Hospitality Is A Smartphone & A Robot Butler

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The hospitality sector has some funny old words and acronyms to separate it from the normal world. I have come to terms with OTAs, ADRs and the concept of SaaS, but I am still not comfortable with manchising, and it also has a great definition of a GIT!

Separation is normal in the industry that invented the terms front and back of house, where things must appear smooth and organised while frantically paddling below the water line. You order your dinner, you don’t see the kitchen, and you get clean sheets without visiting the laundry.

For the bits we can see, industry experts describe changes in the near future which we punters will definitely notice. They see a future driven by technology, demography, sustainability and a spin-off from these, the sharing economy, and for most commentators that means Airbnb.

Their technology vision has elevated the smartphone to the status of a vital organ. Your smartphone will be so important by 2020 that it will control every aspect of your room ambience; temperature, lighting, content streaming on the telly and any services from the hotel. Not only that but check-in desks disappear because facial recognition does everything, and your smartphone or watch lets you into the room with a Bluetooth signal, and if you order stuff it is delivered by a robot butler. Gone are the concierge, telephone and key card. This is backed up by the rationale that people prefer to avoid human contact and would rather do it on their phone via a menu. I am not convinced. Service providers with a human voice attached, or even better, a face, do it for me every time. But guess what? There are big cost savings to be had here.

The technology future is supported by the prediction that millennials are expected to supersede baby boomers as the dominant hospitality customers by next year – and they love their tech. This demographic shift is expected to force hotels to refocus on things beyond their front door, like the local area, restaurants and attractions, entertainment venues and city transport. Many travellers will want to see the city rather than the inside of a hotel. This model leans towards simplicity and a lower price – and right now in the UK the majority of hotels in the development pipeline are budget and super-budget versions.

“Their technology vision has elevated the smartphone to the status of a vital organ.

These budget hotel rooms are going to be pretty stripped out too. According to Hotel News Now, bath tubs will go, it will be showers only. Cupboards and wardrobes will go, with exposed hanging space instead. The desk, round table and chairs disappear because room service is not asked for and millennials prefer to work in bed – oh come on!

At the other end of the market there will be more luxury hotels. Barry Sternlicht, the hotel king and former Starwood CEO is investing heavily in remodelling the ‘grandes dames’ like the Hotel Russell in London.

He believes that wealthy customers will grow as world travel continues to increase, and Chinese customers are at the vanguard. These are places for memorable experiences, not just a night’s sleep after being out all day.

Smartphone bivouacs at one end, palaces and shrines at the other. And in the middle – Airbnb.

The hospitality change is incredibly similar to what is happening in the workplace. Both at the budget and luxury end of the hotel market a common theme is choice and personalisation. Clients ask for and get more control – it’s part of modern life. Gone are the days when you could only watch a TV programme when it was broadcast, or you only find an address by asking for directions.

The journalist Daniel Finkelstein tells of visiting a (shared) bathroom in Blackpool to find it locked with a sign saying ‘bath night – Thursdays’.

At work the chief reason for turning up is frequently for human interaction. The office is no longer the place where the special equipment and files are kept.

So you get choice of settings for your interaction, a choice of things to eat and drink and increasingly things to do for recreation.

In the workplace ‘one size fits all’ is wearing as thin as the Thursday bath night routine. It’s all about choice.