By Paul Van Meerendonk
Who didn't love the '90s? We had pagers, Spice Girls, video rental stores and paid for our internet connection by the minute. Two decades ago, a household would temporarily sacrifice their only phone line just to connect one stationary device to the World Wide Web. Today, it's difficult to count the number of devices simultaneously connected to the internet in a single home. From TVs, thermostats, doorbells, cameras, lighting, voice-controlled assistants, tablets and mobile devices, a family of four could easily have upward of 20 connected "things"—hence we now have the Internet of Things (IoT).
A study conducted by Statista estimates over the last four years, IoT-connected devices will have grown by over 33 percent by the end of 2018 for a total of 23.1 billion devices connected worldwide. And over the next four years that number is forecasted to nearly double and total over 42.6 billion by 2022. That would mean there will be over five connected devices for every human, and that average number gets much higher considering only half of the world's population has readily available internet access.
Technology continues to push the boundaries of what is possible, and as a result, more and more of it becomes a fixture in our daily lives. Four years is a short period of time for an install base to nearly double in size. It's why machine-to-machine communication will continue to exponentially grow, leading to more opportunities for efficiency in every industry.
IoT is Checking In
Travel and hospitality, specifically, are working on many different approaches to take advantage of this technology spike. Not only do hotels need to think about how they can invest in technology to elevate the guest experience, but they must also be cognizant of the need for seamless connection of guest devices to their technology. Most of the technology a guest uses will be brought into the hotel by the guest, not supplied by the hotel. So, the end goal for hotels needs to be ease of use, speed of access and monetization of the guest's digital journey from their own devices.
This has already manifested with tailored booking experiences, voice-controlled, in-room assistants, property-specific mobile apps and chatbot concierge services appearing at hotels, but technology also needs to enable efficiency on the business side as well as the consumer side. With better technology comes improved productivity and more hoteliers overseeing multiple properties, working remotely and automating mundane tasks to create more time for strategic activity. This means less time at a desk or a single property and more time on the go.
When it comes to revenue technology in the hospitality industry, the goal is still ease of use and speed of access, but more importantly, it is also the ease of access to vast amounts of consumable data. This makes revenue technology ripe for interfacing with IoT devices to effortlessly access more data insights.
Powerful revenue management solutions (RMS) bring together multiple sources of market data and layer that on top of hotel-specific data like actuals, forecasts and budgets. When your technology stack is seamlessly integrated, your RMS pulls data from multiple systems and builds a strategy it pushes back out to those systems. That in itself is impressive, but now imagine you have all that connected power in the palm of your hand or at the command of your voice.
Of course, there isn't even a need to imagine because this "science fiction" has become the new reality. We've seen mobile phones' primary function change drastically over the last ten years. How often do you use your smartphone to make an actual phone call?
Revenue technology is following the evolution of the mobile phone. What once was just a rate-setting and forecasting tool is now the convergence of all data insights you need to influence revenue productivity, whether at your desk, on the road or at home. An RMS visualizes thousands of data points, and an RMS mobile app or voice-enabled assistant, like Amazon's Alexa, make access to that data simple, convenient and possible from anywhere with an internet connection.
Software development has always had to consider the user experience. You have limited real estate on a computer monitor or mobile phone screen to provide the right features or capabilities to a user. Friendly user interfaces (UI) have become requisite for optimal adoption and a quick return on investment. However, when the work environment becomes the backseat of a taxi, the lounge at an airport or kitchen counter while preparing dinner, how do you optimize the UI? Hotel technology in today's world must challenge the status quo and think outside the box, or rather, the computer screen.
The New UI is No UI
As hotels adopt cloud technology and bring their systems and data together into one autonomous platform, the challenge becomes accessing the right data at the exact moment of need. Natural-language processing, like the technology behind Alexa or Google Assistant, make that possible. Voice search or voice commands have proliferated since the advent of Siri on Apple's iOS, and Amazon, Google and others have only expanded that reach with smart-speaker devices.
For revenue management technology, the opportunities are limitless. Owners and general managers no longer need logins to a system they access once a month, nor do they need to be trained on how to view hotel performance within the software. Now, they can communicate with the voice-controlled assistant sitting on their desk and never have to remember a rarely used password again.
Even internal meetings become more efficient and productive. Hotels no longer need to run standard reports for standing meetings every day. They can literally ask their technology to recite that information to them at each meeting. Now, a voice-enabled system can save employees time and resources while still providing key performance metrics whenever called upon. It's your personalized on-command data assistant with immediate access to historical, future and market data.
Because an RMS typically stores hotel performance data that can be compared against the last year, forecast and budget, it also provides unparalleled insight for financial stakeholders like controllers and finance officers. They no longer need to seek out someone with RMS access or learn to generate a report themselves. Simple voice commands allow them to obtain the comparative data they need to assess performance in real time.
Of course, revenue strategy leaders stand to benefit as much as anyone else. Not only does this technology make them more efficient in their responsibilities, but it empowers their colleagues and departments to access the data they need, when they need it. It helps promote revenue awareness across an organization by the simple fact that the information is so easily accessible.
Ideal Technology Promotes Ideal Behavior
Automated revenue technology paired with a voice-enabled interface may modify the rules for user experience design, but it totally changes the game for hotel revenue strategy. Security and user configurations allow administrative users to enable the appropriate data-access permissions for each persona that then applies to any device. Data that once had limited access can now be made available to all appropriate teams and roles without having to train and educate each individual user because they will interface through technology already used in their daily lives.
Human interaction with technology is evolving as fast as the technology itself. A hotel's path to success will involve investing in the right innovative technology that enables both an enhanced experience for their guests and their employees. This means, as we become more mobile and more connected, we need tools that take us to the next inevitable step in this technological journey.
Everyone has moments of genuine shock, and even uncertainty, when they experience new technology. Remember the disruption of the MP3 player in the late '90s—or Tickle Me Elmo? Who saw that coming? Thankfully, voice-enabled technology is less about shock and more about "where has this natural extension of my revenue strategy been all my life?". Now is the time to start thinking about how the latest sci-fi tech breakthrough can realistically make your revenue strategy even more productive and profitable.
Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com