envelope in terms of offering guests more control and choice. Online food delivery apps have also changed the game…guests are no longer restricted to just hotel provided venues…they can access the best of what the city has to offer and do so conveniently and cost-effectively. Combine this with emerging dietary trends as well as the increasingly sophisticated health monitoring features of smart phones and watches, there’s plenty to think about when deciding on a hotel’s F&B strategy. The winners are likely to be those that offer the greatest ease, personalization and choice using a blend of options, all facilitated by thoughtful tech.
Crystal ball gazing can be quite a fun exercise, but one that is fraught with peril. On the whole though, we’ve come a long way in the last 12 years…and interestingly enough, are in the midst of an even deeper recession brought on by the COVID19 pandemic. Besides a deeper appreciation for the things that we typically take for granted, current events also have the potential to propel us towards positive outcomes and developments that’ll get us closer to the future envisioned above. Our embracing of digital solutions to connect people and empower remote working is a great example of that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above predictions, our progress so far and what the future likely holds. Please feel free to leave a comment below.
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Jitendra, I loved reading your article. There are some great ideas there which could come to life earlier than one would expect and an entertaining read, too. I am a hotelier myself, travelling a lot for work & leisure (not this year of course) and the Intelligent Menu is something I would really appreciate!!