High tech in global hospitality is trending

July 28, 2022

“The number of hotels using popular hospitality tech increased by 31% between the start of the pandemic and the end of 2021, and is projected to increase by another 19% in 2022.” This was the key finding in a report published in January 2022, which was based on a survey of hoteliers in USA, Europe, and Asia Pacific, conducted by Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality and Stayntouch, a hospitality technology company.

The survey reports that 81.7% of the 525 respondents polled implemented at least one new piece of technology during the pandemic and/or are planning to do so during 2022, including contactless experiences and automation and optimisation of processes. Some 60% use traditional front desk check-in; however, self-service check-in (mobile check-in and self-service kiosks) is on the rise due to reduced workforces.

Travellers, now used to self-service, particularly during the pandemic when touchless technology came into its own, look for digital solutions at every stage of their journey. Hoteliers want technology that minimises human error, maximises efficiency, and improves the guest experience.

Six tech trends

New and interesting uses of technology across the hospitality industry, as unpacked by Entrepreneur magazine, include:

  1. Gamification of travel planning is using game design elements in non-game contexts. Gamification of travel planning adds spontaneity with novel features such as challenges, rewards, chances to earn points, and participate in puzzles. It can boost customer loyalty, brand awareness, user-generated content, online engagement and revenue.
  2. Virtual reality tours allow guests planning a trip to enjoy an immersive experience to whet their appetites for the real thing.
  3. Contactless technology usage increased by 66% during the pandemic and includes self-check-in, in-room technology, mobile keys and digital payments. Post-pandemic, touchless technology is being seen in the form of robot receptionists, facial scan check-in, voice guest control, and robot delivery, particularly in establishments with a reduced workforce.
  4. The 24/7 digital concierge is a familiar offering on hotel websites and the use of chatbots is expected to increase to 29.2% in 2022, up from 14.5% in 2019. Guests can use this service via smartphones.
  5. Internet of things (IoT) for room control and customisation allow guests to personalise their hotel room, adjusting temperature and lighting, and turning lights off to save electricity, for example. Hoteliers can also better anticipate guests’ needs and tailor rooms accordingly.
  6. Location-based services gives guests access to information on local recommendations across a wide range of services, from where to shop and dine to which sights to visit.

New technology comes with barriers to entry, which according to the survey include high upfront costs; greater complexity; difficulty to integrate; lack of scalability; and risk of losing the essence of hospitality i.e. the personal touch. In essence, technology should always provide solutions to the perennial question: “What do customers want?”

Tech strides in SA

In South Africa, technology adds to the guest experience in myriad seen and unseen ways. At Hotel Sky in Sandton and Cape Town, for example, guests are fascinated by the robots, or automated staff, who are able to interact and share travel information, deliver room service and carry luggage. New Courtyard Hotel Waterfall City has environmentally-friendly practices, enhanced by technology, integrated into the property, including water and electricity conservation, intelligent lighting management and building monitoring systems, plus automated water consumption monitoring and leak detection. Conference venues feature a tablet-controlled plug-and-play system, with HD projectors, hand-held and head mics with built-in speaker system, and electronic blackout blinds and screens. Guests control room locks, televisions and air-conditioning units via an app on their smartphone.

“While IT is often a grudge purchase, the reality is that technology is the fundamental underpinning of excellent customer experiences,” notes Raeford Liebenberg, manager at Silver-Moon IT, in an article published in Engineering News. “Ultimately, the hospitality sector requires a human touch, so technology needs to support the people in the industry to be the best they can be and deliver the best experiences they can to their customers.”

Essentials include offering seamless processes, fast connectivity and rapid and effective IT support. He advises, “Rather than viewing IT as a grudge purchase, it should be viewed as an enabler of excellence, and as such having a technology investment plan [for maintenance and upgrades] can be invaluable.”