Hotels at the heart of the mobile revolution

BHN reporter Eloise Hanson explores the move towards a mobile-centric guest and staff experience within the hotel sector.

The political, economic, and social impact of the coronavirus is multifold. Essentially an international crisis is being managed nationally, with varying results for each country, its economy and its people. The pandemic therefore marks a pivotal epoch in global history, and is fundamentally reshaping our working and social lives. 

The hospitality industry, with social interaction at its core, became quickly and tightly gripped by the coronavirus. As some of the first casualties, hotels in particular are expected to take the longest to recover. CBRE’s Hotel Horizons quarterly report forecasts a late 2022 date for the US hotel sector to bounce back, thanks to a contraction in economic activity and the need for social distancing. Adherence to brand standards as well as compliance with local and global government restrictions is resulting in complex reopening plans – especially given the lingering psychological anxieties in the wake of the pandemic. 

With social distancing and contactless engagement at the forefront of hoteliers’ minds, many properties will become more space-managed with a focus on densification and increased operational efficiencies. Financial resources will be precious in the first year of opening as low-levels of occupancy are weighed against profit margins, debt obligations, and inevitably competition. Sadly, some brands will just not have the capacity to survive. 

As an industry standard, investors and lenders will take a more active interest in cost management strategies – the ability to future-proof assets will be key in distinguishing the winners from the losers. Ultimately guided by a leaner profit and loss report, operators will look to disseminate many of their systems at the expense of headcounts to fortify against future disruptions. Within a few years hotels will run from a centrally connected hub that stores, analyses and communicates data on key performance indicators, all the while compiling comprehensive guest profiles to make quicker, more informed decisions in real-time.

The habitual, personal use of smartphones points to the further adoption of mobile technology within business. Deloitte’s 2019 global mobile consumer survey reveals 95 per cent of smartphone owners use their device daily, with ownership reaching its peak and the market levelling off in 2020. The opportunities to therefore invest in software, applications and new processors is vast. Furthermore, as ancillary devices such as smart lighting, density and movement sensors are progressively installed in hotels, the more vital the smartphone becomes.

Smartphones are already proving to be invaluable in assisting with hospitality’s response to COVID-19. Able to aggregate and deliver real-time information, they present a compelling solution  to the maintenance of service standards amid new health protocols. Algorithmic guest engagement pre, during and post-stay, coupled with on property task management technology applications, will help to drive demand, revenues and workload efficiencies on a much greater scale and scope than we have seen before. 

Generational nuances are leading to a profound paradigmatic shift in the consumption of digital content. As such, the smartphone is increasingly relied upon for exploring, planning and booking a trip. Writing from a millennial perspective this trend has always been set to grow exponentially, irrespective of wider events. The imperative to now create a mobile-centric experience extends beyond the initial point of contact to complement the entire customer journey.

Key features that will be critical in stabilising hotel occupancy and rates include push notifications alerting a guest to promotional offers to drive additional revenue. In-app messaging will also provide direct support for any outstanding or future queries. This feature is paramount given customer reassurance and safety will remain high on the agenda for the years immediately succeeding the pandemic. Should proof of a deep clean be requested, for example, the ability to take and send a photograph of the certificate is an incredibly useful function. Whilst on property, it can also accommodate in-room ordering and concierge requests, and upon departure can even prompt guest feedback.

Emerging 5G networks will see faster transmission speed and increased bandwidth for managing guest data. The digital trajectory will therefore encourage advancements in middleware software that can seamlessly integrate with a hotel property management systems (PMS). Accurate GPS tracking could allow for pre-check in registration on approaching the hotel, with personal smartphones substituted as digital room keys. The check in process would essentially bypass the physical receptionist, whose time would be productively spent overseeing the PMS. Consequently staff roles will be trimmed as responsibilities are co-opted to make room for digital assistance. With time, algorithms may even replace the revenue manager.

In conclusion, technology will be harnessed in such a way to allow the hotel general manager to run the entire building from a personal device. On-the-go decisions can be correlated, justified and mapped against a vast database. Workforce efficiency can be measured and monitored, with the quality of service improving as knowledge of guest behaviour is enhanced. The consistent user experience (for staff and guests alike) could greatly effect a hotel’s overall performance, leading to an advantageous market position and loyal customer base. 

The extent to which mobile solutions are introduced depends heavily on market segmentation: in high-end, leisure oriented organisations it’s likely to be optional, whereas in mid-range, business-focused hotels it will quickly be subsumed into brand standards. The next 18 months will see a momentous shift towards a tech-enabled, mobile service as the next decade of hospitality is reimagined.

To hear from a range of London hoteliers on how technology is shaping the industry, watch our video here.

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