Mobile is the new face of computing as devices such as tablets and smartphones continue to revolutionize the way we interact with technology. Hotel guests travel with an increasing number of personal devices and their own information and entertainment content. Hotels must adapt as new technologies and products are introduced to ensure that guests have the electronic (adequate and easy-to-reach plugs, bandwidth capabilities) and ergonomic (seating and surfaces) supports they need.
When we think about technology, we think about designing a room that enables you to move and be mobile anywhere you want to be in that room. Hotels need to think about those things so guests are comfortable with any device they bring to the space. Hospitality can’t ignore the revolution; in some cases, the industry is leading the way. Let’s explore what guests are looking for when it comes to technology and how the hospitality industry should respond.
The Mobile Revolution: Mobile devices are redefining how guests use technology in hotels, particularly in the guestroom. Consider these points about the ever-popular iPad:
- •The iPad is the fastest-selling consumer electronic device in history.
- •It has a very simple guest user interface, and new users both young and old are able to use it almost immediately with little or no training.
- •iPad is already placing huge demands on hotel Wi-Fi systems, consuming much more bandwidth and data than in the past with people sending emails.
Many guests travel with one or more mobile devices that are preloaded with books and magazines. Some hotels even provide complimentary devices for guests to use. It’s a plus for travelers who pack books less and less as not to take up valuable luggage space. It’s also a nice perk for families that forget to pack their tablets because games and other content are big hits with bored kids.
Service Automation: Some guests prefer to interact with hotel staff through technology rather than picking up the phone. Hotels should offer three check-in options for guests:
- •A tablet check-in with a staff member;
- •A self-serve check-in kiosk;
- •A traditional front desk.
Hotels that provide these three check-in options will notice the difference. For remote check-in, hotels send messages to guests 24 hours ahead of arrival asking for the guests’ planned check-in time, and the hotel can let guests know when their rooms will be ready.
Free Wi-Fi: Mobile technology has changed the way customers use technology on the road, and although it creates a great challenge for hotels, it is now up to the industry to embrace these devices so guests can have the same download experience they have at home.
- •Many hotels’ Wi-Fi systems are suffering from a lack of available bandwidth and, as a result, are overloaded as guests try to download their own content, resulting in many guests complaining about poor download experience.
- •Guests want the same technology experience they have at home or the office, and if they have a bad experience they may not return to your hotel.
- •With the increasing demand for more bandwidth and the subsequent costs to provide it, this will, in my opinion, make it difficult for hotels to agree to offer anything other than a limited free Wi-Fi mainly for emails.
- •Tablets that are made available to guests to use in the guestroom open up a world of new opportunities for hotels to communicate with guests.
- •It would be simpler for guests to access the in-room amenities as many guests find the TV remote control or the buttons on the wall to turn lights on and off too complex.
Mobile devices can have a range of application software installed on it that is fully integrated with all of the in-room functions, such as lights, air conditioning, TV and curtains, whereby guests can turn on or off these functions simply by using a mobile application.
The Lobby as a Tech Hub: Lobby information centers have become a way to eliminate the frustration of guests standing in line to ask a simple question, such as directions or a restaurant recommendation. Guests can quickly gain useful information, such as news, stocks, weather, flight information, local information about restaurants and concerts and quick-response code capabilities to enable the guest to get information on a smartphone.
The Role of Social Media: The reach of social media is growing substantially, and now hotels are using it more than ever to engage with both new and existing customers. Most hotel companies wrestle with the best ways to employ social media as a marketing, communication and guest service tool. The focus should be on investing in “listening” technology to ensure the chain keeps in touch with guest reviews, comments and reactions.
Encourage the public to share their ideas via social media on a number of different categories, including technology, space design and more. The next evolution of social media is talking to the community and making it part of your business. Twitter, for instance, is a social media juggernaut that provides a free tool for guests and hotels to interact with each other quickly and effectively. Hotels need to harness the power of social media in order to stay ahead of their competitors.
Technology as Luxury: Customers expect their experience within a hotel to be totally personalized to them – from the welcome message on the television screen and food preferences, to additional services such as personal training or flowers in the room.
This quickly creates a huge range of valuable customer preference data that needs to be fed into the hotel management system in order to deliver a personalized, high-quality service for each return visit. This is not just a case of linking the customer relationship management system into the hotel operations – it is embedding the process of capturing guest preferences and proactively using that data.
