Isn’t that strange? Technology designed to bring people together can have the opposite effect. The chances of real human interaction are becoming less likely as smartphones and tablets become more embedded in everyday life. It’s hard to strike up a conversation or even look out the window when there are always tasks, searches, or social media posts that grab your attention. In recent years, academics and researchers have spoken out a lot about this topic. Deloitte’s 2017 Media Consumer Survey revealed clear signs of fatigue amongst Australia’s social media users. Nearly half of respondents stated that they spend more on social media than what they would like, while nearly a third admitted that they spend more on building relationships via social media than in real life.
Because hotels are at the intersection between technology and human connection, they are an excellent microcosm of these issues. Today, technology is a major topic in the industry. This includes leveraging technology to improve guest experiences as well as back-of-house operations. The industry is constantly flooded with ideas and analysis about digital room controls, energy efficient HVAC systems, mobile check in, keyless entry and many other tech upgrades.
People are the other major topic. This is about creating hotels that are warm, welcoming, culturally rich, delicious, and friendly. Travel is not about getting from A-B to B. It’s about enjoying the small details. Feeling the texture of a place. Interacting with real people.
If your Japanese hotel is fully self-sufficient and your business model works, then that’s fantastic. This is a new idea and people are interested. If you’re a WestWorld fan, you will see the value of creating characters that can interact with guests and tell stories. The glitches are what you don’t need.
Let’s face it, even if this technology was mass-produced and perfected, it wouldn’t dominate the global hospitality market. People enjoy getting to know people. It’s a pleasure to put a face on a name. It is a pleasure to have our dignity confirmed by another human being.
However, automation could still be a significant part of mainstream hospitality models. Already, we see automation in the cleaning and preparation of rooms (Maidbot, a startup marketing to the hotel industry), delivery of supplies and the handling certain requests (e.g. Chatbots are used to process basic guest queries.
Even the most innovative technological solutions may not always be the best. In some cases it takes time to trust new technology. J.D. Power in North America conducted a 2016 survey and found that only 3 percent of hotel guests used mobile check-in when it was available. The satisfaction rate with the check-in process was higher among those 3%.
Insofar that they save money and make hotels more profitable, robotics and automation will continue to advance. As these technologies advance, it will become even more crucial to ask yourself: How can we make our lives more human? How can we infuse properties with warmth and dignity, culture, flavor, and taste? It is not possible to create a more human-like AI unit!
Some people believe technology should be used to personalize the guest experience. You can see examples of hotel managers equipping their staff with smart watches to deliver personalized prompts for guests (derived apparently from dining and spending history). Or the Hilton HHonors App which provides a stream of personal data. It was amazing to hear a regional leader of an international company boast that their program texts guests upon arrival to check if everything is okay in their rooms. Although I could understand their reasoning, I was shocked that they didn’t see it as a problem.
We might find that robotics and automation have increased the need for genuine human qualities in the midst all the technological noise. Human dignity can only be confirmed by another human being, we might find out. It is possible to discover that a team of competent people can be more effective than hiring robots (they use electricity).