It is All the Fault of Dick Tracy and George Jetson!

By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | September 30, 2018

Okay, for those of you who are too young to know who Dick Tracy was, let me give you the facts. The legend began on October 14, 1931.  The place was the Detroit Mirror(1).  The event was Dick Tracy's debut as a comic strip hero.    He was the predecessor of those television law enforcement icons such as Colombo, Monk, Magnum, PI, and even The Sinner. Fifteen years after his humble beginning, this tough, smart detective, created by Chester Gould, first used the iconic 2-way wrist radio.  And in 1964, the radio was "upgraded" to a 2-way TV.  Today, ol' Dick's wrist radio has morphed into the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and even Body Cameras.  Welcome to the world of wearables.

Of course, if you really want to get technical about it, you could say that wearables came into our lives with the invention of eyeglasses in the 13th century.  Fast forward to 2002 when the Bluetooth headset achieved mainstream popularity.  In fact, the term The Year of Wearable Technology was coined by the popular media in 2014.  Now it seems to be everywhere and growing.   Euromonitor has projected that WT will be a $27 billion industry this year.

Before going into how this exploding technology might be used in your hotel, it helps to understand exactly what wearable technology (WT) is.  Simply put, WT is a term that encompasses all electronics that can be worn on the body.  It can be an accessory, such as a smartwatch, or it can be a sensor embedded into clothing that can tract motion, time, and even location.  

The key benefit of wearable technology is that it connects to the Internet so that the information collected can be sent to a network, stored, exchanged, analyzed and acted upon.  This capability is what is pushing wearable technology to the forefront of what is being called the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, it is estimated that by 2020, there will be more than 28 billion IoT devices in operational use.  While this trend may sound scary to some, especially in light of recent Cambridge Analytica issues, businesses are finding that IoT is offering them new insights into how to increase efficiency, how to better engage employees and customers, and how to develop new revenue stream opportunities.  Can the hotel industry be far behind?

While WT is less of a novelty today and is becoming increasingly integrated into our daily lives, it is still in the early adopter stage for many – both personally and professionally.  Like any new development, there are always pros and cons for adoption.   So first, a look at what could be some pros for your property. 

  • Biometric data can help design work environments for better employee wellbeing.  For example, a company in Britain used armbands, automatically tracking employees' movements during several tasks to identify completion time, process, and fatigue.  From the data, they were able to recognize when employees were most alert and productive, allowing them to design new procedures and processes as well as more flexible work schedules.   In fact, one study found that WT can boost employee productivity 8.5% and job satisfaction 3.5%.  Many in the IoT field believe that the initial drivers for adopting WT will be health and wellbeing both on and off property.  Given longevity trends and the skyrocketing cost of health insurance, they are probably right.  Sounds like a win-win, to me.
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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.