The annual Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference, known as HITEC, is currently showcasing the latest hospitality technologies at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The growing number of attendees and exhibitors underscores how technology continues to be the backbone of every aspect of the hospitality experience. Some technologies are invisible to the consumer while others are focused on improving the actual guest experience through speedier check-in, better content delivery, and a more streamlined F&B experience.
While not at all comprehensive, dive in for more on the visible threads based on floor presence at the annual hospitality technology gathering.
Smart hospitality for hotels
The promise of technology in hospitality is that it makes each of us smarter, as both travelers and travel professionals. Travelers are able to have more control of the experience while hospitality brands are able to personalize and customize both their own back-end solutions and those that facilitate a more memorable experience for the traveler.
Some of these technologies are more sexy consumer-facing products, such as those that allow untethered check-in options for hoteliers, such as StayNTouch's guest-facing PMS overlay. This product allows the front desk to check-in and create keycards away from the desk, such as in a van on the way from the airport or for line-busting during peak times.
Others are a bit less overtly visible, but pack a compelling punch when addressing back office issues. Like HospitalityPulse, which offers automation for guest room assignments, solving for the trial-and-error generally employed to adequately allocate rooms based on oversold room categories. Assigning rooms based on view, preference, and category booked is generally a manual process, and this system allows for hotels to deliver different room assignments automatically to solve for the best-case scenario. Inevitably, rooms will be oversold, and this allows hotels to prioritize which guest will receive a room - and proactively manage expectations prior to arrival for those guests that are going to be disappointed.
Other smart hospitality vendors, while not debuting at the show, including RunTriz, one of the startups angling to help hotels learn and know more about guests over time. By attaching more information to a particular guest through a stay folio, the startup allows hotels to enhance the overall experience and consistency for guests through its mobile engagement hospitality.
By making smarter decisions about how CRM is managed, hotels can deliver more targeted, personalized service - a goal that even the larger wholly integrated PMS and hospitality software suite companies are seeking to accomplish as well.
Smart hospitality also includes using technology to deliver more streamlined and successful operations. Exhibitors such as GuestAware focus their sales pitches on improving the overall hotel operation as a key means of improving guest satisfaction. Others such as GuestDriven focus on improving the incoming guest experience, allowing the property to up-sell, cross-sell and generally work to target an offering specific to a guest.
A multi-lingual chat product from Sovee, which allows one operator to answer questions in many languages automatically, was also a great barometer of the state of smart hospitality.
Overall, the trend is to combine guest behaviors towards an increased desire for technology with the stream of incoming data to better personalize, customize and monetize the hotel and hospitality experience through guest and hotel facing marketing technologies.
BYOD, connectivity and content solutions
"Bring Your Own Device" has been trending in the business world for many years now, with companies enabling employees to choose any device for work, rather than having one mandated device. Guests are increasingly interested in mirroring content from their own devices, so that they can bring and view their own content in-room. And the guest wants it "plug and play," basically meaning that a steep climb to meet expectations exists.
Brands such as Guest-Tek and Samsung are allowing guests to throw content from their devices to in-room TVs.
This trend also means a shift in the desired in-room technology - for example, items such as alarm clocks are increasingly meaningless as almost all guests now use smartphones as alarm clocks. In addition, with the development of Bluetooth speakers and popularity of Android, device-specific technology such as iPhone docks are much less desirable. Another item that has faded with the popularity of personal devices is the in-room gaming controller for gaming on televisions.
Rather than segmenting on one platform, the trend now must be not only to support guests' own devices, but also to allow for personalized content beyond the content the guest will stream on a device. The show floor was packed with vendors seeking to further this sort of personalization outside of the guest's device, with brands like Samsung, LG, DirecTV, Cox, TimeWarner, SONIFI, Quadriga, and Intelity all angling to not only provide the in-room device technology but the networks that make it all work.
According to Josh Weiss from Hilton in a session related to what technology guests want, guest expectations related to in-room technology include HD televisions and simple to use devices, sufficient bandwidth, and overall efficiency related to the hotel experience.
