Hotel tech comes of age
by BRANIGAN MULCAHY
This year has been an exciting one for the hospitality industry as hotel stays are finally approaching pre-pandemic levels, which is great news for the industry. However, at the same time, adequate staffing continues to be a challenge. With more than 80% of hotels still suffering employee shortages (according to an AHLA report), combined with a staff turnover rate of more than 85% (according to Hotel Management), all signs point to continued staffing issues.
Enter technology. Somewhat cynically, it’s been said the hospitality industry is approximately 10 years behind the airline industry in technology adoption. It’s time to rethink that stance, and hotels around the world are showing they’re happy to embrace solutions to improve the customer experience. As we wrap up 2023, we’ve seen a number of new technologies start to take hold in the sector and that will likely continue to accelerate in 2024.
Room-cleaning robots, at about $30,000 apiece, are an economical way for hotels to backfill open housekeeping positions. The Garden City Hotel on Long Island has been able to save entire shifts with vacuuming robots, allowing the hotel to move existing staff to fill gaps elsewhere. These robots aren’t only deployed by housekeeping but also by the catering department.
Las Vegas hotels are starting to experiment with bartending robots. Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino has two robots that serve drinks called the Tipsy Robots. It’s not just automation; with the entire process visible, it’s also designed to attract attention and drive demand. Elsewhere, robots are also used for cooking, delivering room service, and even delivering luggage. More and more, there will be robotic options to automate the more mundane tasks in hospitality, freeing up the valuable staff that is left to handle more important tasks.
The pandemic led to accelerated adoption of contactless technology, from ordering and paying at your restaurant table to picking up everything from groceries to laptops curbside. Key to all of that is the cellphone. Nearly everyone has one and with that comes the ability to interact with hotels on a new level. Apple has been making waves with the introduction of its wallet keys. Apple’s attention to this industry and technology shows that hospitality tech has arrived on the big stage.
Guest apps have been around for a while. These are mostly in-house developed apps that have varying levels of success in guest adoption and satisfaction. With guests now demanding contactless options and hotels needing technology due to staffing shortages, the quality and features of these apps has skyrocketed. One lap at HITEC reveals numerous companies offering guest-experience technology.
The most exciting aspect of these apps has been how their feature sets have developed in 2023. Going way beyond simple check-in and the occasional mobile key, guests can now chat/call/text with staff, order room service, get recommendations for things to do, access property maps (very helpful at the likes of Las Vegas resorts), and order their car from the valet.
If there’s one term that has defined 2023 it’s AI. It’s also what is going to define 2024 and the above-mentioned technologies in the next years. Much of the technology that’s going to go big in 2024 is already here, and generative AI will be able to supercharge its capabilities.
Imagine the robot that brings you room service. You will be able to naturally speak back to the robot just like to a human and ask for additional things. Did the kitchen forget to send extra ketchup? No need to call room service again. Just tell the robot butler. The really cool aspect of AI will be the ability to learn guests’ patterns and desires over multiple stays so things like extra ketchup are included without having to ask.
Speaking of calling room service, AI will enable assistants with the ability to understand context, and guests will be able to interact with them just like a human. Instead of replies to a pre-programmed set list of questions, these assistants will be able to answer any type of question with their AI-powered technology leveraged in chat, text, and voice. Guest apps will become even more powerful, and the predictive and learning capabilities of AI will make for even more streamlined and customized stays for all guests.
In closing, 2023 has been a great year to see hospitality technology make great strides for both guests and owners. 2024 will see these technologies take another leap forward with the help of AI. In a few years, they’ll be saying the airline industry is 10 years behind the hospitality industry.
Prior to co-founding Virdee, Branigan Mulcahy was the head of real estate at The Guild, where he led expansion into new locations and markets. Throughout his career, he has spent 10+ years investing in and developing commercial real estate. In a previous life, Branigan was a captain in the Marines where he deployed twice to the Middle East. Branigan holds an MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and a BA from Texas A&M University. In his free time, Branigan enjoys running marathons with his wife, Christine, and fostering dogs from local rescue shelters in Austin.