The potential of technology knows no bounds. Mobile devices are proliferating, the data cloud is growing bigger, social networks are reaching into every facet of modern existence, and technology is becoming more autonomous, malleable, and indispensable.
As members of the general leisure industry, hospitality businesses must therefore cater to the early adopters, the tech-savvy, and the novices in one fell swoop—and staying ahead of the curve requires an inexhaustible spirit and a knowledge of industry trends.
Here are 6 tech trends to keep in mind that follow some similar themes of personalization, integration, and ease of access.
1) Virtual reservations
Travel booking websites are the mainstay of both the casual and frequent traveler; according to a recent SmartBrief survey, 57 percent of travel reservations are made on the Internet. Hotels are smart to list themselves on such sites: an experiment conducted by Cornell University revealed that a hotel listed with an online travel agency can see substantial increases in offline bookings, a phenomenon known as the billboard effect.
And an astounding 65 percent of same-day hotel reservations are made from a smartphone, suggesting the importance of investing in a mobile-friendly and cloud-based system that can be easily updated in real time.
In the restaurant world, the OpenTable website and app has won the heart of both users and restaurant owners by connecting the two through a low-fuss online reservations system.
These services also give businesses the ability to leverage previous purchase habits and preferences in order to design customized messaging that might be more enticing to an individual who prefers a certain service or food item—not to mention keeping track of your birthday, anniversaries, and other notable dates on which certain consumers might be more amenable to spending money on leisure activities and eating out.
2) In fact, virtual check-in and ordering
We’ve all seen the check-in kiosks at the airport; get ready to see more of those at restaurants and hotels around the world. Such kiosks cut down on the lag time between entering an establishment and placing an order or checking in for your room.
Marriott recently launched a pilot program that allows guests to check in remotely to 31 of the chain’s hotels; the hotel sends a message to the guest 24 hours ahead of arrival asking for their check-in time, allowing the hotel to anticipate room readiness needs and the guest to plan their arrival accordingly.
A number of restaurants already use digital menus, hosted on devices like iPads, which provide huge paper savings for establishments that must reprint menus that are constantly being updated.
Futuristic devices like voice recognition or retina scanning in order to check in customers are likely a few years off, but high-end establishments could be installing such capabilities this year—and the wow factor will likely spur further adoption.
3) Travelers with not just one mobile device, but three.
The SmartBrief survey reported that 99 percent of hotel guests travel with at least one mobile device—and moreover, 45 percent of hotel guests travel with two devices, and 40 percent travel with three or more. This means a number of different things: Wi-Fi access is an important commodity—85 percent of travelers think it should be free. In an attempt to draw this younger market, more hotels are offering free Wi-Fi, sometimes applying it to high-value guests like those enrolled in their loyalty program.
Syncing services that allow guests to carry their own entertainment with them are expected to flourish in 2014. And room designers are taking into account the fact that guests want to be able to move around and feel comfortable with their mobile devices through easy-to-reach outlets and ergonomic furniture in each room.
4) Hospitality staff with mobile devices
The use of mobile devices in the hospitality context isn’t just limited to consumers. More and more, tablets and laptops are becoming critical on the other side of the check-in desk or register as well. By upgrading the technology system to allow for more mobility, the hospitality team can meet customers at any location. And by using a management software system that integrates data from throughout the customer’s visit, businesses can capture guest preferences in order to deliver personalized, high-quality service.
5) High-tech meeting and public spaces
Hotels that cater to the business set are paying particular attention to the increasingly high-tech boardroom. A long table and a projector are no longer enough; hotels are now considering the remote office workspace in their meeting room and convention space design. Meeting planners are now using apps to request specific items before and during the meeting, from more coffee to temperature changes in the room.
The hotel lobby is also seeing a tech facelift, with communal tables, charging stations, and digital information centers displaying often-requested information like directions, flight information, or local restaurant recommendations. Instead of waiting in a line, guests are treated to touchscreens and the ability to find whatever they’re looking for quickly and easily. The productive environment encourages more and more guests to see lobbies as a pleasant place to spend time and get work done in a more social environment.
6) Online reviews
Forward-thinking hospitality businesses recognize that the customer experience doesn’t end when the individual steps off the premises. They must do everything they can to ensure repeat customers as well as positive reviews. A survey reports that 72 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations; in 2014, review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp will continue to become more influential as users look for ways to make their world a bit smaller and more personalized.
In the coming year, companies must be ever-more vigilant and active stewards of their online reputations, locating negative reviews swiftly and attempting to mitigate the impact if possible. Often consumers may respond positively to personal outreach after a bad experience, turning a potential lost customer into a repeat customer instead.
Of course, reviews aren’t always filed neatly into review websites, and companies can also improve their reputation by monitoring relevant comments made via social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. In 2014, we’ll see more and more hospitality businesses integrating social technology into their strategic operations instead of throwing it to the siloed marketing team.