Pressure to heighten the guest experience is driving all kinds of innovation in hotel technology, from developments in virtual and augmented reality, to voice-enabled controls and new mobile apps. Consumers are wowed by new technology, and expect the latest gadgets they use at home and on-the-go to be a regular part of their travel experience. These expectations are challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest industry trends while still addressing current projects. So, what were the top trends in hospitality in 2016, and which of these will find their way into pilots, and even a few rollouts, by the time 2017 comes to a close?

Virtual and Augmented Reality: “Pokémon Go” woke the masses to the promise of virtual and augmented reality technologies. But leading-edge hoteliers were already putting their magic to use in both customer-facing and staff-facing VR and AR applications, according to Hotel Management. Brands are using AR for innovative uses such as translation services, wayfinding through interactive wall maps and even virtual decor. At the New York Marriott Marquis and London Marriott Hotel Park Lane, guests can even try out VR headsets via Marriott’s VRoom service to virtually travel alongside a guide to three exotic locations.

While hotel marketers may be most excited about the opportunity for travelers to use VR to preview potential destinations from the comfort of their own couches, guests aren’t the only ones benefiting from this new technology. In June 2016, Best Western also rolled out VR to train employees in guest interactions. Moving into 2017, more VR and AR tests will turn into deployments, particularly for marketing and entertainment applications at hip, millennial-focused properties.

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Voice Activation: Guest room controls were a hot area for hotel technology investment last year, and show no sign of slowing in 2017. A full 42 percent of respondents to Hospitality Technology’s 2017 Lodging Technology Study saw real-world potential in artificial intelligence/voice-activated technologies. And voice recognition and analysis isn’t just limited to guests: Forbes Travel Guide recently developed Star Coach, a virtual training app that uses voice analysis to determine an employee’s level of confidence when engaging in simulated customer service experiences.

Mobile Apps: Guest-facing apps have drawn well-earned attention as part of a larger trend toward enhancing the guest experience, with apps available for everything from booking and check-in/-out to communicating with hotel staff. But hotels are also investing in mobility on the back end, helping their highly mobile workforce access data to drive efficiency and guest satisfaction through task management, labor management and customer relationship management (CRM).

Other emerging technology catching hoteliers’ attention include RFID for asset tracking, interactive walls and displays, and robotics.

Innovation Incubators

Being at the forefront of hotel innovation means taking risks with technology. To road-test new developments and get feedback from guests, hotels are creating digital testing grounds, in which guests are aware of the experiment. Marriott International unveiled M Beta at Charlotte (N.C.) Marriott City Center, which enables rapid prototyping of technologies such as keyless entry in real time. Beta Buttons installed throughout the hotel enable guests to give real-time opinions, with tallies posted on digital signage for all to see. Expect incubators to become one of the bigger trends in hospitality as brands seek to discover the tech that resonates with their guests.

Hospitality Technology’s study found that hotel CIOs are kicking up investment in digital customer engagement in 2017, rising from 32 percent in 2016 to 52 percent. Future technology investments will be guided by their ability to support engagement. By combining block-and-tackle hospitality basics with the latest cutting-edge innovations, hoteliers are betting on technology to create the standout experiences that draw guests in — and keep them coming back.

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Lisa Terry

Lisa Terry is a seasoned B2B writer of articles, blogs, research reports, case studies, white papers and e-books, with a long list of media and corporate clients in hospitality as well as retail, IT and supply chain. She has written for Hospitality Technology, HTNG publications, Nation’s Restaurant News, RIS News, Advertising Age, Consumer Goods Technology, Inbound Logistics, Washington Technology and many others.

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