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After two years of isolation, the desire to travel is as present as ever. What’s changed is not whether we want to travel, but how we want to do it.
Travelers now prefer self-service over waiting to be served, with tech-enabled ease expected at every step of the process. From online planning and booking to contactless check-in and 24/7 digital concierge. Today’s tech-savvy, hygiene-conscious traveler’s expectations are rapidly accelerating the hospitality tech revolution. Companies must move quickly to meet evolving demands or risk missing the boat.
In a Stayntouch/NYU Tisch Center of Hospitality Report, 81.7 percent of hoteliers surveyed had implemented at least one new technology during the pandemic, and/or were planning to in 2022. Incorporating technology into day-to-day operations is essential to minimize human error, maximize service efficiency and improve the guest experience.
Related: 3 Trends That are Shaping the Hospitality Industry
Combining the best of high touch and high tech, here are six technology trends reshaping what it takes to stay in business as a hospitality player in 2022:
1. Gamification of travel planning
With cabin fever at an all-time high, the world couldn’t be hungrier for spontaneity. As people contemplate their next getaway, hospitality companies can leverage gamification — using game design elements in non-game contexts — to turn travel planning from a chore into a guilty pleasure.
By interplaying gamification mechanics like challenges, chance and rewards, with elements like points, quests and sharing, companies can capitalize on human motivation. Imagine a travel planning website that challenges users to solve a travel puzzle where they will achieve a score, be ranked on a leaderboard and receive points for their next trip.
Popular European airline Lufthansa introduced Lufthansa Surprise, which allows travelers to choose from nine categories, with themes like nature, cities or partying. Upon picking top choices from seven to twelve European cities, the destination is only revealed after booking.
Beyond novelty, using gamification for online advertising is proven to boost data driving, customer loyalty, brand awareness, user-generated content, online engagement and revenue.
2. Virtual reality tours
It’s hard for travelers to imagine their next vacation rental before they arrive. How can hoteliers accurately communicate the curated charm of their boutique Santorini hotel to potential guests?
Through the use of VR (virtual reality), companies can now give first-person digital tours of their space to future guests. Atlantis Dubai offers a virtual tour highlighting the hotel’s main features through visual immersion.
The benefit: VR prompts future travelers to daydream about experiencing offerings before they arrive. Compared to other virtual tours, VR increases the elaboration of mental imagery and presence, leading to better brand experience, according to a study in Tourism Management.
3. Going contactless
One of the biggest changes in the travel industry is how we think about hygiene. Between government restrictions and personal anxieties, hospitality companies can’t afford to miss the mark.
The adoption of contactless technology like self-check-in, in-room technology, mobile keys and digital payments, increased by 66 percent during the pandemic, according to the Stayntouch/NYU Tisch Center of Hospitality Report. This number is expected to continue rising throughout 2022.
But hygiene isn’t the only reason hospitality companies are rushing to remove human contact from their service. In the wake of a pandemic-induced hospitality labor shortage, many hospitality companies transitioned to contactless check-in/out to reduce staff dependency.
Post-pandemic, we can expect human-to-human contact services to be quickly traded for robot receptionists, facial scan check-in, voice guest control, robot delivery and robot concierge assistants.
4. Chatbot as a digital concierge
Hoteliers are scrambling to meet 24/7 guest demands. With fewer staff, chatbots are shifting from luxury to necessity. The percentage of hoteliers offering chatbots on their websites is expected to rise to 29.2 percent before the end of 2022, up from only 14.5 percent in 2019, according to the Stayntouch/NYU Tisch Center of Hospitality Report.
Think of the chatbot as a digital concierge, bringing the concierge desk to the palm of guests’ hands. This means a 24/7 ability to engage users, answer their questions and fulfill their requests. Marriott International’s Aloft Hotels created ChatBotlr, allowing guests to make requests from their smartphones, from toiletry deliveries to morning wake-up calls.
Hospitality companies might implement guest messaging applications via guests’ own smartphones, such as Knowcross, Runtriz, Zingle, Guestware or Beekeeper. They could also install voice assistants like Volara or Intelity in the room.
5. IoT for room control and customization
With the trend toward efficiency, sustainability and customization, IoT (Internet of Things) empowers hoteliers to keep up. When installed in a hotel room or short-term rental, IoT technology allows guests to personalize room settings like room temperature and lighting. They can even reduce energy consumption by automatically turning off the lights when no one is using the room.
IoT allows hoteliers to not only tailor the experience to guests’ needs but also anticipate them. Imagine coming home after a night out to a room set at 70 degrees, with the bedside lamp and aromatic diffuser already on. IoT can gather sophisticated data to create these intuitive spaces.
6. Location-based services
Today’s travel is all about customized, localized experiences and hoteliers can use location-based services to create them. By seeing a guest’s location via their smartphone, hospitality companies can offer more intuitive local recommendations. Without needing staff assistance, guests can instantly access local information, such as the nearest grocery store or the best pub in town.
A guest’s location can also improve day-to-day marketing and guest satisfaction efforts. For example, staff can send special offers to guests’ mobile devices when they’re near the hotel spa or bring water to a guest’s room post-workout. Additionally, knowing staff locations means quicker response times for guests, like sending the nearest employee to a guest request on the fifth floor.
Related: Here’s How AI Is Going to Reshape the Hospitality Industry
Hospitality tech revolution predictions
After a momentous year in history, the hospitality industry cannot expect a return to normal. Today’s traveler wants more contactless support, self-service and risk-free travel. If hospitality companies are going to keep up, technology will be paramount.
Between gamified travel planning, VR tours, contactless service, chatbots, in-room IoT and location-based services, it’s a whole new world for hospitality players. But it’s up to us to stay in the game by embracing tech-enabled efficiency, customization and flexibility with open arms.
Related: How to Impress Guests in a Changing Hospitality Industry