Innovation In The Hospitality Industry

How hoteliers are responding to the demands for increasingly personalized service


Perhaps no one in the Twitterverse pushes new products and tech wizardry quite like Mashable does, and one of their recent promotions for SnappyScreen proves the point. It’s an automatic sunscreen application booth – a lot more pleasant than the TSA scanner at airports, but also a lot like it – that a guest stands in at poolside to ensure perfect spray coverage after choosing the preferred product.

It’s available across a range of luxury brands, the Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton among them, and serves as a perfect lesson about the amenities that technology is bringing to the hospitality industry. The thing is, no one chooses a California hotel or plans their Florida vacation because they’re sold on the touchless sunscreen spray machine, and if they are then something’s gone very wrong with brand and experience.

Innovation is driving the hospitality industry to be sure. Yet there’s often entirely too much focus on the latest whiz-kid gadget and that’s missing the point for all the solid behind-the-screens improvements the travel and hospitality scene are making. What guests really want may swing wildly on the basis of their plans – business travelers are obviously different from people looking for a family getaway deal – but they all have reason to believe their expectations will be met or exceeded. Some innovations in both product and process aren’t as visible as the coolest new toys but they’re building a positive reputation.

Consider the driving force that is Airbnb, a global leader in home-based accommodations and short term rentals that didn’t exist until 10 years ago. The company has its challenges, as do many cities – most recently Detroit – but there’s no question that the platform and approach have changed the hospitality game. That’s especially true among younger travelers, and those who’ve made the shift to local flavor in their lives. They want authentic experiences, not necessarily just affordable ones, that are rooted in the identity of a place and that’s meant a departure from the old hotel key with wrapped soap bars model.

So the hospitality industry has long since responded with more boutique options and upped the game when it comes to personalization. Their successes have required everything from top-notch booking platforms and mobile check-ins to the cloud services and data that support a perfect guest welcome.

With amenities, the demand for Wi-Fi is now ubiquitous and digital key access is becoming as much the norm as the exception. Hilton improved security and guest management services by adding digital key app access to 2,500 properties in 2017. “In the month of October, a door was unlocked with Digital Key every 1.5 seconds,” the company announced. Now, they’re rolling out a high-tech connected room experience that’s been beta tested at one property and targeted for implementation across 2018.

"Many innovations later, we are once again setting a new standard for the industry by giving our guests a travel experience where the room knows them, and they know their room,” says CEO Christopher J. Nassetta. Guests using the Hilton Honors app will have much the same control over climate, lighting and related comfort and ambience as they do at home with the evolving Internet of Things enabled devices.

Hilton says it is working with popular streaming media providers to enable guests to seamlessly access their favorite programs in Connected Room hotels. The company says the model benefits hotel staff and employees too, with better insight into guest preferences and the capacity to align their own activities. Managers will be able to improve building energy efficiency, for example, with real-time data access.

The shift makes it easier for Hilton hotels across the portfolio to keep pace with the rapid change in technology, says Joshua Sloser, the Senior Vice President of Digital Product. Hilton won’t need to rely on new hardware to update hotel rooms, and can more efficiently push software updates through the platform to create new experiences and offer new features. Marriott’s doing the same thing with its IoT Guestroom Lab, which looks at how the tech works in new-built hotels or in existing equipped rooms.

“The future of the guest room will be voice activation. Amazon Echo and Apple’s Siri are consumer versions of this technology. I have all that in my own home,” says Marriott’s Scott Hansen, the international director for guest technology. “That is the future. Whether we use that existing tech or some other voice-activated mechanism has yet to be determined. The real brick in the road is trying to get the Internet of Things upgraded to the net-connected appropriate part of the network.”

Marriott, along with Best Western and Wynn Properties –the first to place voice assistants in rooms – are investing in what guests can see too. All 4,748 rooms in the Wynn Las Vegas were slated to have an Amazon Echo by Summer 2017. That’s an innovation that’s clear to travelers delighted with the access.

Yet much of the innovation hotels are adopting remains invisible and that’s kind of the point. Much like the sunscreen itself – if not the splashy SnappyScreen booth – it’s technology that’s been applied. You don’t see much more than a thin layer of gloss, but it’s there to protect you and improve your experience precisely so you don’t have to think about it.


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