Technology is changing the way people travel. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. These days, people seem to like getting things done at the snap of a finger, to be able to talk to other people instantaneously regardless of where they are, and even have their personalities and favourite things reflected wherever they go. So, it could very well be these that are shaping the role of technology in tourism. Either way, we’ve come a long way from the days of postcards and long-distance telephone calls.
When your colleague goes off on vacation you might consider yourself lucky if you are able to reach them for a quick phone call in the case of a dire emergency. That’s how things used to be. But now, as Ooredoo’s CEO Najib Khan points out “there is a really thin line between work and leisure. Therefore, when guests come to a resort for leisure, they still want to be connected to the other world.”
This need for connectivity is one aspect of it; another is efficiency, not so much on the part of the hotel in this instance, but on the part of the guest. “Guests need to be more in control of their surroundings and feel more efficient,” explains G. Rajasekaran, senior IT manager of the tech-savvy St.Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort while speaking on the topic of how guests nowadays look for an all-integrated system that provides simple access to a myriad functions.
A handful of resorts in the Maldives such as Cheval Blanc Randheli, Amilla Fushi and St.Regis Maldives Vommuli are already using iPads as a simple Guest User Interface (GUI), which lets guests control various features of their surroundings such as blinds, lights, temperature and even perform tasks such as booking activities, checking information, order in-room dining, and checking billing status with just a simple tap.
The new mantras
And then comes Hyper-personalisation, the hard-to-miss mantra when it comes to the current digital transformation of the hospitality industry. Personalisation is nothing new as guests receiving special treatment on birthdays and honeymooning couples finding their beds decorated with flowers are the norm. But with guest expectations coupled with the technologies at hand, things have levelled up. And as Rajasekaran says: “businesses need to not only meet their [clients’] expectations, but anticipate and inspire their decisions, to truly become a valued part of their lives.”
So what does hyper-personalisation mean? On a smaller scale, it means when guests arrive at their rooms they have access to their music collections whether on Spotify or iTunes, they can continue watching their Netflix episodes right from the point they left off back home and so on. But it also takes place at a larger scale as Sofwan Ahmed, director at the technology contractor Keiretsu explains: “As soon as a guest enters a room, the room is set to a certain temperature, the guest’s preferred light settings are recorded, food preferences are recorded, all in order to provide a personalised experience. This is where the world is headed and it has been implemented at a handful of resorts here in the Maldives as well.”
Data analytics and automation are the keywords that come into play when talking about hyper-personalisation. And data analy-tics in particular, can contribute immensely to the Maldivian tourism industry in particular, as Khan explains: “Data analytics can really be useful for the benefit of the customer as many of the guests we see here, frequently visit the same resort.”
The non-human efficiency
As for automation, the implications extend outside of providing a personalised experience to the guests. “For a resort to be efficient, for tourism to be an efficient industry, it needs technology because it will bring down the cost of operations,” explains Khan. This is exactly what it does and a lot of it has to do with managing energy consumption.
In most guest rooms, lights and air conditioners are the appliances that consume the most energy. “Everything from the door lock of a guest room is part of an ecosystem,” says Sofwan. “When a guest checks in, a specific scene is initiated in the room. When a staff walks in, for example for housekeeping, the energy consumption is kept at what’s necessary, and when the room is unoccupied it goes to sleep, and because of this you save on a lot of energy,” explains Keiretsu’sdirector Shiraz Musthafa.
Automation, of course, extends to many resort backend features. One such area is human resource management. The CEO of System Solutions Ahmed Saeed explains how an app, such as their HR Matrix, allows resort professionals to manage on the go. “Meaning staff don’t have to be confined to their desks and they don’t have to go to the HR and stand in a particular line. The app allows employees to send any requests they would otherwise send through emails, and a lot of paperwork and a lot of time is saved on both the HR side as well as on the staff side as well.” Apps like these take care of everything from salary sheets, bank letters, and leave applications and pensions, increasing internal efficiency while minimising manual system errors.
Another resort backend feature that’s poised to be super-efficient is the engineering department. Previously, an engineering department would spring into action once a complaint is received. But now, things are more proactive and preventive. “We have developed tools, which are remote maintenance tools,” explains Khan. “Since most of the equipment is IP based, we should be able to monitor them proactively. This is where we are moving, where more and more interfaces will be with tools and backend machines. If all the equipment on the resort are on an IP layer, the command centre can proactively see that there is an issue coming in and then heal, rectify and restore it.”
Building a brain
The future entails a couple of more buzzwords that we’re becoming familiar with; IoT or Internet of Things, which allows physical objects like lights and curtains to communicate with each other and the sci-fi sounding term ‘artificial intelligence’.
“Artificial intelligence will rule future hospitality technology in Maldives,” says Rajasekaran. And the sentiment is echoed by Shiraz who explains how IoT together with artificial intelligence function like a human brain. “We call it a brain box to which a lot of devices or sensors are connected. The messages from the devices are sent to the brain box and it makes a decision, similar to how the human brain makes decisions based on various stimuli.”
With this new brain of the future coupled with everything else that’s happening in the technological arena, it’s probably safe to say that the hospitality industry is all set to become one that functions with super-efficiency, minimal errors and an intelligence of its own.