By Raj Singh, CEO, Go Moment
As I think about what to get excited about at HSMAI’s Digital Marketing Strategy Conference 2019 taking place later this month in New York, the fast-evolving guest experience comes to mind. And, of course, hotel guest experience in 2019 will be enabled by more and better technologies. Here’s what I see trending:
The Impact of Voice-Enabled Intelligent Assistants
Smartphones already come with voice-activated assistance built-in. Amazon recently revealed it had sold over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices. Google announced that 1 Billion devices support its Assistant product. This news validates that people are not only getting used to giving voice commands to their phones but that they want to control everything with their voice. “By 2022, Juniper Research predicts that Americans will be using nearly 900 million voice-assistant-enabled devices across smartphones, tablets, PCs, speakers, TVs and cars, a 95% increase over today,” writes NPR’s CMO Meg Goldthwaite in Ad Age.
Think about the implications of this. Consumer adoption of AI has finally reached a tipping point. People’s behaviors and expectations of technology-enablement are changing once again, especially when the technology – voice-activation — is so easy to use that it doesn’t feel “techie” at all. Google’s data shows that 70% of Google Assistant requests are expressed in natural language and that one in three people globally will use digital assistants to search for and book travel. In fact, just this week, Google announced that it had added hotel booking and flight check-in for U.S. users of Google Assistant. According to Phocuswright, as many as 35% of those age 18 – 34 and 28% of 35 – 54-year-olds are already using smartphone digital assistants to book their hotels.
What guests are already doing with their smartphones and in-home devices, they also want to do in their hotel rooms. As early as 2016, Aloft hotels started integrating Siri voice-activation into their rooms. By May 2018, Microsoft’s voice assistant Cortana had a working integration with Alexa-enabled devices, and in June 2018, Amazon launched Alexa for Hospitality with Marriott onboard — guests can use their in-room Alexa to personalize their experiences and request hotel services. Hyatt and Google also just teamed up to bring Assistant to more hotel rooms. And at this month’s massive CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, voice tech was everywhere: from trash disposals and other household appliances to cars, televisions, and shower systems to name a few. Voice is where it’s at: when a trend proliferates at CES, we all better pay attention.
Innovative Technologies Will Continue to Disrupt Hospitality
When I think of hospitality disruption, my Top Three are artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), the Internet of Things, and voice. I just covered voice, so let’s discuss the other two. I recently wrote a piece, “A Guest-Centric Future Powered by AI,” in which I described how AI works and how it can be used to automate and simplify many of the rote volume tasks that hotels have to contend with every day. These days, guests value their experience above all else. AI can also be used to improve guest experiences by anticipating and delivering useful content, extracting useful guest feedback, and drastically expediting service.
Because the programs informed by AI are capable of improving over time, they can continue to improve the speed, quality, and relevancy of guest communications. This learning power makes AI an incredible tool for accelerating predictive analysis and decision-making. Think of all the various decisions hotel management contends with on a routine basis. Decisions about pricing and revenue optimization, inventory management, marketing, staffing, guest services and more. Then imagine having the hard, predictive work already done. Management can make decisions faster, or, in some cases, have decisions fully automated and already put into action. AI even learns from and avoids the repeating of bad decisions, something that’s sometimes hard to teach to its human counterparts.
When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT) and its application in hospitality, I’ve already referenced the emerging appearance of intelligent assistants in hotels. Connected devices guests already use at home and in their own lives — smart thermostats and room lighting, smartwatches and fitness monitors, mobile-activated keyless entry, wireless headsets, smart TVs, even medical and safety alert devices – are also beginning to be offered at hotels. Hotels are also concepting useful IoT that guests might want but which they do not find at home — things that will further surprise and delight them: A wall-length smart mirror in front of which they can do their morning core-toning regime and on which their vital signs appear. A projected keyboard that turns the in-room smart TV into a fully-functioning work station without the guest having to lug a laptop on vacation. A smart wine dispenser that pours a perfect glass of wine that’s ready by the time the guest merely opens the door. This is the kind of enhanced hotel stay future we can expect with IoT.
Advancing personalization while managing consumer trust and GDPR
Personalization has been an elusive holy grail for the travel industry. What guest wouldn’t want an experience that wasn’t completely and perfectly customized for them, right? The problem is that this kind of perfect personalization is still nearly impossible to pull off. There are too many disparate data sources, too many duplicative guest records, and guests are not yet ready to willingly part with all of their data in order to get the kind of personalization that we all imagine they want. Layer on top of this the new European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and very public data breaches like the one Marriott revealed late last year and delivering this kind of optimized personalization becomes even more of a challenge. The industry has to contend with both technical and consumer trust issues. Look for this to be a hot topic for both marketing and hotel operations.
As we look at the year ahead, it’s clear to see that the mounting pressure to provide extraordinary guest experiences will continue to force hospitality marketing and operations closer and closer together. As hoteliers continue to adopt and adapt to new technologies, they’ll be challenged to do so at an ever-faster pace. It makes for an interesting landscape, with a select few players having actually elevated the guest experience for tens of millions of guests. The interesting question to ponder at HSMAI may be, who will deliver a fully-connected and seamless guest experience to one billion guests first?