Introducing our new series exploring the future of hotel technology with founder of industry consulting group Travel Singularity and self-proclaimed “renaissance futurist” Simone Puorto.

This first article takes a look at the current hotel tech landscape, our misconceptions about technology, how it can help us, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted hotel tech adoption into high gear.

The Landscape

COVID-19 has changed everything. But bear with me, this isn’t another “COVID has created a new paradigm” article. Yet, COVID is simply the perfect example to understand how hospitality is changing and has been changed by technology at an unprecedented pace.

In this series, in which this article is the first, we’re going to look at the different technology that is transforming or soon to transform the industry as we know it. As a futurist and technologist consulting in the industry for 21 years, I’m going to highlight what I think are the most exciting probable developments that will impact travel and hotel operations and management.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced many hotels to jump 10-years ahead in only a matter of months in terms of technological adoption: Just think about the growth in contactless, self check-in kiosks, and keyless entry in the last few months.

This reveals the fact that we are not only a people industry, but a tech industry, too. Even a small independent hotel cannot operate successful without five, six, or ten different software tools. And, at least from a European perspective, a lot of these smaller properties are dealing with these new technologies for the first time, having worked with old legacy systems for sometimes decades. This is where the first leap forward is revealed: From legacy PMSs to modern cloud-based PMSs.

Getting Out of Our Own Way

COVID has shown us that the reality of adopting different technologies has little downside and usually improves the guest and user experience. However, we often have a double standard when it comes to technology and hotel operations. When we think of A.I. and robotics being used in the medical field to detect and cure cancer, we applaud it, yet when we consider using A.I. or robots to aid us in hospitality, we get nervous. The misunderstanding here is that when tech is introduced, we will lose the human touch. Yet the human touch itself creates many of the problems and inefficiencies guests experience.

We think of hospitality as the logistics of travel yet check-in, check-out, luggage deposits– these are logistics. The human touch here does not make much of a difference to most people in most situations.

We can thank the sci-fi movies of the 70s and 80s for many of our misconceptions about technology and work. Robots will likely not take our jobs. The real tech of the future works in the background, supporting, not stealing our work. Think about cloud-based software, machine learning powering RMSs, or predictive advertisement.

Additionally, technology should only replace a person if you cannot use a person’s extra body. Take chatbots for example. What a chatbot does is read repetitive questions that receptionists can answer: “Can I bring my dog?” No human value is found in answering this same question over and over. But when you go to the front desk, the concierge can give you suggestions for restaurants and local attractions. That interaction does have value. HUMAN value.

And the more you invest in technology, the more human that technology becomes. If you can eliminate the need to scan passports at check-in or other tedious, repetitive jobs, you can focus on the human side of things while tech takes care of these other sets of tasks. The fact that it’s a machine or a person entering a guest’s data into the PMS simply doesn’t change the guest experience.

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. 

– Douglas Adams

Looking Back To Look Forward

As younger people continue to enter the hospitality world, our adoption of technology will only speed up. So we need to let go of our fear of tech. It’s not a competition: man vs the Terminator, artificial intelligence vs human intelligence. Instead, it’s A.I. plus human intelligence. Letting computers do what they do best and humans do what humans do best.

20 years ago I was a receptionist at my first hotel job. It was honestly one of the most stressful jobs I had, but I loved the human interactions with guests. Back in those days in the late 90s we had very rudimental PMSs, if any. Today, the job of the receptionist is to manage technology, rather than interacting with guests, diminishing the true nature of the profession . The future, then, could be a world of open APIs where all these different technologies could communicate and manage themselves. That would leave the receptionist to do what they actually do best, only in a more informed and empowered way. Technology today is better designed to complement and enhance the human touch than to replace it.

Stay tuned for the next article in the Future of Hotel Technology series where we look in depth at some of the most exciting, transformative tech that awaits us just around the bend.

Simone is a former hotel General Manager, author of two best-selling books on hotel marketing, MBA lecturer, and founder of Travel Singularity, a consulting firm. Over his career spanning 20+ years, he has consulted for international hotel groups and travel tech companies worldwide. He refers to himself as “Renaissance Futurist.

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