Hotels, wearables and the internet of things


A friend from a US hotel once said to me: “if wifi for our guests is a challenge, how will we be ready for what the internet of things will bring?”

This is the real big data that’s no longer just coming. It’s arrived.

Since undertaking the role of co-chair for HTNG’s Software Resources Team, I have had the privilege of taking a regular deep dive into the technologies emerging within – and disrupting – the travel industry as we know it.

And it is from this privileged perspective I can share that new technologies are coming with a greater velocity than ever before. In spite of the way we as an industry – perhaps dangerously – continue to speak about wearables and other new technologies as predictions, they are no more a prediction than the mobile phone. Wearable technologies are already here.

Watch this space

Within the US alone, eMarketer estimates that the use of wearable technology rose over 50% last year and we will likely see more than 81.7 million users among US adults by 2018. In fact, many consumers are planning to purchase some form of wearable technology in the next 12 months, including smartwatches, fitness trackers and sleep trackers.

What is driving the adoption? Health and fitness. How many hoteliers reading this can say they know which of their guests are hypoglycemic? What is the optimal temperature for guests to get a good night’s sleep? We need to remember technologies which enable better service and offer support will drive the increased usage, not simply their availability.

With the help of the cloud and the internet, I have witnessed commerce over recent decades driven to the e-frontier. Gone are the days when communication and transactions could occur only over the counter. If we aren’t already thinking seriously about logistics and security, we need to.

But what do we do with all the information available to us? What does it all mean? What does it mean to architecture and to your bandwidth? What does it mean for how you operate at the front desk and engage with guests? Can you move that engagement from the front desk to the lobby – and to the mobile phone, iPad or Google’s latest Glass?

In a digital age of hyperconnectivity and immediate gratification, should we be concerned that Aloft remains one of the only hotel brands using tablets to facilitate a faster check in beyond the front desk?

For us within the travel industry, these questions are about evolution, not revolution.

Changing connections

We have, for the most part, been focused on the Connected Property – the rooms, the facilities. We have seen room service robots, keyless room entry with cell phones and smartwatches, and the use of RFID technology for location-enablement and tracking.

Today, however, is about the Connected Guest and it’s important we ponder this from several perspectives: the operational perspective (is your guest happy with their stay?), the social (how engaged is your guest with your hotel?) and the commercial (how can you get your guest to convert?).

The Connected Guest forces us to be present at every stage of the traveller journey. We need to consider the full lifecycle of the Connected Guest transaction, from the early inspiration stage, to the planning and purchasing experience, to the pre-arrival experience to arrival to stay, to departure and reflection, and then back again.

Many different technologies need to collaborate to make this a seamless experience for the guest – from any device, in any location, at any time. Mobile devices and wearables should play a big part.

As a technology company, we hear a lot from our hotel customers. One area we have been focused for years is on mobile and, ultimately, how to enable the online booking transactions through the multitude of channels we connect.

And we not only want to enable constant communication but also make it relevant and, where possible, personalized.

Individual preferences

A recent study by Forrester Consulting demonstrated the power of a personalized experience for hotels to win guests. Most travelers have no loyalty to any particular brand; they are loyal to those that can leverage data and technology to meet their individual needs.

And they are willing to share their personal information if it means their individual preferences can be better met, such as their preferred room, check-in and check-out times, and local activities.

How many hotel services today utilize Skype or other engagement tools to provide that personal touch and wow factor for interested guests? (Of course, privacy can become a critical issue here but that’s a whole other post unto itself.)

Wearable technology and mobile challenge us as an industry to be continuously available – as the traveller is. For those of us who serve as technologists in this sector, it is our job to be aware of what is coming and to deliver it as an experience, even before the guest knows they want it.

Similarly, for others within hospitality and travel, disruption will occur among those that can leverage technology to automate and create precognitive knowledge so they know – and can anticipate – the consumer’s every need.

Gaining this understanding has become evermore important in our global, internet-led economy where the English language has become just one, increasingly-devaluing communication tool to help navigate the world.

Forward thinking

The internet of things has illustrated how far – and fast – things are evolving. Wearables are evolving; RFID, bracelets and location devices are helping to create ways for payments as shown by Disney and Royal Caribbean. But there is so much more we can do.

Consider a world where a driverless Uber arrives at the airport to whisk guests away to their hotel with  beacons and geolocation devices tracking their location and Tripit-like apps enabling data-sharing; where they will check-in by simply entering their room using their smartphone, watch or RFID implant; where they will find their luggage already in the room because it’s been delivered by drones.

The amenities, entertainment and surroundings are personalized, based on the guest’s established preferences, with beacons and location-based technologies tracking and supporting the guest. Mobile devices, which are tied into their virtual reality, can let guests  adjust the thermostats for comfort wherever they are. Room service, room supplies and issue resolution can all be signaled from their watch, eyeglass or other mobile device.

And their multiple devices are already logged into wifi with their existing password and ID, making the operational and social collaboration much simpler for both the guest and the hotel to manage.

The mobile era is bringing more than just a phone and a laptop. Will you be a spectator to the change or a participant?

NB: This is a viewpoint by David Chestler, executive vice president of global enterprise sales and business development for SiteMinder

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About Author

Founded by two travel and technology professionals with years of experience in Asia, Representasia specialises in sales & marketing representation throughout Southeast Asia for travel/hospitality technology providers and travel-related startups, as well as providing marketing consultancy services for hotels and travel businesses in the region.

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