By Thomas Lyle on May 2, 2016 at 11:00 AM
In March, I had the pleasure to attend the Hotel Technology Next Generation’s (HTNG) North American conference held at Amelia Island, Florida. One of the fun and unique aspects of the event is the association's’ TechOvation Award where technology firms present their latest and greatest innovations to a room of 450+ hoteliers and other industry professionals.
This year there were 15 firms competing for the coveted award with the ever dynamic Nick Price, CEO of CitizenM Hotels, as emcee. The innovations covered a wide range of services, from telephony to online search and revenue enhancement.
Guest engagement was a major theme with three of the firms showcasing how hoteliers can engage with guests in real-time, as well as automated ways to provide a highly engaging experience. This is timely, and I envision this type of service becoming the status quo for almost any hotel service level.
Two companies demonstrated unique ways of implementing location-based services - an extension of guest engagement - at a hotel. One discussed successful implementation in large outdoor food service areas: The guest, not the server, initiates the transaction by placing an order via a mobile app. Within minutes the server delivers the order, using the app to know the guest’s exact location. Guests’ needs are being met in a faster and more responsive manner, while hotels enjoy increased sales thanks to a simpler ordering process.
While the two runner-ups for the TechOvation award focused on varying forms of guest engagement, the winner provided a very modern solution to a very old problem. All were selected for their unique offerings and value they add to the industry as well as for their viability for commercial success.
Interel won the TechOvation award with its unique water management system. The Interel Water Management System is the world’s first Internet connected water management solution for guestrooms. It features attractively designed icons instead of handles and knobs for controlling the water flow of the sink and shower faucets. Think along the lines of the simplest to use app on your smartphone.
Rules for water flow and temperature can be programmed and implemented from the cloud, enabling property managers or even brands to have precise control over water consumption. Not only can cost savings be realized over the life of the system, but the Interel Water Management System is actually cheaper to install than conventional plumbing, and can be used with whatever plumbing system is currently installed as well.
Relay by Savioke was the first runner-up and a real crowd pleaser. How can a room full of technology enthusiasts not be excited about a robot roaming around the room? The days of robots being exclusively bolted to the floor in manufacturing facilities are officially gone. A lot of press has been out lately about recent advancements in futuristic robot. While incredible, they are little more than R&D projects. However, Relay is laser-focused on the unique needs of the hotel industry and already being used in several properties across the U.S. It can deliver items to hotel rooms and engage with guests in a fun and light hearted manner.
The real potential here, as I see it, is not in simple cost savings but also in enhancing the guest experience. When a guest calls needing something – a towel, a toothbrush – the real issue is the time it takes to deliver on that simple request. While hoteliers don’t pay staff to wait around to make deliveries, Relay is always at the ready for the next request. It can be quickly instructed where to deliver its cargo, freeing staff to tend to more complicated responsibilities. Another soft benefit is the abolishment of that awkward encounter between staff member and a half clothed guest waiting to brush their teeth. Both parties should be thankful for that!
Travel Tripper was the second runner-up for their Rate Match booking widget. It is a price matching widget installed into a hotel’s booking engine. When a guest checks availability on a hotel’s website, the widget instantly compares the hotel’s current rate with several OTAs and can even adjust the price to match the lowest OTA rate. Guests are assured they’re getting the best deal when booking direct while hoteliers capture dollars that may have been lost in commissions. Travel Tripper claims hotels using the widget realize immediate returns of thousands of dollars in additional revenue.
I spoke to a number of attendees at the conference, some of them from firms who are still developing and piloting their products including even more advanced application of location based services and “smart” power lines that prevent risk of electrocution. They weren’t ready to showcase their products this year but they are stretching what hotels will be able to do. From what I gathered, some of the most exciting technology innovations are yet to come!
What do you see as the next big innovation for the hotel industry?