Digital Trends of 2018

As for now, there’s no record of a tourist ever teleporting to a destination and no one has ever dined at a restaurant in Mars. But as we explore the digital trends that will possibly take shape in the global hospitality industry in the year 2018, sci-fi notions of intergalactic travel and meaningful friendships between humans and robots don’t seem too far off. This article first appeared in our print Issue No. 3.

“Imagine a world where the room knows you and you know your room,” Hilton chief executive officer Christopher J. Nassetta said last year at Skift Global Forum. The digital transformation of the hospitality industry is largely centred on this, the hyper personalisation of experiences for every individual guest. Other than that, digital advancements are increasingly allowing hotel brands to make processes faster, cut down on costs, and capitalise on the very specific needs of today’s traveller. 

Mobile phones as door keys

It used to be just an ordinary key, then it evolved into a piece of metal, and now guests can enter their rooms by simply using their mobile phones. With major brands such as Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt and Intercontinental leading the way, we can expect more and more hotel brands to embrace this trend. 

Hilton debuted it’s mobile app based Digital Key way back in 2014, and although the rollout took it’s time, the feature is currently being used in its properties in the UK as well as throughout the brand’s entire portfolio of properties in North America. Similarly, Marriott is offering the same function via its app based Mobile Key. 

While some have voiced concerns over the possibility of hackers entering rooms by hijacking mobile devices, Hilton and Marriott among other companies maintain that their technology is secure. 

Minimal human interactions

Mobile phones do not just open doors; they are allowing travellers to do a myriad of things such as choose their room, check-in, choose pillows, order room service, book facilities such as the gym and so on by a simple tap on a screen.

With most major brands already invested in such technologies, it’s quite likely that this year we’ll see more and more guests being able to plan, book, enjoy many aspects of the vacation and travel back home without having to talk to too many living humans at all.  

Talking to an AI instead

While it looks like human interactions are about to take somewhat of a backseat, AI powered apps and technologies are taking on a range of communicative roles. 

Marriot has been using AI powered chat bots at around 5,000 properties to attend to things such as making changes to reservation, checking account balances and redemption vouchers while at the Cosmopolitan at Las Vegas, guests can text a robot named Rose to have their needs met fast.

Those welcome booklets and pamphlets offered to guests at check-in are set to slowly disappear as well as AI powered apps and technologies take their place, and guests can simply access the information whenever they need to by using their mobile phones.

Internet of Things and hyper personalised service

Many hotels use the Internet of Things (IoT) to control thermostats; for cooling and heating rooms at check-in and check-out times and hence cutting down cooling and heating costs. But the potential for IoT lies way beyond temperature control. The more information a hotel can gather about a guest, the better it can provide a hyper personalised service. This year we can expect to see more and more hotels take advantage of data to track a range of factors that can help with personalisation such as guest habits, preferences, interests, reason for travel and date of last stay. 

Hilton and Marriot have both turned to IoT to transform the hotel room experience. “With this room type, we’re experimenting with technology that not only anticipates your needs, but also personalizes the experience for you,” said Marriott senior vice president of global design strategies Karim Khalifa.

Last year, Hilton beta tested its Smart Room in a handful of hotels and this year, we are set to see the hotel expand this feature to more hotels. 

Virtual Reality as a sales tool

Virtual Reality (VR) applications are largely entertainment based but the business world is gradually coming to terms with the multitude of prospects it presents. 

For hotel brands, VR presents the unique opportunity of transporting potential guests digitally to their hotels, allowing them to experience a snippet of the destination and what they could expect of their stay, all from the comforts of their own living rooms. 

Although VR in hospitality is still in its early stages, the technology has immense potential as an amazing selling tool that can easily replace promotional brochures and videos because of its ability to deliver detail and interactivity like no other technology out there.