Technology has played a momentous role in the evolution of the travel, tourism and hospitality industry over the last 40years. I started my career with Utell Internationalowned at the time by Grandmet Hotels with 600 hotels and 44 offices worldwide from which travel agents could make a local call to book their customers a hotel anywhere in the world. Rates and availability were updated from Utellhead office using microfiche published and couriered to all their reservation offices weekly. Updates inbetween times were made by telex to each office.
Microsoft computerisationtechnology changed all that in the 1980’s and whilst owned by Murdoch Travel Systems,Utell pioneered technology innovation with Ultraswitch being a case in point.Ultraswitchrevolutionised the way major hotel companies updated the airlines with their hotel inventory. Instead of each hotel company updating each airline separately Ultraswitch enabled each hotel company to do it once and for all airlines.
Fasttrack to the rise of the internet and the Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s) in the mid 1990’s andindustry technology developed at a faster pace than ever before. Travel intermediaries like Lastminute.com, Wotif, Webjetand ultimately Expedia and Booking.com disrupted the industry to link consumers to aggregated travel and hotel products to view and book. This trend continued into the early 2000’s with TripAdvisor publishingconsumerreviews (a topic for another day)and STR, Inc to help with hotel benchmarking.
“It is now time for the hotel industry to take greater control of its own destiny and adopt technology to broaden and drive its own influence.”
To this point in 2021 global hotel companies have primarily used technology to enhance their own booking capability and to distribute and connect their inventory to third parties like the airlines, travel agents via the Global Distribution Systems (GDS) and OTA’s. They have focused on differentiating their hotel products and services from their hotel competitors with a key focus being on their Loyalty Programs and the diversification and differentiation of their brands. The emergence of BWH Hotel Group is an excellent example. The core trusted Best Western brand turned 75 years in 2021and has now grown tobe surrounded by a further16 other brands catering for every customer experience from business and leisure and economy through luxury, serviced by three core business brands including WorldHotels Collection (who turned 50 years in 2021), Best Western Hotels &Resorts and SureStay Hotel Group.The combined 4,700 hotels worldwide now have 45million loyal members all part of the award-winning Best Western Rewards and WorldHotels Rewards Programs.
However, perhaps it is now time for the hotel industry to take greater control of its own destiny and adopt technology tobroaden and drive its owninfluence. Not surprisingly the hotel industry has always lagged behindthe airline industry interms of technology. By their very nature, airlines are founded onexpensive innovation and technology – including planes to fly consumers between destinations. This ensures a culture of innovation to continually enhance customer experience whilst driving down costs. Ticketless travel is a good example with mobile now adopted as accepted practiceby travelersto book, check in the day before andeven board flights.
By contrast the hotel industry is founded on bricks and mortar – not technology. My predictionis that inthe years ahead the major hotel groups will mirror the airlines and apply new technology to further enhance their own hotel offerings. The process has already started, the major hotel brands have already installed Bluetooth enabled electronic locks. This enablestheir customers to use mobile to check in from home, receive welcome messages and upgrades on route to the hotel and bypass reception(if and whenthey desire) to go straight to their room and open the door with their mobile. They can use their mobile toview the hotel compendium,connect their Netflix accounts to the hotel TV, order room service and maintenance requestsand check out.
The real game changer that extends the guest experience beyond the hotel itself is the opportunity for guests to use their mobile device as a mobile concierge to viewand book everything there is to seearound the region they are staying. This technology fits perfectly with the new lifestyle and boutique brand offerings including BWH Hotel Group’s very own Sadie, Aiden, Glo and WordHotels Crafted where guests can immerse themselves in the local community and for the community to claim as its own the luxury that these new brands present.Mobile concierge will allow guests to get to experience the region quickly and intimately.
Artificial Intelligence already exists to enhance this capability even further by personalising theguest concierge experienceandserving uprelevant contentin the region that matches their ownuniquetastes and interests. This will extend the hotel guest experience byplacing hotels in the center of destination marketing. Once that happens,personalisedtechnology can link individual hotel guests to multiple destinations that the technology knows they areand will be interested in visiting. This will lead to exponential opportunities to link this personalised technology to the hundreds of millions of loyal hotel guests who are already members of hotel loyalty programs and provide them the opportunity to earn additional hotel loyalty points along the way including from air, car, tourism attractions – even other hotels.
If you take thisvision a step further perhaps, we may even see the linkage of different hotel loyalty programs. Airlines have done it with the Star Alliance and the One World Alliance and linkage of frequent flier programs so why not hotels?