Why technology and hospitality need to be a balancing act

smartphone
Hotels today have an opportunity to be more than just a place to sleep for guests by playing cultural matchmakers, connecting guests to the local experiences that best fit their preferences. Photo credit: Pinkypills/Getty Images

The competition is at an all-time high for hotels to earn guests’ loyalty and many have turned to the latest technology to help them do so, whether it’s Japan’s hotel staffed entirely by robots or the new FlyZoo hotel using facial recognition in lieu of room keys.
 
While these flashy tech initiatives are trending among media headlines, they don’t always align directly with customer satisfaction. Hoteliers today need to find the right balance of technology and hospitality to cater to what their guests want.

The In-Room Technology Guests Want

Travelers are constantly seeking out a home away from home and as technology plays an increasing role in our homes, hotels need to adapt. Nearly a quarter of U.S. households own a smart speaker, so it’s no surprise a study found nearly seven in 10 consumers want hotel-provided smart devices in their rooms.

In fact, more than three in five consumers want to order roomservice and housekeeping services through a hotel-provided smart device and two in five want to use these devices to check in and out of hotels.
 
Marriott International is a leading example of implementing tech in the right way. Its partnership with Alexa for hospitality offers connected rooms for guests to order roomservice and control lighting, temperature and TV content from the devices they are used to. 

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Even more recently, we saw Hilton and Netflix partner to deliver the convenience of personalized streaming so guests can pick up right where they left off at home.
 
While these partnerships will flourish because they deliver choice and personalization in the name of hospitality, we’ll continue to see examples of hotels scaling back on overly flashy tech as they learn to better adapt to guest needs. For example, the robot hotel fired half its robot staff because it turns out 56 percent of consumers don’t want to interact with a robot during their stay.

Diversity of Communication Channels

A key component of hospitality is how guests communicate with staff, and technology can aid this by streamlining requests. While guests prefer to make some requests through hotel-provided smart devices, when asked how they want to interact with staff as a whole, 27 percent prefer to make a phone call, 20 percent prefer to ask staff in passing, 5 percent prefer online portals and 4 percent prefer text message. To ensure effective communication, hotels should offer guests each of these choices.
 
The technology hotels need to satisfy the diversity of guest communication preferences yet not burden staff with multiple channels: integrated communication tools that keep staff connected to one another and track guest requests no matter where they are received. The platforms ensure no matter what device or staff member receives a request, it can be easily communicated to the right staff member and completed in a timely fashion. 

A study found that more than a third of hotel guests expressed frustrations by the front desk taking too long to complete requests and delayed service from hotel staff. Today’s hoteliers need to take advantage of tech platforms that connect each employee from the bellhop, to the kitchen staff, to the concierge, regardless of how the guest prefers to get in touch.
 
Hotels also should take advantage of wearable tech like smartwatches to give staff hands-free connectivity while they are on the go within the hotel. For example, a bellhop assisting a couple with their bags that receives a request for champagne to be brought up can send a quick message on his smartwatch to a waiter at the bar and have the champagne on its way up before he has even left their room. 

The smartwatch also offers a more a discreet communication option so that employees are not putting a large tablet between them and the guest, allowing them to connect on a more personal level.

Tech-Powered Concierge Services

Hotels today have an opportunity to be more than just a place to sleep for guests by playing cultural matchmakers, connecting guests to the local experiences that best fit their preferences. This is challenging when guests are interested in an endless number of activities. Research shows 40 percent of travelers are interested in food tastings and tours of local cuisine, 36 percent are interested in guided tours of the local city or town, 33 percent are interested in cultural learning centers and 27 percent are interested in local drink distilleries, wineries and breweries.
 
Without technology, hotel concierges face challenges keeping track of all of these diverse experiences and staying on top of the latest and greatest in local dining options. Previously, the hotel concierge kept track of activities manually, or developed their own specific knowledge of the area. However, with technology, concierges can track local events and openings on a digital calendar, sort activities into different categories and audiences and track guest reviews at scale so they can personalize a thoughtful recommendation for every guest across a hotel chain. 

The platform also is accessible across the board, meaning if the concierge is not in at the moment, any employee can access the information and deliver the same tailored recommendation. Rather than looking on Yelp, guests can expect recommendations like those they’d receive from friends and family.
 
Technology is changing the hospitality industry but not in the same way the headlines may suggest. The key to technology for today’s hotels is implementing it in a way that empowers hospitality without overwhelming guests. This means offering the personalization and convenience consumers crave in a home away from home. 

Alexander Shashou is co-founder and president of Alice, a hotel operations platform.

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