By Alan Young

Two decades ago, if I were to have asked you what the world would look like in 2020, what would you have said? Would you have anticipated the steady rise of self-service technology, tools allowing for instant gratification across all aspects of our life, and artificial intelligence? The autonomous vehicle? The seemingly endless runway of possibility stretches before us, with the help of cutting-edge platforms that were once merely a futuristic concept?

Moreover, what predictions would you have offered up for travel? While our industry is always subject to change and, most would argue, has been on an upward trajectory of tech-influenced evolution the last few years, I can’t help but feel that we are on the precipice of innovation.

Admittedly, this new decade will represent an exciting and transformative era for hospitality. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a snapshot of the technology and trends that are setting the stage for 2020 and beyond.

Pop-Up Hotels

Airbnb has long since disrupted the traditional hospitality experience, tapping into the modern guest demand for unique, boutique experiences. But, what if I told you there existed another novel alternative that seemingly bridges the gap between both accommodation styles?

Recognizing the appeal of Airbnb-style rental units, along with the influx of vacant units within newly-built luxury apartment buildings, the idea of ‘pop-up’ hotels was born. Last year, WhyHotel was introduced to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, taking advantage of new apartment buildings that had yet to fill up with tenants, but could offer temporary guests incredible amenities, brand new accommodations, and a unique, home experience.

WhyHotel appeals to prospective guests with a promise of enhanced square footage (725 square feet, on average, versus 300), brand new furnishings, full kitchens, fast WiFi, and 24/7 onsite staff, all at a reasonable cost.

The booking and check-in process is similar to that of any hotel, as guests receive email notifications with all pertinent information and details of their stay. Upon arrival, guests are buzzed up to the “Sky Lobby,” which, in this case, is a two-bedroom unit furnished, much like a high-end lobby, on whichever floor the first hotel unit starts on. The lobby offers guests 24-hour service, coffee, water, snacks, along with a local “city host.”

Biometrics for Hotels and Travel

Mobile check-in is hardly a new concept, but hoteliers will be taking it a step further with the introduction of biometric technology.

Consider this: over 25 million passengers in the U.S. were scanned using facial recognition, ushering in a new era of traveler authentication. From digital fingerprint recognition to retinal scanning for facial recognition, biometric technology promises a faster, frictionless, and more secure way for guests to check in to their hotel of choice.

As for the event industry, besides the adoption at the event registration or check-in counter, facial recognition technology is being used to create privilege experience at showroom or exhibition booths.

This technology also plays an integral role in enhancing payment security, as guests can expect to use their fingerprint and facial recognition to confirm identities during the payment process. This would eliminate the need for plastic cards (which can be lost or duplicated) across the hospitality experience.

Nomad-Friendly Alternative Accommodations

Also, riding the wave of alternative hospitality experiences that blur the lines between home and hotel is nomad-friendly accommodations focused on group travel. Domio, founded in 2016 in New York City, is a notable example. The technology platform offers apartment hotels, also known as “apart hotels” to traveling groups, that are advertised as upscale yet affordable, more spacious, and more tech-friendly than boutique hotels.

Domio’s target demographic ranges from families traveling together to companies looking to host teams of employees for a business trip or conference. The accommodations are typically five times bigger and 25% cheaper than the average hotel room and built-in newer or completely new buildings, where developers are considering an option like Domio as an alternative to selling as condominiums or apartments. Domio also makes use of an algorithm to identify regions it wants to build and is currently working on an app that will be “the epicenter of how guests interact with booking places and managing their experience once there.”

In the same category, Selina, dubbed, “the digital nomad hotel of the future,” is a fast-growing hospitality brand offering co-working and accommodation under one roof in nomad-friendly locations in 14 countries around the world. The company raised $345M from DD3 Capital Partners, Access Industries, and Abraaj Group. “We believe Selina’s focus on building a global hospitality platform for digital nomads will redefine the way millennials live, work, play, learn and give back,” said Lincoln Benet of Access Industries, in a statement.

Autonomous Vehicle Sightseeing & Experiences

Gone are the days of guided bus tours across a cityscape; at least, that’s the future which Autoura is steadily creating for modern travelers. This should come as no surprise, as over the past year, industry leaders have frequently cited self-driving vehicles and blockchain as the next significant industry-wide invention to make and break companies. Robot-taxi services, such as the partnership between ride-hailing leader Lyft and Dublin-based Aptiv deployed a fleet of 30 self-driving BMWs in Las Vegas in 2018. Similarly, French manufacturer Navya, and AAA launched small driverless tours and shuttle buses in Las Vegas and have been scooting around Switzerland and Singapore for a couple of years. London’s Heathrow Airport has transported passengers in autonomous “pods” since 2011 and the Australian Intellibus completed a three-month successful pilot. Toyota and others have also developed concepts of self-driving and fully electric vehicles that can serve interchangeably as ride-sharing, delivery van, mobile store, office, restaurant, even a hotel room.

As autonomous vehicles began to disrupt the market, Autoura saw the opportunity to transition from human-driven tour buses to smaller autonomous vehicles offering unique sightseeing experiences. Although still in early stages, Autoura has made it their mission to build a technology platform that allows for the global implementation of autonomous vehicle sightseeing, and thus revolutionizes the way people get from point A to point B for business and pleasure.

Connected Smart Trip Experiences

Specific themes are underlying the technology making an impact on our industry right now, namely convenience, personalization, and ease of use. With respect to hotels, guests not only expect luxury provided through picturesque grounds, unique accommodations, and cutting-edge amenities — they also expect to enjoy the comforts of home. With this in mind, “connected” rooms and experiences have begun to take over the hospitality landscape.

Leveraging IoT technology, hoteliers are offering guests a range of intelligent solutions built-in to their stay, from keyless locks to voice-activated assistants, iPad controlled thermostats and personalized room settings, predictive repairs and maintenance, and more.

Right on trend, signed a one-year partnership with Google Nest this past month, to help build a more “connected trip experience” for travelers and property hosts. The partnership offers U.S. travelers a free Nest device when they spend more than $150, which can be used for information on flight times, weather, local information, translation capabilities, and more.

In 2017, the Wynn Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas was the first to implement Amazon Echos in all of its guest rooms, which allowed guests to utilize voice commands to open the curtains, turn on the lights, activate TVs and control the temperature of their rooms. Recently major chains, like Hilton Hotels, have also launched IoT powered apps that allow for guests to control their room settings remotely. This ensures the room remains at the perfect temperature and prepared for guests’ return at their preferred settings.

Our industry has undergone tremendous disruption over the past decade, and 2020 shows no sign of slowing down. And if one thing is for sure, it’s this: These trends that are at the forefront of hospitality innovation, are only the beginning.