Democratizing Hospitality by Adopting New Gadgets and Technologies

Mike Uwe Dickersbach, CTO, Highgate Hotels
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Mike Uwe Dickersbach, CTO, Highgate Hotels

When organizations from outside the industry approach me, I typically get a question that goes something along the lines of “Why is it that I can’t do XYZ in a hotel, but I can at home?” The answer, as you may imagine, is not a simple one. First, let me give you a little bit of my background. I have been working within technology for approximately 20 years, most of which has been spent working for a company that owned and operated hotels—but mostly owned. This is the first caveat to the fundamentals of hospitality. You see, hotels will typically have three major players—the owner of the asset, the manager, and the brand itself (for example Hilton or Marriott). Of course the manager and the brand could be one in the same, but rarely are. Also the owner, manager and brand could also be the same but very rarely are.

“When the latest gadget comes out, it may not be able to work because a hotel may still be using systems from a year ago”

Now that you understand some of the background let me try and get back to the original question. Why can’t I do XYZ that I can do in my own home. Substitute XYZ with, for example, stream Netflix (Marriott currently is the only one that holds an approved license) to my hotel TV, or stream anything for that matter. Perhaps you can insert a question on why the internet is so slow or even why do I have to pay for it again? All valid questions. At its root, it comes down to costs (and licensing). It’s the ugly truth, and just like how you manage your own household, you probably balance functionality with costs. For example, you may elect to go with the 20 Mb/s internet connections over the 100 Mb/s option. These types of decisions are daily, except in the world of corporate costs, for example, Internet bandwidth can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per month.

Putting costs aside, the other major hurdle in our industry is adoption. When the latest gadget comes out, it may not be able to work because a hotel may still be using systems from a year ago, or more realistically, from 3 years ago. As you can gather, older systems simply don’t have the ability to do some of the things newer gadgets can. Hotels aren’t replacing systems every year, it would just be too costly. Instead, most hotels are on a 3-4 year rotation cycle, very dependent upon owner, manager, and brand—you can start to see the picture here. So when your new mobile phone comes with the capabilities of the latest WiFi protocols, you wouldn’t actually get to use them for some time within the hospitality space.

But in the end, there is some hope. There are a lot of companies in the hospitality field that are pushing for new technologies. One of the largest pushes from brands and independent owners alike is to provide electronic keys to their guests. That is, you check in online, your key is delivered to your phone, and your phone (via either Bluetooth or NFC) becomes your room key. I have heard mixed remarks on the process and technology, but for the most part—positive. The challenge comes that we will always have guests that will want to use a standard key, no matter what the industry offers. On top of that, you actually do have a good percentage of folks without smart phones. But the idea here is the most important-a seamless guest experience so I can book online, check in online, walk to my room and have a seamless experience, where technology isn’t in your face, but a conduit to allow you to do what you want.

For me, I want to improve on the overall guest experience without actually throwing another piece of physical hardware into an already convoluted sea of systems. The perfect hotel? That would be one that allows me, the guest, complete control from booking (give me room selection, not just room type) to online check-in (confirm my room, or allow me to upgrade to one of those un-sold suites) to arrival. Arrival is a key factor, since every hotel has a different service level. For example, if I am going to stay at a 5 star property, my service expectations may be different than a 3 star. I emphasized may because as the generations grow older the needs of the generations go with them. Some people just want to bypass everyone at the front desk and go right to their room—and they should be allowed to do so, regardless of hotel class, if they choose. The last piece of the perfect hotel is the actual stay. My needs are simple—give me functional power next to the bed in a conveniently located spot. Also, give me a bathroom where the door doesn’t hit the toilet, and of course reliable internet access.

There are several hotels that have achieved this, so don’t think that I am placing all in the same bucket—there are exceptions and leaders in the pack. Together the industry is moving forward, but slower than anyone would like.

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