16 Oct 2014

Top tech trends for hospitality

The hospitality industry is facing a fascinating period of transition, as technology becomes ever more core to the way it does business, and customer expectations adjust accordingly. From enabling self-service to a greater degree than we’ve ever seen before, through to the incredible impact that social media is having on the vertical, it’s a time that’s equal parts exciting and terrifying for any IT professional in hospitality.

Below are the four key technology trends that hospitality faces at the moment:

1)      Social Media Integration

From restaurant suggestions, to planning the ultimate holiday in a foreign country, people are relying on social media when it comes to hospitality more than ever. This creates unique challenges for the vertical; hotels, restaurants and airlines simply can’t afford to avoid social media, but turning that into a competitive advantage is a minefield in its own right.

We’re seeing some real innovation happen in the way hospitality makes use of social network integration, however. Checking in or making purchases at a restaurant chain might provide coupons that customers’ family and friends on social networks, for instance. Checking in on Foursquare or using a specific hashtag might give another customer a few points towards a loyalty reward.

But the dark side of social media can’t be ignored either – dissatisfied customers can now go viral. Having a great response team and deep analytics programs in place to identify problems before they can blow out of control is perhaps more essential to hospitality businesses than any other.

2)      WiFi

Any customer that walks through your doors is going to expect to be able to access the Internet on their laptops, tablets, phones, and even game consoles. Guests in hotel rooms are going to want to load up their iTunes account to watch a favourite movie. People in a restaurant are going to want to be able to update their Facebook profile with a photo of the food they ordered. People overseas are going to want to Skype back home.

Offering WiFi, either free or as a paid-for service, creates challenges of its own for a hospitality business in terms of sheer scale. How do you ensure it’s secure (because an unsecure connection can lead to reputational damage and dissatisfied customers)? How do you handle download limits so that customers can’t exploit the system but can still have enough to do what they need to? How do you handle so many concurrent connections, such as a hotel during peak hours? It’s hard to imagine a hospitality business not finding a way to offer a good WiFi service, but it’s the kind of investment where many businesses will want to bring in some managed services expertise to ensure it’s done effectively, safely, and cost-effectively.

3)      Big Data

In a similar way to retail, hospitality businesses need to collect as much data on their customers as possible, both unstructured and structured. From trawling the social media networks, to offering targeted promotions and deals over eDMs and creating effective loyalty schemes, it’s important that a hospitality business has a robust Big Data strategy in place in order to ensure that they are engaging with their customers in an effective manner that understands the unique needs of each customer. After all, individualised service is something that is highly regarded in hospitality circles, and Big Data provides the opportunity to achieve this particular Holy Grail.

At the same time, hospitality organisations will need to be mindful of the recent changes to privacy regulation that the Government enacted, and ensure that they are compliant with these regulations. A recent report found that many smaller businesses and non-profits are still not fully comprehending the new laws, and with many hospitality organisations fitting into the small business sector, this is an ongoing cause for concern in the industry.

4)      The Price Of Technology

The investments that those in the hospitality industry generally want to make are customer-facing investments, because the more impressed a customer is, the happier he/she is. Backend investments, while essential, are investments that the customer only notices when it breaks down. For example, a quality WiFi network in a large hotel is much more expensive to implement than a home network, but the customer only cares about whether his/ her laptop is loading websites as fast as if he/ she is at home.

Most hospitality organisations are looking for ways to minimise expenditure in the back end in order to free up resources for customer-facing services. This applies to most sectors, of course, but we are seeing more demand for outsourcing and managed services among hospitality customers than ever before.

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