By Margaret Ady
It’s time to explode the old notion of the app as we move into 2020 and look at the breadth of possibilities that a hotel app store offers. Here are a few that have gotten my attention as of late
Two point five million! Well, nearly 2.5 million. That’s how many apps the Google Play store has. Apple’s store came in second at 1.8 million apps. For perspective, 1.69 million people live on the island of Manhattan. That’s more than one app for every person on the island. Apps have become the go-to for managing our lives, both the operations (budgets, exercise, bill paying) and outer lives (work, social, news apps).
Why don’t we think about hotel apps in this same way—the all-around solution for all of a hotel’s operational and guest-facing needs? Hotel apps still seem stuck in the dark age of the branded hotel app that guests downloaded, the one hotels were hoping would be the path to direct bookings at one point, but instead languished as a static marketing tool for a good many properties.
Hotel apps are far more robust than this old-school notion of the app. Apps exist for the full spectrum of back-end operations—CRM, yield management, channel management, revenue management—as well as for guest use, including texting, mobile check-in, room controls, room service orders, and so forth.
The point is that it’s time to explode the old notion of the app as we move into 2020 and look at the breadth of possibilities that a hotel app store offers. Here are a few that have gotten my attention as of late.
Mobile Check-in Evolves
Biometrics meets mobile check-in at FlyZoo, Alibaba’s hotel of the future. Using the Fliggy App, a guest can choose her hotel room, make reservations, and with a face scan, get access to the elevator, be delivered to the right floor, and get in her guestroom.
Staff Engagement Via App
According to Harvard Business Review, companies that use apps to communicate with “dispersed workers” stand to reduce turnover and increase productivity. In fact, top-quartile engagement companies have 25-65% lower turnover, 21% higher productivity, and 22% higher profitability. Further, HBR notes that research shows that a mobile employee app dramatically improves internal communication, especially among middle managers and reduces wasted time.
Room Choice via App
Hilton has chosen to bolster its rewards programs by enhancing app functionality specifically for loyalty members. The Hilton app allows Hilton Honors members to choose their specific room from a digital floor plan, as well as to upgrade and request specific amenities to be delivered to the room before arrival. The brilliance is in handing the personalization of the stay directly to the guest, rather than guessing based on frequently incomplete CRM data.
AI-Powered Guest Engagement
Chatbots and digital concierge aren’t anything new. The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas has a well-known voice-activated assistance named Rose, and Edwardian Hotels has a hotel chatbot named Edward (Phocuswire). But we bring it up here because AI-powered guest engagement of all sorts—concierge, messaging, chatbots, and so forth—will achieve ubiquity in the next few years. This means hotels should be on top of a strategy for integrating these efforts. Most guests (80%) report positive experiences with chatbots, but the uses for chatbots haven’t quite been nailed just yet (HotelManagement). There’s room to grow.
Parking Gets a Makeover
Parking at urban hotels is expensive, so anything that makes the experience better will be welcome by guests, no doubt. Using smart sensors and an app, hotels can give guests the option to reserve parking spots in advance of their reservation and have a spot assigned upon arrival. According to Hotel Management, this saves hotels on labor costs of manually managing parking inventory and improves the guest experience—making this last bit of travel smoother and more assured. Sometimes the cost benefits are in the small things.
Blockchain technology is still largely in the exploratory phase in terms of the real tactical benefits for hotels. What blockchain does well is to offer one single source of truth about a transaction. Further, as Triptease notes, “If hotel booking transactions were to be removed from the control of siloed systems and placed in a decentralised blockchain then, theoretically, transactions would get easier and cheaper – with the savings (in an ideal world) passed on to the ultimate end user, the guest.” Blockchain companies are rolling out booking apps for independent hotels, loyalty programs, and payment processing functionalities. Travelport, for instance, has launched a blockchain tool to solve inefficiencies in the commission payment process between hotels and travel agencies (TodaysHotelier). We’ll look for more strategic uses for Blockchain apps in the next few years, solutions that will, no doubt, save hotels money and create efficiencies.
Room Service Reinvented
Room service has long been a resource drain for hotels, so much so that a big part of the conversation around room service the last few years has been whether or not to continue with the offering at all. With consumers all over delivery services these days, hotels can integrate the delivery services into their room service plan, whether it’s replacing room service altogether or scaling back hours and filling in with food delivery apps. According to Phocuswire, some brands are allowing guests to earn loyalty points for in-room dining orders or to use points for food delivery. Further “while there are challenges related to third-party delivery – such as logistical questions around whether deliveries go directly to rooms or to the hotel lobby – whether to pursue a shared payment model, most hotels recognize this growing trend as both inevitable and necessary to satisfy guests and preserve their margins.”
The Path to Innovation During Economic Setbacks
Harvard research shows that hotels that balance investments with cutbacks fare better in the long term after an economic downturn. Investing in API-first systems (those that allow hotels not only access to a hotel app store but also the ability to create exactly the applications they want) is the kind of investment that helps hotels innovate even when funds are stretched during lean economic periods. A quick read-through of the apps above shows that below the surface of most apps are efficiencies and greater profitability, but just as important, guests are expecting hotels to continue moving forward. A hotel with the same technology today as in one year can’t possibly stay competitive. Hotels that, rather than investing in legacy systems or bulky technologies that require large sums of time and energy, invest in the agility of fully integratable technologies will have more opportunities at their fingertips—and so will their guests.