December is almost gone and, as usual, we found ourselves in that inspiring state of mind in which it is all about New Year’s resolutions. Sure, in 2018 we all will walk 10,000 steps a day, lose those final extra five pounds and start meditating. But for people like me and you (working in the hospitality industry), this is not only the time of the year when we openly lie to ourselves but the one when we all play the Guess Who? game. And the question is always the same: what will the Next Big Thing be this year?
Here are five trends that are worth keeping an eye on.
Almost 5,000 rooms at Wynn Las Vegas are already voice-activated via Amazon Echo. Meanwhile, Hilton is beta testing its first mobile-centric hotel room, where guests can control temperature, lightning, blinds, thermostat and TVs with just a tap on their phones. Similarly, Marriott is about to soft-launch its “Internet of Things room”, offering services like mirrors with on-demand yoga tutorials and digital frames to upload friends and family photos during one’s stay.
The trend is pretty clear: in 2018 AI, domotic and IoT will bring the concept of personalization to a level that was unthinkable just five years ago. Guests can now resume their favorite Netflix series right where they left off or play their favourite Spotify playlist as soon as they check in.
Bed sensors will know when they are awake or asleep and optimize the room temperature and lightning accordingly. We may be tempted to think that this all sounds like the plot from a cheap sci-fi novel from the 50’s, but by the time you finished reading this paragraph, 200 doors were unlocked by a digital key at Hilton.
Operation management softwares
Improving the quality of staff interaction in hotels has never been as important as it is today. Ping-pong communication between departments is, sadly, more the norm than the exception and, in order to stay competitive, hotels will have to review their workflows.
The good news is that advancements in technology, cloud computing and more scalable third-party API integrations with PMS and CRM made operation management software relatively affordable, so smaller independent hotels will be finally able to benefit from solutions such as Roomchecking, Quore and Properly. Implementing real-time tools to improve guest satisfaction and facilitate team communication is not an option any longer, not even for “laggards”.
Big data and CRMs
Remember when all a reservation office had to do was answering to phone calls and emails? Well, those days are long gone. Today’s guests interact through a ridiculously high number of contact points: review sites, social media, real-time messaging apps and OTAs, so it’s getting harder for hoteliers to be reactive on all channels 24/7. That is why customer relationship management systems will have to reshape themselves in 2018, by shifting from overcomplicated tools in the hands of S&M departments exclusively to easy-to-interpret centralized hubs accessible to every department.
A good CRM system will have to process data from all sources and present a clear and readable recap of each guest needs, tastes and shopping habits. “Experiential marketing”, “tailor-made service” and “personalization” are nothing but overused buzzwords if hotels fail to correctly aggregate and exploit data. Companies such as Cendyn, Data Vision Tech and Experience Hotel, just to name a few, are shifting more and more to this centralized approach.
Mobile and predictive apps
“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’” predicted Philip K. Dick. And he was right. Mobile devices are virtually present in any micro-moment of the booking journey: from research to planning, from booking to post-stay experience sharing, guests depend almost entirely on their phones. They expect to find multiple electrical outlets and USB charging points in their rooms and they want to be able to do more with their mobile devices than just calling an Uber.
On top of that, travellers are more and more relying on their phones to get suggestions as well. Trips, Google’s Travel Assistant, is the perfect example: travellers simply have to connect the app to their email account and Trips will pull all the information about past and future hotels, restaurants, flights and taxi reservations automatically, suggesting things to do in the area, where to eat or drink and creating itineraries based on historical data from other users of the app.
According to Google, Trips will implement more proactive suggestions (à-la-Google Now) in the future, with other companies like Mezi adopting the same predictive approach. And if it is true that the EU General Data Protection Regulation lurks in the shadows like the character of a Lovecraft story, on the other side I doubt that travellers will easily give up to this kind of personalization in favour of more privacy.
Bots and conversational marketing
That being said, it is easy to understand why 2018 will be the year of bots. With more than 100,000 active ones on Facebook Messenger only, the technology behind chatbots will become more and more scalable and affordable even for smaller companies. In fact, today a chatbot is an efficient yet inexpensive way for hoteliers to interact with their guests (and potential ones) during each step of the booking journey.
AI conversational marketing is probably the best way to connect with your customers, as it provides them highly targeted and pertinent messages in real-time. This means staffing cost saving for the hotels and better UX for the customers. Tell The Hotel, for example, is a chatbot that can be easily integrated with virtually any CRS, helping potential customers to get immediate answers, book a room or manage their existing reservation without the need to talk to a human being.
I am not magician, nor a fortune teller, so it’s hard to state without a doubt that these will actually be the hot topics of 2018, but of one thing I am certain: I will walk 10,000 steps a day, lose those final extra five pounds and start meditating.