Technology developments are set to revolutionise the hotel guest experience. Linda Fox tells us more.
The travel management community might have come across Sam, Claire and Lola - which are among the swathe of chatbots emerging to help road warriors – but most are probably not familiar with Dazzle, HiJiffy or Roxy yet. The latter are startups seeking to improve elements of the hotel stay. As with many sectors, things are changing in the hotel industry driven by rising consumer expectations of heightened experiences. This has led to new companies focusing on how hotels interact with guests before, during and after, a stay. Both Dazzle and HiJiffy have been on the scene for a couple of years now. Both have seen success with Marriott TestBed, the accommodation giant’s startup accelerator, initially launched in 2016, which enables start-ups to test their products within a live hotel environment.
HiJiffy was one of three winners in the 2017 programme gaining the opportunity to test its chatbot, driven by artificial intelligence. Tiago Araujo, founder of the startup, said that for the purposes of the trial, HiJiffy worked on the ‘during the stay’ element with guests. This means that guests could use HiJiffy via Facebook Messenger to find information about the property and make requests from their rooms. The service was promoted to guests via a pre-arrival email as well as information included within the keycard holder. The sorts of enquiries HiJiffy received over pre-arrival queries such as getting to the hotel from the airport and in-stay requests for pillows and towels. The good news is that the London Marriott Park Lane, where it was tested, now wants to continue using the service and sees it as a new channel of communication.
Dazzle, developed by Lola Tech, was one of the winners of TestBed in its first year. The in-room personal assistant is designed to replace the telephone and guest directory in hotel rooms.
What do business travellers really look for in hotels?
How much technology is too much?
These developments and others like them beg the question of whether business travellers are seeking these sorts of services and how much technology is too much? There has been much research in the area with some studies pointing to the need to provide hi-tech environments catering to millennials in the workplace while others come down on the side of the need to provide a clean and comfortable stay with WiFi.
Back in late 2014 HRS, for example, found that business travellers generally liked the idea of a hi-tech room. At the time, they were looking for amenities such as in-room tablets and rooms that could be controlled using a remote. More recent studies such as GBTA Foundation research reveal that business travellers are looking for more basic amenities such as power and USB outlets, streaming services and in-room chargers. Many of those surveyed also expressed interest in check-in and room entry via mobile and hotels building more detailed guest profiles to provide more personalised stays.
How hotels are driving innovation in the travel industry
Roxy, another startup on the scene, can fulfill some hygiene requirements as well as bring traditional services into the digital era. The company has developed a speech-enabled device which sits in the hotel room and provides concierge services such as WiFi advice, fresh towels and restaurant recommendations. CEO Cam Urban says that as well as reducing cost and driving ancillary revenue, the devices enable hotels to gather data on guests which can then be used to create more personalised experiences. “It also rolls up a lot of the high costs in the hotel room into one device. It replaces the charging point, information book, alarm clock and soon the phone,” he says.
Increased familiarity and comfort with services such as Amazon Echo and Google Home as well as the likes of Lyft and Uber, is already spilling over into corporate travel and driving a change in traveller expectations. That’s why perhaps the global hotel giants are investing not only in working with startups via accelerator programmes but also through the setting up of innovation labs to trial new concepts. Late last year both Hilton and Marriott unveiled labs, which are working on the hotel room of the future which will be controlled by apps and designed to make optimal use of space.
Hilton is already beta testing its ‘Connected Room’ where many of a guest’s preferences are already in place when they arrive. It is also partnering with London-based startup incubator Traveltech Lab for a year to help drive innovation. Marriott is working with Samsung and Legrand which specialises in power and light to help develop its room of the future at its lab.
These sorts of initiatives not only demonstrate how hotels are responding to changing traveller expectations but also the industry’s recognition that it can’t do everything on its own in such a rapidly changing landscape. Sometimes it’s also about a change in mindset and instilling an innovation culture. Both AccorHotels and Movenpick brought in ‘digital natives’ to help them drive change and get everyone thinking differently. AccorHotels chief Sebastien Bazin has said that younger people are more able to predict future trends and customer expectations.
And many of these developments are not just for those with deeper pockets. Independent properties and small chains can also get involved and boost engagement and interaction with travellers via chatbot services such as Facebook Messenger. In fact, smaller hotels are often seen as having the advantage over the accommodation giants in that they can act quickly, implement new concepts, see what works and perhaps see some cost efficiencies. A Forrester report revealed that a single point increase in its Customer Experience Index is worth almost £5 in annual revenue per guest, which seems worth it when you multiply it by the number of guests annually.
A seamless journey for business travellers
Technology must provide value
Business travellers will welcome change but only if it provides value and caters to a wide range. If it complicates their lives further, or is just for millennials, forget it. But, going forward the traveller experience will be further improved as systems become increasingly connected through partnerships but also through the Internet of Things.
That often talked about holy grail of a seamless journey from start to finish for business travellers seems almost within reaching distance. The in-home device reminds travellers of their itinerary, books airport transfers and informs them of any delays. The airline and/or airport informs the transport and hotel at destination of the guest’s arrival and ETA to the property, where they are already checked in and their room is ready with preferences already in place. Alternatively, chatbots such as FCM’s Sam, which was rolled out on both the App Store and Google Play last November, could act as the intermediary with the transfer service and hotel and provide each with up-tothe- minute information. These sorts of integrations are coming and can only make business travellers’ lives easier.