In Newsletter #37: The future of AI and hotel automation | Voice as the new guest service interface | Why your hotel needs an open stack solution.
With New Year’s fast approaching, I do hope some of you have great travel plans ahead. Although we’re not covering it in this week’s newsletter, The Huffington Post put out a recent piece highlighting some of the nicer travel apps you might want to use on your travels. One company not mentioned in this piece was Hitlist. Founder Gillian Morris is a good friend, and the company offers great last minute escape deals. If you haven't planned any travel yet, but suddenly find yourself wanting, it's a great way to get spontaneous.
In a year of not so great global news, we have had the pleasure of looking at such great breakthroughs and innovations in hospitality technology. It has really been a great year for our industry. I think the three highlights below are a testament to that... of true promise in fields that will end up mainstream in their ability to improve our industry. It is now just a matter of when. I encourage you to click in and read the full analysis that cannot be covered in a short email.
We’ll send you one more newsletter before the the new year, in which we'll look at this past year and some of the news that has most influenced us.
For those of you on holidays, enjoy. For those of you working, try to find the time to celebrate.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK'S NEWS...
Smart butlers vs. Mark Zuckerberg
TechCrunch | Watch Mark Zuckerberg's Morgan Freeman-Voiced Jarvis AI in Action
Hotel Online | How Technology is Turning Buildings Into Butlers
Why it matters: Ok, this video by Mark Zuckerberg is definitely one of the most awkward videos of the year, but placing that aside, think of where we are going to be from a technology standpoint and just how quickly we are getting there. Who wouldn’t want a Jarvis in their own home? And naturally, businesses are forging ahead, looking at how they can implement technology driven “butlers.” Hotels are no different. From Alexa (covered in our second highlight below), to robot concierges, to Artificial Intelligence-driven travel agents… technology-generated assistants are a very real near-term possibility, what with the speed at which these innovations are improving.
As the second article by JLL reveals how smart tech can turn buildings into butlers, it makes us think about all the hotel-related applications of smart tech in the hotel ecosystem. Don’t be surprised if next year this becomes the hot theme of the industry. However, don’t be weary either of having yet another technology to figure out just yet. We all value the human element of hospitality -- it’s the core of what makes hotels so special. Done right, no Jarvis will replace the human joy of being looked after and taken care of.
For now, we think the focus needs to be on providing usable tech to your employees to make them the smartest they can be. Guests will always come first in a hotelier’s eye, but now that it’s been a few years since the development of the first guest mobile applications, the emphasis has truly shifted to the associate side. While technology butlers may be the hot topic, a lack of a strong staff technology setup will become the competitive disadvantage in operations as other hotels rid themselves of analog tools, radios and disparate systems that don’t allow staff members to do their jobs the best they can.
How relaxing it would be though to have Morgan Freeman welcome us home after a long day’s work…?
Conversational interfaces vs. voice control: chatbots vs. Alexa
Why it matters: Continuing on the smart tech trend, let’s turn our attention to chatbots and voice control…
Just as there was once “an app for that” (with ‘that’ being everything), we’re already trending that way with bots. All our human conversations over technology are providing valuable training data for chatbots to master their own conversational skills. Although we’re not quite at the point of mainstream chat automation in hotels operationally, we’re seeing more and more of it in the booking process.
On the operations side of things, we’ve seen the industry increasingly interested in messaging (see our post on why here). As the article says “chat apps have let us start interacting with apps, businesses and other services by just messaging them.” While the most popular apps continue to thrive (the most popular apps drive 85% of all app usage time), app downloads take time and the least popular apps no longer get the attention they used to. Messaging, like SMS texting is frictionless (i.e. it doesn’t take much effort).
As more and more messages are sent (and in turn, interpreted), one imagines that more and more will be automated into a “conversational interface.” This first Medium article does a very nice job of walking through the history and reasoning for this.
Messaging isn’t the end-game for conversation and customer service, however. More recent innovations have been in the domain of voice recognition technology. Amazon’s Alexa has been a huge breakthrough in voice-controlled technology and recently, news came out that the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas is placing one in every room. We own an Alexa, and while it is a lot of fun, it is also worth noting two downsides. The first is from a marketing standpoint -- while on a website you can suggest things to customers, like “book now,” doing that via Alexa with a voice-prompt would be intrusive and pushy. The second is from a user perspective, in that voice recognition is nowhere near perfect. Alexa still has a lot of difficulty understanding you… if you say ‘towels’ instead of ‘towel,’ it most likely won’t work. So, as consumers still find challenges with it at home, one might expect a Las Vegas guest throwing it at the wall from time to time in the beginning days of this experiment.
For now, Alexa and voice are still complimentary products for those hotels that want to have some fun - not a replacement to any existing channels. With the speed of today’s innovation, however, we’ll see how long that prediction lasts.
New year, new tech stack
Snapshot | Choosing the Right Hotel Tech: Why You Need an Open Stack Solution
Why it matters: The team at Snapshot has created some fabulous content this year, and this last piece of theirs from 2016 -- a deep dive into the merits of “open stack” technology as it relates to hotels -- doesn’t disappoint.
Snapshot discuss how hotels are increasingly taking on more and more technology. This can be a good thing -- the recent proliferation technologies made specifically for hotels can help your hotel accomplish all sorts of things that weren’t possible just a few years ago. But, as Snapshot explains, an increase in technology can only deliver on its promise if these tools are open stack. ‘What is open stack?’ you might ask. Snapshot helps explain the ‘stack’ concept: “A technology stack is a group of software or apps designed to work together and solve a set of problems for a certain industry.” Microsoft Office is the canonical example: “The combination of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Exchange improves personal productivity for billions of people.”
Some hospitality vendors have also taken to the stack approach -- PMS companies and CRS companies often build stacks or suites of applications as packages. What initially seems practical though, due to the all-in-one nature of the offering, can often hamstring a hotel. This is because a hotel’s needs might shift, or a better version of a product might come along, and the hotel now finds itself stuck with sub-optimal solutions because these systems are closed and fail to integrate with other technologies.
This is why Snapshot -- and us here at ALICE too -- argue for open stack solutions -- which promise the opposite outcome from the “closed” stack scenario described above. Open stack solutions are purposely designed to “communicate openly with other software.” They write, “Open stacks are valuable specifically to the hospitality industry because we use so many different softwares and digital tools in our everyday work.” Indeed, ALICE - and every component of our open software suite - is just one tool of many that you need to run your hotel to its full potential. It’s something we’ve understood since conception of our operations platform, and indeed, why we adopted the platform approach to building our hotel technology in the first place. An open API makes it easy to share data between ALICE and other hotel systems, saving time, integration or upgrade fees, and a whole lot of headaches.
The question Snapshot asks its readers to ask themselves when they’re buying new technology is a good one: Is this an open solution? “We as hoteliers should expect more from the tools we use everyday,” they write. “Let’s focus on functionality and longevity.” Sounds like good new year’s resolutions to us.
- More Hotels are Planning to Use Location-Based Services to Interact with Guests Skift
- Airbnb is No Longer the Nice Guy of the Sharing Economy Quartz
- Room Service Robots - And That's Just the Start TechCrunch
- Hello Scout Launches in New York City Hospitality Technology