The day may come when a hotel guest expects and gets a real Orwellian experience out of their stay. At least this is a dreamscape that could take place if unbridled tech geeks are put in charge. Whether we look to Big Data or smart robots to accentuate the value of a night’s stay, removing human beings from the hospitality equation is just inhospitable. The sooner the back office gets this, the better off our business will be. “Balance in all things2 is the best motto of a successful hotel business landscape, here’s some good reasons why.
The recent CES in Las Vegas was intensely focused on hospitality tech and the marketing hype of “transformative” and glittery wonders from robots to infrared guest sensors. Fashionable and interesting as CES shows are, this version lost the one thing that makes hotels useful at all – the people. I was reading a story on the Las Vegas Review Journal written just before CES, when the thought occurred to me, “Have we really gone too far too fast?” Reading the words of Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association offered, I had my answer. Not only are tech marketing types overselling hotel tech, they are underestimating guests as well.
“Voice recognition, whether it’s Amazon’s Alexa or other things, makes a lot of sense in hotel rooms, where you may not know where the light switch is, you may not know how to close the blinds — we can now add some level of automation that can drastically improve the consumer experience.”
This is the speak of someone wanting to sell the buzz of AI for the sake of selling tech, or CES when all is said and done. Using the big electronic show logic system, hotel owners need to get ready to spend thousands of dollars integrating advanced AI into their rooms so that guests can find and open their curtains!
Are we trying to invent sentient artificial intelligence to let guests know where the bed or the lavatory is? I don’t want to pick on the CES executive here, but most of the ideas he evangelizes miss the whole point of travel and hospitality. Are we creating technology for the sake of coolness or sales? This is the question many hoteliers are asking me.
With any technological trend the question of capability must always be considered with feasibility, more appropriately plausibility. A good example of a technology gamble that may be off the edge is wearable tech like the Carnival Corp. medallion, a spinoff of the Disney MagicBand that stores guest/visitor data etc. Following suit on Disney’s $1 billion dollar gamble Magic Kingdom guests will love the scan-able bracelet, Carnival Cruise Lines bills their new wearable technology as true innovation. But is wearable tech really all that innovative, or is the way the tech is integrated within the cruise experience the innovation? Making things wearable and scannable with memory is simply the miniaturization of the Wal-Mart self-checkout price scanner invented by David R. Humble of CheckRobot Inc. back in the 1980s. As an interesting aside here, there are currently less than 200,000 self-checkout units worldwide in three decades of marketing and development.
Carnival CEO Arnold Donald was at CES touting the potential of the small but powerful medallion. Down on the floor and at the press release distribution media a flurry of companies tied to voice recognition, AI, smart room controls etc. scurried for attention to sell their wares. Interesting, cool, and as creative as many of these gadgets are, I can only imagine a Scottish hotel guest standing in a dark hotel room trying to communicate with Amazon’s Alexa. The pros and cons of hotel tech innovation and adaptation are endless, but my point is almost made. The path to balance is a rocky one, but the best tech will always consider the human side of the experience equation. Travel is, after all, about the human journey. Well, that is unless human beings had rather just pretend to be somewhere like in the movie the Matrix.
Being a huge fan of innovation, progress, and tech myself, it’s often difficult to strike my own balance where possibility is concerned. For hoteliers, navigating the myriad marketing ploys is a time and money sucking proposition mostly. Most owners and directors I know take a “wait and see” approach, adopting only with what is proven to work. I am reminded of the launch of PAI Hotels in Europe, and the coolness that Plateno Group brand design wise. For those unaware, Plateno and partner group Jin Jiang became the 5th largest hotel group in the world with their merger only recently. PAI, a quick and easy rebrand solution for hotels, reshapes the guest experience using slick amenities, branding items and even augmented reality (AR). For me, their incremental (even limited) approach to accentuated guest experience seems logical for now. I talked with Plateno Group’s Director of E-Commerce & Distribution for Europe, Tomasz Janczak about the conservative approach PAI and other Plateno hotels are making. Here is part of his take on augmented and virtual reality:
“Using VR helps to get better engagement with the brand, while enjoying games, which include brand elements. That’s exactly what PAI Hotels do, with the PAI AR PARK app, which was launch for Plateno Collection 2017.”
That’s a reflection of the conservative approach, but the hype of the internet of things (IoT) and especially hotel tech and data wizardry become clear if one looks at the media. But if hospitality tech marketers are hard at it, the big boys at Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are frantically propositioning us for future sales. This quote from TIME hints at what I suggest:
“The logical progression here is a build-up of a third-party ecosystem around Alexa. Consumers will see a bounty of Alexa-enabled devices connected to one another, helping to convince them to join the greater Alexa ecosystem.”
I’ve been in this game 20 years, so you can trust me when I say, “Watch the marketing speak to discover the reality.” When Amazon buys or earns media, and then talks about “ecosystems”, they are talking about converting you and me. One does not even have to read between these lines to find the sales pitch hidden in the technology wonder. There’s no mistaking the massive business forces backing these new technology plays. Following the CES The Hill even ran a political piece touting the need for taxpayers to fund the development of these new technologies. Debra Berlyn, President of Consumer Policy Solutions, a firm centered on developing public policies addressing the interests of consumers and the marketplace put this out there for policymakers on “helping” Amazon and the others fulfill customer dreams of the smart home:
“It’s time for the FCC to support spectrum sharing to help build a next-generation 5G network to benefit Americans from all regions and of all ages.”
The pros and cons of smart tech use for hospitality are endless. Yes, Big Data and smart rooms/hotels will eventually deliver on the promise. This is the way of experimentation, innovation, and progress. Moving too fast or with unrealistic (faulty) expectations is our problem. If hoteliers begin to deteriorate the human connection or to fall victim to functionality issues, then the benefits of shining technology will prove disastrous. People are taken with gadgets and convenience, but I cannot imagine many flying across an ocean to visit a robot. That is, unless the robot has genuine sex appeal or dancing skills. The real lure of travel has always been experiencing people and places, the “things” being the last resort value. As for hospitality, even the most learned machines have a special kind of reserved chill to them. New varieties of TV remotes really do need to be put into context. Innovations in
As for hospitality, even the most learned machines have a special kind of reserved chill to them. New varieties of TV remotes really do need to be put into context. Innovations in guest facing technology like keyless entry and in-room controls should be adopted more quickly than “edgy” AI possibility. Meanwhile, common sense technology like dedicated guest request management software falls within my conservative approach as well. Self-service guest tech, VR and AR innovations, and Big Data analytics cannot and should not forced into the mainstream of operations too quickly. In fact, forcing the issue of questionable tech will actually hamper uptake in the long run. Hoteliers are beat to pieces with technology and services they “need”.