Being intentional about the technological services your hotel offers
"Most hotels find it impossible to have better technology than most of their guests have at home".
The relationship between hotels, innovation and technology has changed over the decades. There was a time when it was quite likely that hotels would be among the first places to have something new. At the beginning of the 20th century, for instance, the first buildings in many towns to get electricity and install lifts were often hotels. When London’s Goring Hotel opened in 1910 it made great play of the fact that it was the first in the world to have bathrooms and central heating in every bedroom. Often people went to hotels to experience technological innovations.
A hundred years later that has largely ceased to be true, as hotel consultant Melvin Gold points out.
He says: “It’s true that hotels used to have the best technology. But it’s different now. Most hotels find it impossible to have better technology than most of their guests have at home. People who stay in say, the Dorchester or the Savoy, are well off enough to have all the latest gadgets themselves. For hotels, the issue is that technology now advances so quickly that they can’t keep up. It would cost too much.”
Many hotels solve this problem by focusing on a few bits of technology that really matter. Good WiFi is one of the most obvious, because it allows guests to make the best use of the technology they will almost certainly bring with them. It is more a matter of making it easier for guests to use what they already have than giving them something that they have never seen before.
Ease of use
When hotels do add new technology – for checking in, for instance, or for booking a room in the first place – it needs to be easily understood. Again, guests will be familiar with the technology they have at home but if they are staying in a hotel for just a night or two they do not want to be confronted with anything they can’t work.
This is true even for the simplest of things. Gold recalls one former colleague who was not particularly technically minded who could not work out how to operate the electric curtains at the world famous Adlon in Berlin. When he tried to pull them apart by hand everything fell down, curtains and curtain rail.
Gold says: “When this sort of thing happens it is hugely embarrassing for guests. They feel stupid and that’s not how hoteliers want them to feel. Technology should be simple.”
That said, it is also true that guests are increasingly happy to use technology. The success of companies such as Airbnb, or apps including Hotel Tonight demonstrate that there is a huge market happy to use new technology to find the place they want to stay and book rooms.
Nor do technology and the personal touch have to be mutually incompatible. Take automated check-in. The fact that it probably cuts the number of reception staff a hotel needs does not necessarily mean service has to suffer. One member of reception staff can keep an eye on two or three guests using automated check in rather than giving their full attention to a guest they are checking in directly. In this sense freeing up staff to attend to those that need them more quickly can be a real benefit.
Gold adds: “Ordering room service on laptop or computer is another example. As long as it is easy to operate it can be more reliable than waiting for a phone to be answered or things going wrong with the order. There can be more clarity when the guest keys in an order.”
For investment, all this also makes good use of hoteliers’ expertise because it is not just investing but investing in the right things that becomes crucial. Chain hotels can do this well, but so can well managed independents, says Gold.
He adds: “Much of the innovation in the hotel sector has originated in Independent hotels. That is not to say that all Independent hotels are innovative, nor that all can afford the latest technology. Entrepreneurial owners seek to solve problems though, or try things that they like and make their own lives better, or perhaps it’s just following a design trend. But it seems that as much innovation originates in Independent hotels as in the chains. It is worth remembering that it was the Independent sector that started the boutique, lifestyle and design-led trends that have so influenced the sector in recent years.”