Having worked in the hospitality business for a long time, I feel we often underappreciate how resilient – and adaptive – this industry is. In just the past couple of decades we have seen the hotel distribution model upended by Online Travel Agents (OTAs); a new major competitor: Airbnb (and its emulators); and then a global pandemic. Yet the hospitality industry keeps on rolling, adapting to new realities and consistently treating trends as opportunities. Amid a backdrop of strong hotel development pipelines in many regions, here are five tech trends to be aware of.
1.Welcoming the digital nomad
Hotel operators have an opportunity to embrace the new generation of digital nomad remote workers who combine employment with international travel.
While accepting there are many jobs which cannot be done remotely, the knowledge and services economy is less restrictive in this area, especially given the exponential rise in use of videoconferencing and collaborative working applications.
For hotel operators, responding to this opportunity is about much more than just installing good Wi-Fi. There has been a sea change in attitudes, too: this new generation of remote workers are interested in community, in being among like-minded peers, and in enjoying a better balanced life (though they do not necessarily want to be surrounded by vacationers when working). It means the age of the bland and forbidding hotel business center is over. We can expect to see funkier co-working spaces established; also suites reconfigured to include a desk/office set-up as well as converting to a functional meeting space when required.
2.Embracing technology in spa and wellness
As a hospitality consultant, I get more calls from hotels looking to reposition into health and wellness tourism than any other trend. And no wonder – this market is booming.
We are now much more engaged with our personal health and wellness; a trend which has been accelerated by a combination of the pandemic and the explosion in wearable fitness technology. For the spa and wellness industry, this offers the promise of both creating an opportunity and nullifying a threat simultaneously.
How? Because new technologies like hyperbaric chambers, cryotherapy and the like are more demonstrably effective than many ‘traditional’ spa rituals and treatments. At the same time, working with these scientifically-proven treatments can also create fewer but more interesting and better paid spa and wellness roles; something that is essential for a segment which is struggling to attract workers amid the wider ‘war for talent’ in hospitality.
3.Deploying smart technology in hotels
The hotel industry has an unbalanced relationship with technology. We tend not to be pioneers in technological development, choosing instead to take on applications developed elsewhere then look at how they can be integrated into so-called smart hotels.
But the hotel reception is not the same as an airport check-in – the need for a warmer welcome and a degree of personalization is much greater. If I am your guest, why not give me the option to check-in from a smartphone app while I am still in my taxi driving in from the airport?
Crucially, though, if I wish for some human interaction there are also employees who have been liberated from behind the reception desk and are in the lobby to greet me, answer my questions and give me tips on the best places to go for food, drinks or sightseeing. As a guest, it immediately makes me feel that the hotel is well integrated into its surrounding community.
4.Marketing gets ‘transformational’
We often talk about hospitality being part of the wider ‘Experience Economy.’ More recently, there is the notion of the ‘Transformation Economy,’ where experiences are elevated from mere enjoyment to actual personal transformation.
What does this mean for hotel marketing? I think we will see a shift in messaging to amplify this notion of transformation through travel experiences, and particularly around health and wellness. Messaging will also become even more personalized – down to a granular level – especially in the luxury segment. Digitalization makes such moves easier to pull off.
The message will evolve to something like “I see you are traveling because you are trying to change something in your life. We can be part of that journey by being the place where you sleep, where you look after your health and fitness, or by becoming your place of work while you explore how your career can move forwards.”
A closing thought
Much of the above is centered on delivering transformational, ultra-personalized experiences to guests. As an industry, we need to address the way we engage and excite young people to work in hospitality; deploy technology to give us more freedom to invest in people and give them roles that captivate both them and their guests; and reclaim that notion of personalized, human-to-human interactions which Airbnb used to such great effect when it first emerged as a challenger to the traditional hotel business.
If the industry can pull this off, it will deliver exceptional growth, because this is the way guest demand is going.
Mariana Palmeiro, Visiting Faculty (Business Trends in Luxury) at Glion Institute of Higher Education