Many of us look at today’s world and see that our lifetimes have been marked by relentless innovation, no matter how large or small. As for myself (born in 1983), I am officially part of the last generation to have known an unconnected world without mobile devices. It is strange to note how much these devices, which at first seemed to be used only as portable telephones, are now capable of making our lives so much easier and more natural. We often forget how unnatural things like credit cards, locks and keys actually are. They were essential technologies back in the day, but now, since we can carry all these things in one device which can also serve as an easy verification of our identity, there's less need for these kinds of barriers.
The promise of this new technology has also been translated into our industry, and rightly so: we are and have been in the business of connecting people to their new surroundings. I, like many others working on the advancement of technology for hotel operators, am excited by the promise of this technology and by the promise of mobile especially.
However, let me first state very clearly what I believe is not the future of our industry. Despite prophesies issued by a certain strand of technologists, I strongly believe that kiosks and faceless terminals are not the answer. What is necessary to remember is that we are, and always will be, a people-focused industry, and we need to always keep that fact at the forefront of everything we do. When a guest arrives, he or she wants to be welcomed, and the best way of doing that is not by being greeted by a faceless screen, which doesn’t have sufficient empathy to make one feel at home. Technology should be a tool that we can use to monitor, measure and enhance our service levels, and we shouldn't treat it as a means of removing the personal touch and the mark of human hospitality.
As the economists, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee write in their brilliant book “Race Against the Machine” (http://raceagainstthemachine.com/), which looks at technological progress and the effect it will have on our economies, we should think about how technology can help those areas where humans do a much better job than computers. A robot still can't carry luggage up and won't show you how to use the services in your room; a welcome screen won't replace a smiling receptionist who is willing to have a conversation with you about what your hobbies are and whether or not there is anything you need to make your brief stay all the more comfortable.
Still, there is a lot we can do for our businesses, and these improvements happen on the back end. We can make sure that we upload our real time availability and rates. We can check guests in online and take their credit card details before they've even set foot in the hotel (also making sure that the preauthorisation process is handled online, and not by the reception desk). With tablet-based PMS systems, we can use the reception area for something more homely and welcoming rather than a stuffy desk. We can set rates according to clever algorithms, which do the work of a thousand revenue managers. And so much more. Along with all of this, we can be better for guests by offering more personalised services and better care, sharing key information so that a customer is always left happy.
I'm proud to see a bright future for the hospitality industry, enabled by smart mobile technology, and I'm proud to say that we're a part of a number of companies trying to make these processes easier for the hotelier.
(I had a presentation at the the Czech Hoteliers summit at the end of the year and apparently it went down well, so they asked me to write up a transcript, so here it is - you know if you're wondering why it's so preachy.)