After 10 years as an attendee, HotelTonight CEO Sam Shank took to the Phocuswright stage with a look to tomorrow's hotel experience.
An integrated system of interoperable apps that provides a nuanced and personalized experience throughout a guest's experience, including before arriving at the hotel, during the stay, and after leaving the property.
From the stage, Shank said that some "predicted technology would be the end of humanity, but the promise of technology is that it automates menial tasks and gives us the ability to be more human and be better as humans."
Here's how that vision may come together.
Looking to tomorrow
Shank's presentation was a decidedly ambitious, exciting look at what could be in the world of hotel experience.
The idea of a fully integrated experience delivered by a raft of interoperable experiences was painted at its broadest, so a traveler may have this sort of experience within the HotelTonight mobile app:
- Traveler opens app and has a Lyft pickup triggered.
- Arrival at the hotel is tracked via GPS so the hotel is ready for arrival.
- Upon walking into the lobby, a favorite track from Spotify plays.
- The guest is pinged with a room number and access card, and then is directed to the specific room - with on-site navigation.
- The door lights up, and the guest uses the phone to enter.
- Nest integration imports thermostat settings for the guest.
- Hungry guests can open the app and order Grubhub.
- Fully automated folio at the end of the trip.
Some of these facets are currently being tackled by HotelTonight, such as mobile check-in and automated ancillary charging via the card currently on file with HotelTonight. As the company tests these new features for a more seamless guest experience, it furthers a deeper understanding of both hotelier and guest needs and hurdles.
A slide from the presentation outlines what the full customer journey could look like, with a mobile travel assistant (an app-enabled smartphone) acting as the glue between the planning, booking and experiencing stages of the journey.
While the cohesive, integrated vision seemed to position the HotelTonight brand towards a better hotel future, Shank emphasized that he was asked to speak on a blue sky basis about the future of the hotel experience - so there's no grand brand re-position or shifting priorities when it comes to the company founded in 2010.
I was asked to look into the crystal ball and talk about where things may go in the future. I wanted to think further ahead, and think about some experiences that may seem magical today but could be possible in the future. In terms of a roadmap for HotelTonight, I wouldn't go that far - that wasn't the point of the presentation. It was much more a look into the future to start a conversation adn think about where this is all going to go.
The big thing is the humanization of the hotel stay. To get that vision, it's not going to be just one company doing it, it will be a lot of companies.
When asked about the potential for a lifestyle travel brand to curate a collection of tech-minded hotels as a means to force more hotels to adopt a tech-forward approach, Shank pushed back against the need to force hotels to move faster into these sort of connected scenarios:
It's a ways to even have the ability to put a stamp on a hotel like that. There's a lot of technology still to be done. There's also a lot of permissioning and data transparency that needs to happen for people to be comfortable with any of that vision.
If you went back to the 1950s, and told people what the credit card companies know about them today, people would say that's ridiculous. People accept that today because its convenient and adds value to their lives.
Similarly, if you went back 10 years and told people what Facebook knows about you - people would say no way, I'm not going to do that. Yet people now do it because there are benefits. In the future, we will continue to make tradeoffs of certain information because its going to make our lives better.
To do that, we need confidence in the services we're sharing, that it's going to be done for the right reasons only.
Improving the hotel experience
When asked about HotelTonight's role in making the hotel experience better - especially as the growth of Airbnb pushes all hoteliers to build bigger, better and more memorable guest experiences - Shank said:
We're still very focused on the last-minute booking and using mobile technology to improve that process. I don't think we would ever want force people to do it, but we're interested in the [guest experience] area and do pilots in it.
We do the mobile express check-in - with two taps after you book, you've checked into the hotel and get a push notification when the room is ready. Show your ID at the desk, get the room key and that's it. For incidentals, you use the same card you use for HotelTonight, and it's a more secure experience.
But we're never forcing hotels to do this. We always say, this is our view of a good customer experience, and if its appealing to you then let's work together.
As far as resources invested into these small pilots to improve the guest experience, the company is focusing on these limited rollouts to test integration, impact and response.
We build from the inside out; we build MVPs and aren't going to spend a year getting technical with a deep integration...any more than we spent more than 10 weeks building HotelTonight. We're going to see how it works, see what works, build more of that and build less of what doesn't work.
The hotels have loved it, because it improves the guest experience. And then they can spend more time delighting the guest and spend more time sharing the amenities. Instead of spending time at the desk, the guest can go to their room or the bar or the rooftop pool. The hotels also know that check-in as its been for the past 60 years isn't going to be here after the next 60 - and they don't have to commit [to our mobile check-in system], because they can turn it on and off at will.
Shank emphasizes that everything the company does is related to its position as a marketplace. There won't be any upheavals on that front, saying:
We look at a couple of metrics that measure success. A lot of it is around customer happiness. We look at Net Promoter Score, we look at App Store rating, and that's our long-term health. Our short-term health is focused on room nights. The great thing about focusing on room nights is that when room nights go up, everyone wins: hotels fill more rooms, guests are finding the right hotel for them at the right price, and we're growing the business.
Central apps for a branded hospitality experience
With recent news of Homeaway integrating services such as Instacart, Uber, and Gogobot into its mobile app, there is clearly a concerted push by some brands to develop apps that create a holistic - and wholly owned - hospitality experience. With the HotelTonight visioning, the company's app could feature integrations with Lyft, Nest, Grubhub and others to create a far better experience than the app could on its own.
So how does this sort of holistic hospitality approach fit into what HotelTonight may or may not do in the future?
Data portability between apps is still nascent, and hasn't yet been built out terribly well. If we did it in a way that could add a lot of value to both our hotel partners and to our guests, I think we would look at some of that stuff. We're in talks with certain partners, but nothing to announce there.
Hospitality brands would be smart to work collaboratively towards interoperability, because if one thing has been made clear in the shifting sands of mobile travel, it's that "winner takes all" has become less possible as the traveler enjoys increased control and choice with what apps to use.
Specialized apps will always have a place in a traveler's pocket; rather than creating proprietary offerings, brands must consider how to partner with complementary services that enhance the guest experience and the brand's overall value proposition.
When it comes to how far away we are from this interoperable future, Shank is conservative, saying only that he's not the best at these sorts of predictions, concluding that it will "feel like a really good executive assistant that everyone has access to...in terms of when, my track record isn't the best, so let's just say 10 years out."
NB: Crystal ball image courtesy Shutterstock.