By Avukile Mabombo
It's well known that technology is only as useful as the user (and the purposes for which it is being used). The many uses of technology in business present fantastic opportunities to tap into broader markets and opportunities; it's an enabler that should be embraced, and that's the message the UNWTO is driving in this year's World Tourism Day's theme: transformative technology in tourism. Disrupting an industry
Technology isn't simply what happens inside your computer or mobile device, it governs every aspect of what we're doing, having an impact on sustainability initiatives, resource management, community empowerment and opportunity creation for SMEs. Of course, it's also providing access to remarkable industry advances via data-driven analysis and insights and, quite recently, the increasing influence of AI and the rise of the Smart Hotel Room. The benefits are immense, for both hospitality professionals and travellers on the receiving end, for whom the Visitor Experience is enhanced.
The trick is to ensure that all technology enhancements are seamlessly introduced, and that they don't complicate the experience for visitors: there's no sense rolling out a complex app that only a small percentage of users will be able to fully grasp – to do so would be at the risk of alienating a large proportion of your customer base. For example, Amazon recently announced that they'd be pulling back on AI-driven apps in favour of rules-based chatbots, following feedback that their voice-based AI apps had trouble in getting to the right information when interacting with customers, while rules-based chatbots have a much higher success rate in getting from A to B. Besides the technological solutions, it's also imperative to maintain human assistants for those customers who prefer the human touch, as well as for interactions that go beyond the typical request for information.
Technology's role in hospitality has meant the creation of jobs within the sector; far from replacing humans, it's provided a whole new sphere of work for designers, coders and managers, in addition to increased opportunities for jobs such as social media and community management. It allows for more direct communication with your customers, in turn, allowing you to address any shortcomings in business as well as to create tailored marketing campaigns according to customer preferences. Built to last
When it comes to sustainability, we're not just talking about the natural environment, the entire hospitality ecosystem must be built on sustainability principles, and tech advances allow for greater opportunities to do this, from building environmentally-friendly hotels to tapping into alternative resources such as solar power or water-friendly solutions. In addition, innovative approaches to waste disposal and recycling can go a long way towards reducing a property's carbon footprint. For SMEs that work directly with the hospitality industry as suppliers or service providers, innovative solutions can ensure that there's no interruption to the supply chain and provide flexibility so that spending is kept under control. That provides the hotel with the chance to work in more integrated fashion with local communities, so the benefits of having a hotel in a neighbourhood are evenly spread, from employment opportunities to the use of locally-produced goods and services. Resource management is a necessary function for any property, and technology allows for enhanced measurement and ordering capabilities.
Ultimately, the UNWTO has quite rightly recognised the all-encompassing role of technology in driving this brave new world of hospitality, and it's essential to embrace it, find out how to use it to enable your business and speak the language of your customers, whose expectations are constantly evolving.