NASHVILLE, Tennessee— Technology is advancing all the time, and it’s proven a challenge for the hotel industry at large to keep up with each new development and innovation.
A panel of technology experts during the “Tech talks: Emerging innovations” session at the 2017 Hotel Data Conference discussed the usefulness of various new and reimagined technologies available to the hotel industry today.
The role of artificial intelligence
The concept of AI has been around for decades, said Benjamin Habbel, founder and VP of global business at Voyat, and with each round of innovation, people thought computers and robotics would take over. Great things will come of it, he said, but it won’t have the impact hoteliers are expecting for their bottom lines.
AI won’t solve issues with providing a greater guest experience, he said, especially when talking about an industry that still has issues with websites not loading fast enough or not working on mobile devices. Until the industry can catch up with the market leaders out there who have properly working websites, he said, hoteliers shouldn’t worry about AI.
While he doesn’t think AI will have much of an impact on guest experience, Patrick Dunphy, CIO at HTNG, said he sees it coming into play for pricing, distribution and long-term strategic planning. That is where AI will have the biggest bottom line value-add along with business analytics and data ingestion.
“It will explode in the next five years,” he said.
Looking from a revenue management perspective, Jess Petitt, VP of global business analytics at Hilton, pointed out the industry is experiencing its highest occupancy levels but isn’t able to grow average daily rate.
“That tells me we have a human failure from a revenue management perspective,” he said.
AI, if it does have an impact on the industry, will have it in distribution and pricing, he said. Hoteliers can learn from the airlines and other industries that use it, he added.
The adoption rate of voice technology by consumers is accelerating, Habbel said, faster than anything seen before, even mobile. It’s interesting to see how quickly voice will become relevant in the hotel space, he said.
The use of voice technology at home differs from commercial use, Dunphy cautioned. Most consumers who own some sort of voice-activated digital assistant don’t care about people trying to get information off Amazon, he said, but when they go to a hotel, they very much do care about their privacy.
“These devices are consumer-oriented, not enterprise-oriented,” he said. “They’re not built to wipe the voice recording cache. It’s a long way to make them work directly in hotels.”
In about 10 to 15 years, these devices will be in most hotels, he said. The privacy issues will depend on public feedback, but the technology will only disappear if there’s a long-term backlash against it, which he doubts.
Virtual reality technology is best targeted at guests, said Sekhar Mallipeddi, consulting director, transportation and logistics at PwC. Guests can get a VR view of the room when going through their prebooking experience, he said. Augmented reality could work for guests as well, he said, but it applies better to employees at the hotel to help identify guests in the lobby.
Virtual reality isn’t a new technology, Dunphy said, but it has come a long way from its original heyday in the 1990s when it was focused mostly on video games. It’s also “incredibly expensive” to do at scale, he added.