7 technologies that will transform the hospitality industry by 2025
| August 03, 2017
I was in Baltimore last week for the annual iCHRIE (International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education) Conference, where hospitality professors and graduate students got together to showcase their research work and network with one another. Additionally, selected executives in major hospitality firms were invited to share their perspectives about the industry and their views on the future trends.
For example, Mike Webster, the senior vice president and general manager at Oracle Retail & Oracle Hospitality, spoke in the opening general session at the conference. He believed that by 2025, the following technologies would make transformational changes to the hospitality industry:
Smartwatch sales in the global market hit a record high in the last quarter of 2016, at 8.2 million for the quarter and 21.1 million for the calendar year. Experts predict wearable tech will make transformational changes in the sport and fitness sector. Will wearable tech also transform how we run business in the hospitality and tourism industry?
Take the MagicBands at Disney, for example. Not only do they enable guests to enter the theme parks, purchase food and merchandise, and enjoy the FastPass+ access, but travelers can also skip the check-in line and unlock their hotel rooms with the MagicBands at the Disney resorts.
Disney will even ship the MagicBands to their guests before their arrivals. When guests link their accounts with the MagicBands, Disney can store their activities and preferences in the database to build a stronger customer relationship over time, of which the information can also be used to develop customized sales and promotion packages to the guests.
2. Facial recognition
It is not a new idea for hotels to let guests use their mobile devices as room keys. With the advance of facial recognition technology, travelers can possibly skip the front desk without carrying any mobile devices; they can access their guestrooms by just showing up.
Certainly, the advance of facial recognition technology can also make it easier for restaurants, hotels and resorts to track and analyze travelers' activities inside the facility.
In addition to their potential of enhancing customer service, wearable and facial recognition technologies can be used to improve back-of-the-house operations as well. For example, employees may use wearable devices and facial recognition technology in clock-ins and clock-outs. The data that is recorded about employees' activities at work can also be used by the management in scheduling and job designs.
3. Voice activation
Aloft Hotels, a Marriott/Starwood brand, recently unveiled voice-activated hotel rooms in Boston and Santa Clara. In a voice-activated room, guests can control the room temperature, adjust the lighting, choose what type of music they want to play in the room, and explore local attractions by talking to the room.
4. 3-D printing
The idea of using 3-D printing in construction has been tested for years. It may not seem real for a 3-D printer to create a skyscraper at this point, but it is now possible to construct a hotel room or at least, part of a hotel room with a 3-D printer.
As a matter of fact, Marriott has adopted the modular construction method to support its need for rapid growth.
Modular construction allows Marriott to build parts of the guestroom, such as the bathroom, somewhere else other than on the construction site of the hotel. When building a hotel, Marriott only needs to ship the ready-to-install bathrooms and other necessary parts of the guestrooms to the construction site. All it takes to build a hotel is to assemble the parts onsite.
The modular construction method and 3-D printing technology can hence be combined to speed up the time of building a new hotel.
5. Automatic or robotic services
Today, more service jobs are performed by machines than ever before. We have seen restaurants with no hosts, no waiters and no tables; robots are cooking food in the kitchen; and restaurant food is delivered by robots.
In the hotel industry, robotic butler service has also been introduced. There are also hotels testing automatic drink dispenser in events and guestrooms.
6. Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence allows machines to "think" like a real human being. Artificial intelligence will then enable a service provider to anticipate customers' needs even in automatic or robotic services.
7. Virtual reality
A few years ago, Marriott was experimenting with VR technology in operations, such as in sales and marketing. The hotel chain allowed guests to use VR to experience the Marriott products in selected world destinations. Likewise, Disney is planning to use VR to enhance consumers' experience in the theme parks and in video games.
A concluding remark
There is no doubt that the advance of technology will transform the way we run a hospitality business. Some jobs will be replaced by machines, but additional opportunities can also be created for those who are well-prepared for the changes.
Moreover, while the seven technologies listed above were suggested by Webster in the opening session at the conference, I elaborated upon his key points with specific examples I have observed in service operations. Hence, this is not intended to be a summary of his speech. Rather, I am hoping to get your input based on my own interpretations of Webster's ideas.
Do you also believe these technologies will soon transform the hospitality industry? If so, in what way? Are there other technologies that would also make transformational impacts to the hospitality industry by 2025 but have not been discussed in this post?
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