For its part, Samsung has created a modular experience for hoteliers, where a basic interface can be upgraded to a fuller experience including a site-wide box called LYNK SINC/REACH that allows hotels to update each TV remotely with customizations and software updates and more, depending on the model.
The company also supports various H browsers to allow a brand-agnostic ability for hotels to link into VOD providers without being limited to whichever one integrates with Samsung.
The Samsung series includes an easy mirroring functionality that allows guest to BYOD, while also allowing for a full end-to-end solution for hotels. The company also announced the addition of its curved OLED screens to its hospitality suite, allowing higher-end hotels a means of differentiation in the hotel amenity game.
Charging stations from Kube Systems are ideally positioned to take advantage of the increased need for charging devices brought on location by guests. The company has announced a partnership with Marriott to provide the eponymous mobile charging stations - which include Qi wireless charging - throughout the hotel chain.
Overall, the ability to provide less content into the hotel was a theme - as the guest brings more content (such as subscriptions to HBO GO, for example), hotels have the flexibility to drop certain types of content in favor of others. The required systems for this include a fully-customizable system that can populate from a central location out to each television in the room.
Demographics is truly the biggest question now - what does a hotel's demographics dictate as far as services and not the other way around?
Another interesting point on BYOD came during the session on managing the flood of devices - hospitality employees could also be encouraged to use their own devices as a measure to reduce upfront capital expenditure, as long as each employee has the ability to access any remote cloud services necessary to successfully complete the job.
Full room automation has been steadily increasing, moving beyond just luxury hotels and into more mid-scale applications. However, the full capability to control all aspects of a room via a guest's mobile device is still some ways off.
The disparate elements of each item (and it's required control interface) must come together in order to make that a reality, and as the Internet of Things takes off on the consumer side, guests will increasingly expect to be able to unlock doors, control thermostats, turn on TVs, turn off lights, and more from a mobile device connected to the room.
On the full-room automation side there were several vendors exhibiting their wares at the show. Evolve Controls provides each element of the puzzle, from Energy Management to Shading to Lighting, all controlled via a centralized interface. The next step is getting this information into a mobile device so that a guest doesn't have to rely on a fixed panel - and a hotel doesn't have to spend the upfront investment. Of course, the sheer number of devices available make a panel more appealing for cross-functional use.
Crestron had a large booth showcasing an impressive number of integrations and partnerships for its in-room automation systems, as the company is clearly focused on being the core of a larger, more complex ecosystem. The company can install via an in-room panel or work with other providers, such as Intelity, that already have in-room access and combine that access with controls for the various installed elements.
Other pieces from the automation game come on the lock side - for the true keyless entry future to be realized, hotel locks must be upgraded. So far not many hotels have bitten down and paid the price to upgrade the hardware, so there were plenty of companies competing for this market. Salto Systems and Miwa (in partnership with UniKey) had large displays on the floor, showcasing how each would be integral for the keyless future in hospitality.
Even the minibar has gone high tech, with BarTech's latest upgrade showing that the business is still thriving. They've placed connected minibars in over 300,000 hotels worldwide, with full integration into the hotel's PMS. This solution continues to automate even the way customers are billed for actual, real-world physical purchases.
Other shiny things
Beyond the preponderance of televisions on the show floor, one surprising thread was the sheer number of phones showcased. Of course, a hotel has many phones so this is indeed a large and appealing market. However, it's hard not to wonder why hotels continue to have phones at all if BYOD is really the guest's preference. Why spend on the phone when the guest has a phone with them? Why spend on the phone when the guest can use an app to request items from departments such as housekeeping?
The elimination of the phone is likely difficult, given the guest's ongoing need to access a house phone, and brands like Alcatel and Bittel showcased on-trend, attractive phones to take the place of traditional clunkers. These phones could also see salvation as the centerpieces of the full-room automation systems, offering an easier-to-install control center when compared to an in-wall or on-wall touch panel.
Technologies such as laundry RFID tracking, trash and recycling management, hotel room assignments and social seating for special event management also caught our eye.
In conclusion to the overall HITEC experience, this quote from Terence Ronson (moderator of Guestroom Technology session) sums up a cautionary tale for technologists throughout the hospitality industry: "It's not what we can put into the room, it's what we can take out."