Hot trends in hotel digital transformation

Pandemic-driven changes to travel preferences are likely here to stay. As travelers return to hotel lobbies worldwide, hotel operators are more effectively leveraging technology to provide heightened convenience and safety. From contactless options to improve safety and cleanliness of spaces, to artificial intelligence-assisted concierge services, hotels are ramping up automation to streamline and personalize every aspect of leaving home. Hotel brands can leverage these new technological innovations to provide guests with a tailored experience, creating a new level of brand consistency and driving greater loyalty.

The Digital Front Desk

According to a recent AHLA survey, 81 percent of hotel guests were more comfortable staying in hotels with increased safety and cleaning protocols. The front desk has always been the main touchpoint between hotels and guests. With mobile-driven interactions, many of these functions can now be done contact-free. AI-driven analytics can enable hotels to build a streamlined digital front desk. Checking in and out, ordering room service, getting recommendations from the concierge or asking questions about the hotel can all be accomplished with a smartphone. Contactless check-in allows guests to access their key via their phone and enter their room without any interaction with a person. 

While convenient and safe for the customer, this method also reduces the stress on front-desk staff, reducing the need to manually check people in. This can be a boon to hotel operators dealing with labor shortages. It also means there are no lost or stolen keys and no need to spend time changing locks or key codes. 

Integrating rooms with virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Echo or Google Home is another way to leverage AI to provide guests with more personalized experiences. Virtual assistants allow guests to change the lights, control the temperature, function as a remote for the TV, play music, order towels, or even use the device as an in-room concierge to find local restaurants and events with their voice. They do not even need to pick up their smartphone to perform functions such as checking out; they can just ask the VA to do so and be on their way. Many guests are already accustomed to having this technology at home, so for those looking to provide high-end experiences, VAs will quickly become the standard. 

The benefits of AI-integrated VAs extend to the staff. With housekeeping requests, room service orders, and other “low-hanging fruit” interactions taken care of, the staff is free to focus on more important guest interactions and provide a higher level of service across the board. 

Customer Learning and Tailoring

Getting the smallest details right is what differentiates hotel experiences and keeps customers coming back. Here’s where AI and machine learning can be employed to distill customer data sets into actionable insights for hotel operators. Hotels can keep dynamic profiles about their customers to simplify interactions and cater to their needs without needing to be given information more than once. 

For example, if a guest orders coffee during their stay—be it a latte, cold brew or black with two sugars—that data can be captured via a data analytics platform. In a future stay, all a guest needs to do is order “coffee” and the hotel can deliver it prepared exactly how they like. This goes into nearly every part of the experience. 

Welcome messages on the TV can mention not just customer’s name, but also the reason for their stay—business, leisure or special occasions. This data can also be used to inform the staff of important landmarks and allow for small rewards that demonstrate regard for the customer as a valued guest. 

These data-driven guest profiles can also help create custom loyalty programs and provide customers with personalized price points on certain rooms, rewards based on past purchases and experiences, and leave notes for staff on customer preferences. This type of bespoke treatment serves to give the feeling of having “your” hotel chain wherever you stay, regardless of location. 

Blockchain and What to Expect Next

Another major disruption to business as usual for hotels is blockchain technology. While not yet ubiquitous, $2.1 billion was spent globally on blockchain solutions in 2018 in the hospitality industry alone. Blockchain empowers businesses to eliminate third-party intermediaries to externally validate digital transactions, driving greater profits for hotel operators. Fraud prevention and secure payment settlement are two key factors driving blockchain’s adoption and it will become an essential part of day-to-day operations for hotels in the future. Organizations will be able to develop real-time dynamic pricing models that take into account popularity in local areas to determine market-relevant pricing based on demand. 

Collecting franchise fees and managing contracts will also be more secure and allow for more streamlined interactions with blockchain, reducing overheads and the need for intermediaries. This can empower hotel owners to operate more efficiently and give them back some of the power now held by online travel agents. With a distributed blockchain database, hotels can offer even more competitive pricing and drive customers back from deal offering OTAs who take larger fees from each transaction. And blockchain can offer a good platform for rewards programs for international businesses as well, offering an effective solution for redeemable benefits for participating customers.

Hotels that moved quickly to leverage digital technologies have reaped some of the rewards as domestic and international travel has ticked up again. AI, blockchain and other emerging technologies are elevating the guest experience, automating key processes, and allowing owners and staff to spend more time on what should matter most to them and their guests.

Anthony Karakkal is chief business officer, travel, transportation and hospitality at Mindtree