New technologies in the hotel sector

By Rebecca Clarke

01-2019

The days of rummaging around in your bag for your plastic hotel room key card may be over. New technologies are presenting fantastic new opportunities in the hotel sector, but it is important that they are used carefully - both from a legal and commercial perspective. We take a closer look at three new technologies that are on the up in the hotel sector:

Virtual Assistant
Case study: Amazon’s Alexa For Hospitality

The virtual assistant from Amazon, Alexa, has become a household name in recent years. Amazon has now introduced a hotel-customised version, 'Alexa For Hospitality'.

Alexa For Hospitality is customised to each hotel location and provides information on, for example, the nearest restaurants and where to get the best coffee. It is also able to control air-con, adjust the lighting and order room service and can act as a directory for the hotel, providing information on the location of, for example,the gym or the bar.

Hotels will be able to access analytics in order to measure engagement or to customise the available offering. It is not exactly clear how much information hotels are given as part of these analytics, but it could provide hotels with a much better insight into what their guests want.

This new technology brings with it new issues to consider. As we are  well aware, if you have an Echo device, Alexa is always listening. This raises the issue of who has access to records of the queries being posed to an Alexa device in the privacy of a guest’s hotel room. Amazon says that such records are deleted daily (unlike Echo devices linked to personal accounts), but could Amazon still record and offer hotels access to records of guests' interactions if they wished?

In addition, Amazon says any personal account linked to an Echo device in a hotel room will be automatically disconnected when a guest checks out. Human error and technical issues could both mean that guests are not successfully logged out, which could be problematic.

The risk of malfunctions is also present. It was recently reported that Alexa recorded a private conversation of a couple, without being instructed to do so, and sent a transcript of the conversation to the couple's friend. Similar freak incidents could occur, which could be a headache for both Amazon and the hotel involved.

Self-service check-in and mobile keys
Case study: OpenKey

We already have the ability to access our hotel rooms through a Bluetooth-enabled room key operated through an app on our smartphones, meaning no more misplaced or broken key cards. 

The OpenKey mobile app also replaces the traditional check-in system by providing web check-in through the app, so you can arrive at your hotel, bypass reception and go straight to your room, armed with an app that can tell you your room number, when the room will be ready, and  open the door. It has been used by big hotel brands and boutique hotels alike. If guests arrive ahead of check-in at their hotel, the app alerts them when they can head to their room or when their luggage has been placed in their room.

OpenKey also offers big data analytics to customers. This can be a huge benefit to hotels; they can begin to better understand their guests (how far in advance of check-in do guests usually arrive? How much uptake is the new technology getting? Is it worth investing further or not?), as well as enabling better communication with guests.

Despite the obvious benefits to this technology there are potential difficulties. Vulnerability of data could be an issue. Such apps will contain data relating to their guests' stays, which are not exempt from the threat of potential hacking. Before the app, guests' information would have been stored on a company’s booking system; with systems like OpenKey all information will also be in an app on the guest’s own device.

There is also a question mark over whether this technology will be available for bookings made through OTAs, as the hotel may not have the necessary data about the guest for the technology to function as intended; the requisite data may instead be held by the OTA.

Personalisation

By using customer data, AI and machine learning, hotels are driving customer engagement through personalising elements of their guests' experience. One way this technology has been put to use is through personalised marketing materials; data from a hotel's CRM database can be used to target customers who regularly eat at the restaurant or stay for business with personalised, more relevant promotions.  

Before using this new technology, and especially in a post-GDPR world, it has never been more important for businesses to have the correct customer consents in place before sending direct marketing to their customers. It is crucial, if hotels wish to offer a more personalised service in this way, that they comply with data protection law in doing so.

Despite its innovation, personalisation is still viewed with a level of suspicion. It is therefore important not to take things too far, to prevent the experience changing from being viewed as a positive one to a negative one.

What's next?

There is a huge amount of material out there about the way new technology is being used in the hotel industry, which only goes to demonstrate the industry's interest in this area. There will, of course, be legal implications for these new technologies being used in hotels, whether it is in relation to the data being processed as part of their operations or contracts for new software.

We hope this has provided a useful insight into the changes afoot in the industry.