High Tech, High Touch: Creating a balanced hospitality experience

There was little doubt that, prior to COVID-19, technology was one of the core elements at the forefront of driving innovation in the lodging and hospitality industry. But it wasn’t the only factor. Increased demand for travel experiences, higher guest expectations, greater investment-backed entrepreneurship and, of course, a desire to both give and receive good old fashioned hospitality also played their part in modernising the hotel industry.

But it is the technology developments that have undoubtedly been – and continue to be – the real game-changer for hoteliers. Enabling a maximised guest experience, better customer understanding, improved product quality, increased standards and safety as well as reducing operational costs and increasing potential revenue are all made possible by innovations in tech.

Today, in a world and lodging industry much changed by the events of the last few months, the opportunities presented by technology for the hotel industry are immense, exciting, but also challenging. It can be confusing to work out what you may need, why you need it and exactly how technology will positively impact your business.

However, with everything in life, there is also a need for balance. This need is particularly important when it comes to technology and hospitality.

John Naisbitt, the celebrated futurist wrote in his 1999 book, ‘High Tech High Touch: Technology and Our Accelerated Search for Meaning’, “It is embracing technology that preserves our humanness and rejecting technology that intrudes upon it. It is recognizing that technology is an integral part of the evolution of culture, the creative product of our imaginations, our dreams and aspirations – and that the desire to create new technologies is fundamentally instinctive. But is also recognizing that art, story, play, religion, nature, and time are equal partners in the evolution of technology because they nourish the soul and fulfil its yearnings. It is expressing what it means to be human and employing technology fruitfully in that expression.”

This understanding that technology needs to be tempered with humanity is never more pertinent than in the sphere of travel and hospitality, and the issue of where we lay our heads to rest at night – especially when it is not in our own bed. We must look to adopt tech that heightens the very human experience of staying in a hotel, not diminishes it.

Technology can give guests many elements that truly elevate the guest experience (think property automation, keyless entry, remote check-in/out, digital guest books, personalization, instant communication) but according to a report by the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, 81% of travellers mention the quality of beds and the sleep experience as being the decisive factors when choosing a place to stay. As far as I’m aware we don’t (yet) have tech in mattresses or bedding; perhaps this is the next frontier in tech innovation for hoteliers. 

Emotion, perception, authenticity, connection and humanness (and a good bed) are just as important to the future of hospitality as technology developments. Today’s guests are looking for personalized experiences that are tailored to their individual needs and they want each of their interactions to be part of a seamless and continuous experience.

However, as tech-savvy as customers have become, and as the need to reduce human contact may continue, the majority of guests still prefer an element of ‘human touch’ when interacting with a hospitality provider. This is particularly true for the modern traveller where the emphasis is on the ‘experience’. They don’t want to feel like a commodity or that their needs are not unique and valid.

So, the main challenge for today’s hotelier is to improve the guest experience from an increasingly demanding and potentially more anxious guest who expects a High Tech High Touch experience, alongside making good business and operational decisions around technology adoption.

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