"Innovate to Elevate" was the theme of this year's Annual Hotel Conference (AHC), held in Manchester in October, which heard from a wide range of speakers discussing new innovations re-shaping the hospitality sector.
In this these times of unprecedented technological change, we take a look at the big ideas and innovations disrupting traditional leisure sector business models, and what it means for businesses and individuals active in the sector.
A record year
The Annual Hotel Conference, now in its 15th year, is the largest gathering of the UK hospitality industry, attracting a record 950+ delegates this year from across the industry and its supply chains, all keen to hear wide-ranging discussions on the latest trends and innovations in the hotel industry.
From the opening keynote, tech and innovation were at the top of the agenda, as Leo Johnson, Head of PwC's Disruption practice and co-presenter of Radio 4's flagship FutureProofing series, attempted to cut through the technology hype, asking what the real trends are and how these will impact on business. Johnson's speech was followed by a series of four 'lightning talks', designed to bring delegates up to speed on the latest trends and tease out what really matters in hotel innovation.
Shepherd and Wedderburn was fortunate to have delegates at this year's event and, in that spirit, here are the main takeaways we see on the technological innovations either being, or soon to be, adopted across the hospitality sector.
Make it personal
Personalisation in tech is one of the hottest topics at the moment. In the Airbnb era, hotel guests expect hotel rooms to feel like home, and that means ensuring the hotel offering includes personal touches, be that around booking, the guest interaction or in-room experience. Hilton, for instance, is working on 'connected rooms', smart hotel rooms that will allow users to personalise lighting and temperature, control the TV, and even upload their own artwork from their phones – instantly saving their individual preferences for future visits. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices across all sectors, the technology is now available to make all sorts of personalisation possible. And, against that backdrop, the message emerging is very clear: one size no longer fits all.
Make it unique
The personalisation trend contains within it a deeper truth: that people are looking for something different, something special and above all, an experience. With all the talk of automation, ranging from innovations such as the robot receptionist Hotellobot to speak-to-order menus, it can be easy to forget that people still want and appreciate the personal touch. Indeed, a recent study suggested 78% of millennials surveyed prefer the human touch throughout their whole dining experience. While it can be easy to push technology for technology's sake, the takeaway is that technology can augment and greatly enhance the user experience, when deployed in the right way.
Make it convenient
Where technology adoption can really shine is in its ability to make users' lives easier without encroaching on their overall experience. One good example of this is a recent initiative from Accorhotels UK and Ireland, which has introduced the ability for guests to chat with hotel staff using the popular messaging service WhatsApp. Building on the familiarity of the WhatsApp platform, this service allies the convenience of being able to contact the right hotel staff wherever you – and they – happen to be, while streamlining the requests process to move away from the traditional contacts directory. It is a good example of how technology is able to unobtrusively remove some of the friction and hassle associated with the more mundane aspects of hospitality, and this will be one of its primary strengths going forwards.
The bottom line
The broad take from the conference is that technology is, above all, an enabler. It can simplify, through streamlining and through automation, and it can enhance, through personalisation and augmented reality, but above all, it exists to serve the people who use it – those same people who will be calling for unique and compelling propositions in the months and years ahead.
The AHC has recognised these technological demands, as we do, and we look forward to supporting you in seizing the opportunities and mitigating the risks in the years ahead.
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