Getting Smart: New Tech Provides Conveniences for Guests, But What are the Risks?

By John Welty Practice Leader, SUITELIFE, Venture Insurance Programs | March 03, 2019

I travel frequently throughout the country for both business and pleasure. At every hotel, the rooms get smarter and smarter with each visit. Just a short time ago, free, fast Wi-Fi was considered a must for the digital age. Now, the digital boundaries seem to be endless.

From smart speakers like Alexa, to digital check-in capabilities, smart TVs and even robots, hotels are implementing new technology to meet guests where they want to be met. Guests want the comforts of home while on the road and for many, that means the smart devices they've grown accustomed to. Almost one-fifth of U.S. households with Wi-Fi (19 million households) had one smart speaker or more in 2018, according to Forbes. In light of this growing trend, more and more hotels are providing smart technology in guest rooms.

In fact, last spring, Amazon unveiled a new Alexa program devised specifically for hotels. According to Tech Crunch, Alexa for Hospitality is designed to optimize a hotel guest experience by providing Echo smart speakers that can be programmed to include guest check out times or pool hours, allow guests to order from housekeeping or room service, or adjust the temperature and lights in the room, among other things. Amazon partnered with Marriott International, Inc. for the initiative and the hotel giant has launched the service in select hotels around the world.

All this technology may present guests with more conveniences and, for many, some of the comforts of home, but what risk exposures does this smart technology present in terms of guest privacy? Each time they connect a smartphone to a hotel device are they putting their personal information at risk? Considering the risks before implementing these new smart features in a hotel is critical and something hotel owners and operators must understand before implementing smart technology for guests.

Smart Features

As a frequent traveler, I have had the opportunity to explore many of the ways smart TVs, speakers and other digital amenities improve the hotel guest experience. Digital check-in is great. I no longer need to stop in the long check-in line. I receive my digital room key electronically and I can go straight to my room, bypassing the normal check-in process. After a long day of travel and business meetings, this is a pleasure.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.