Shiny New Object Syndrome
Whether it is Alexa or Smart Home, many hotels want to offer their guests the comforts of state of the art technologies. But is this really beneficial and does it actually give the hotels a competitive edge? IUBH graduate Milena Schmidt took a critical look at this trend in the hotel sector.
“It is new! It shines and glitters! Everyone talks about it and everyone wants it. Even if I don’t know what benefits it might have for me – I MUST have it!”
What sounds like the compulsive thoughts of a teenager describes a phenomenon that I call the shiny new object syndrome. This syndrome effects people not only in their private lives, but also in their work environments: we long for the latest, greatest and shiniest objects, we want to own them, we want to use them.
Connected traveller? False alarm
An example from the hotel industry: Over the past five to six years, the topic of the connected traveller has been discussed at many conferences, and in numerous newsletters and research projects. The theory is that this modern traveller usually has a smartwatch, a so-called wearable, and is online at any point while traveling, looks for travel relevant information and makes bookings. The hotel industry jumped on this bandwagon and worked on getting their products easily and readily available on this shiny new object – the smartwatch. The goal: higher rates of guest satisfaction and a competitive advantage. However, if you look at the sales figures of smartwatches, they show that there was only a slight increase in demand between 2015 and 2017. Only 1.26 million smartwatches were sold in 2017. Measured against the total population, this is minimal. Investments, for example in optimised apps for users of this shiny new object, were somewhat premature.
Although the smartwatch connected traveller has still failed to reach its expected level of importance, the industry has already started chasing after other new shiny new objects. Many hotels are currently installing, for example, Amazon Alexa or Smart Home capabilities in their rooms in order to offer their guests the same comforts that they eventually also enjoy at home. Netflix is automatically synchronised with the smart TV and guests can turn lights on and off with their smartphone. But here too, it is questionable if these new features are of additional value to guests and if they achieve the desired competitive advantage.
Although the basic idea just mentioned has merit, it often does not pay off. In the case of the smartwatch, when a guest shares travel relevant data on a travel portal or social media, it is theoretically possible to send him/her personalised product information. However, even if the smartwatch trend had prevailed, most hotels could not use the data profitably due to their own technical infrastructure. Hotels usually have individual systems that are not connected with each other, yet this is a pre-requisite for an effective use of data. This poses a question: how does a hotel profit from these investments?
It is worth looking at complaints
Since shiny new objects are supposed to increase customer satisfaction, it is worth taking a closer look at guest complaints on rating portals such as TripAdvisor. Complaints related to rooms and front office service often include perceptions of incorrect room allocation (e.g. no ocean view) or long waiting lines with inefficient check-in processes. The question of which rooms should be cleaned first and made available for a new check-in, or the question of how to optimise allocations according to willingness to pay have so far been neglected. This is frustrating for guests and front desk employees. Whether a room has Netflix or an environment that has been optimised for a smartwatch will not change this problem.
Wanted: a connected office
What needs to be changed here is the technical standards of many hotels. Many still work with old, server-based systems. Hotels have only gradually been switching to cloud solutions in the last two to three years. In comparison to our private lives where we have been storing everything in the cloud for years, there is a mismatch between a hotel’s day-to-day operations and the private, shiny new object. That which has become a normal part of our private lives is only just arriving in hotels in 2018. Instead of focusing on the connected traveller and the Smart Home feeling, the industry would be better off focusing on a connected (back) office in the hotel. Instead of tediously managing data in different systems, portals and systems need to be connected to each other and work processes efficiently automated. However, hotels tend to be very sparing, especially when investing in internal tools: every investment is initially considered expensive. While recognising the benefits, hotels are much more critical of innovations to improve internal workflows than they are about introducing shiny new objects for guests.
Satisfied guests with optimised processes
To summarise, I think that we in the hotel industry should follow the trends and under no circumstances cut ourselves off from technical progress. However, we should delineate clearly and honestly, the true value of shiny new objects – does it provide a solution to a problem or is it an investment in marketing and image? Especially when looking at guest satisfaction, we should focus more on internal tools and processes and dare to be open to new and promising technologies.