In October of 2017, we surveyed the market and compiled what appeared to be the Top 5 Hotel Tech Trends To Expect In 2018. You would think that only a few years ago our prediction of what would be commonplace tech in hotels by 2020 would be pretty spot-on, right? Well, Henry Ford famously predicted in 1940 that a combination of airplane and motorcar would be coming in the near future too. Turns out there might be some parallels between the automotive and hospitality industries.
Smart Hotel Rooms
Our first prediction was that smart hotel rooms would become a significant trend among large hotel brands that already had adopted mobile keyless entry. Adding lighting, entertainment and temperature controls to their digital guest experience seemed likely to be the next major focus. And when you consider the significant cost savings, environmental benefits and guest satisfaction potential it still seems like a good call – but it’s clear the investment or complexity of making guestrooms ‘smart’ has prevented rapid adoption. So will it happen in 2020? Our guess is that brands will continue to evolve guestrooms towards this vision but it will be a few more years before it becomes a common experience to stay in a room where the controls are in the palm of your hand.
OK, this one was a clear miss. In 2017, there were a host of companies presenting compelling business cases for hotels to embrace VR to help sell conference and meeting space, large group bookings, etc. This one hit the skids when it couldn’t move beyond the conveyance challenge. When faced with either a really uncomfortable (but cheap) cardboard headset or a bulky expensive headset, meeting planners opted for ‘neither’. The concept of virtual reality is solid and easy to see the potential benefit of, but the execution at scale has proven to be allusive so far.
AI & Voice Search
At least we got this one right. AI and voice search (aka Alexa, Siri, Google or Cortana) have taken off in hotels around the country with every major hotel brand either conducting trials or doing full-scale implementations. Both applications have been a major hit in consumer homes – and the transition to the hotel room has proven to have its’ challenges but those seem to have been overcome. There’s no question that AI and voice search will become a standard guest experience going forward.
We got this one right too – sort of. Companies like Alice and Nuvola that provide more effective communication solutions for back-of-house functions within hotels have seen rapid adoption in the past few years. Expedia has invested millions in the Alice platform as a sign of confidence that housekeeping tech is a trend who’s time has come.
So another miss with this one. Back in 2017, seeing robots behind the front desk in Chinese hotels and little R2D2-like butler robots rolling around tradeshow floors seemed like these things would take the industry by storm. Until they didn’t. And a lot of them got fired for poor performance. In 2020, seeing a little roaming robot in the occasional branded hotel is at best a novelty. Something you call the front desk to send a toothbrush up in just to see it show up at your door for fun. A far cry from anything ordinary or expected to find in a hotel. And with 20/20 hindsight, we’re not sure that’s gonna change anytime soon either.
The hotel industry has never been considered an early adopter of technology. Almost by definition, hoteliers are very cautious, conservative and risk-averse people. Which translates into a long adoption cycle for any new hotel technology. Mobile key is a great example. While finally considered to be mainstream in 2020, keyless entry has been around in hotels for over a decade. Perhaps tech like VR and robots will eventually catch fire in hotels and we’ll see general adoption in the coming decade. One thing is for certain – travelers increasingly expect to see technology they use daily at home and work present in hotels – and it will be the gain (or loss) of marketshare that propels hoteliers to lean forward on new technology in 2020.