Networking: The hotel industry’s target market consists of highly accomplished, technology-savvy guests who expect the world’s best business tools, room amenities and business services. A good example of hospitality meeting the needs of discriminating travelers are a group of property developers that teamed to transform hotel service delivery at a particular location. They envisioned using advanced video, collaboration and networking technologies to create a unique and exciting experience throughout the property, delighting leisure travelers and providing world-class collaboration capabilities for business travelers. In the vision, business guests would be able to interact with coworkers, customers or hotel concierges in other locations with ultra-high-quality video and audio rivaling the in-person experience. Visitors to the 10,000-square-foot NBA-approved basketball arena, convertible to a tennis court or ballroom, could augment their enjoyment of live events with dynamic video content displayed on a gigantic video wall. Even the mundane aspects of hotel stays, such as arrival and wakeup calls, would be delivered in memorable and exciting ways.
THE BACK-HOUSE RESPONSE
Guests’ affinity for new technology must be met with a dynamic workforce ready to develop solutions that heighten the travel experience. Many back-of-house functions are affected by the growing integration of travel and technology. Hiring and training the right people is vital.
Program and App Development: The number of ads for software developers has more than doubled since last year, and the demand for front-end developers and user-experience engineers will continue to grow. Hospitality management software includes sales and catering software, which will have a POS module to manage and track sales from restaurants, lounge/bar and room service. Event management is another important module of hospitality management software. Event management modules manage group and convention sales, room booking, function and layout.
Help Desk and Technical Support: After outsourcing to third-party support companies, many organizations are also bringing the help desk back in-house. That seems to be in response to the huge increase of mobile devices, along with company-provided web services. With the complexity of those functions, it’s crucial that the technical support staff has a strong understanding of just what the company is doing. That is one of the strongest arguments for returning (or keeping) these capabilities close. Organizations usually add technical support and help desk staff when adding new employees, as well as when they are expanding their tech infrastructure.
Database Administration: A database administrator will build a logical data map of organizational systems, gather all the relevant pieces of data from multiple sources, compile analysis of that data and provide a detailed report of the findings. This year, those in highest demand will have experience moving IT systems and services to the cloud.
Project Management: It is important to understand that, by definition, new hotel openings are essentially projects and not part of ongoing hotel operations. The approach to manage them should fundamentally not be different from projects conducted in information technology, consulting, banking, telecommunications, aerospace and other industries. According to the Project Management Institute, project management processes are guided through five stages: initiation, planning, executing, controlling and closing.
Mobile App and Device Management: The use of smartphones, tablets and similar devices is growing in all areas of both business and consumer arenas. This is driving a strong demand for specialists and experts with mobile skills – the skills that some surveys have rated as the third most difficult to find. Mobile app development is very high on many organizations’ IT priority lists. That is followed closely by developing websites that are responsive to various mobile devices, ensuring a consistent end-user experience. Some managers have said they will resort to retraining existing staff if they are unable to find qualified new hires in the field.
Security: With increases in cyber attacks, malware and personal data theft, security jobs will continue to be some of the most challenging to fill. Like other skills on this year’s list, the recent media attention on security failures has driven organizations to bring these skills in-house for better management and control. Automation and digital locking systems are even changing the way we book hotels in the first place. Automakers have begun beta-testing integrations to vehicle navigation systems that allow drivers to conduct voice-command searches for available hotels nearby, and then interface with the selected hotel’s property management system to reserve a room. Once the reservation is booked, the navigation system guides the driver to the hotel and communicates the assigned guestroom number. Upon arrival at the property, the guest can proceed straight to the room. The guest’s near field communication-equipped car key wirelessly receives an access code for the guestroom lock, allowing the car key to double as a hotel room key.
In the end, preparing a well-trained and job-ready workforce helps to reduce local unemployment and curtails economic downfall. It is important to note one of every 17 Americans, either directly or indirectly, works in hospitality-related jobs.
- •Over the next eight years, it is estimated that the hospitality industry will add 3.3 million jobs.
- •Travel and tourism is one of the key drivers of the U.S. economy, directly supporting more than 7.7 million jobs, including 1.8 million hotel property workers. There are more than 221 million travel and tourism workers worldwide.
- •The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) calls tourism a key driver of socio-economic progress through export revenues, the creation of jobs and enterprises and infrastructure development. It is responsible for one in 11 jobs globally and 6 percent of the world’s exports. In the first half of 2013, international tourist arrivals grew by 5 percent, far above the 3 percent projected at the beginning of the year.
The hospitality and tourism industry is one of the largest-growing workforce segments, offering career-minded individuals ready to take on the mission of integrating technology and travel a rewarding, fast-paced environment with multiple career paths.
Patrick O’Halloran is a professor at the New York City College of Technology. Fiona Cameron-Williams is the president of FCW Hospitality & Private Residence Consulting Inc. For more information, visitwww.fionacameron-williams.com.