Balancing New Technologies With Guest Experience

I was fortunate to chair a CEO panel at the recent Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC) in Dubai, an event that brings solutions providers together with hotel decisionmakers. The panel in particular was focused on how tech is transforming the hotel business and the various threats and opportunities it represents.

Whilst the event covered all areas of the hotel business, the topic interests me greatly in relation to the role of the GM. I may be a self-confessed “dinosaur” when it comes to technology, yet I genuinely worry about the effects of certain “advancements” on customer service and experience – things that should always be the top of any GM’s priority list.

The more a GM sits in front of a screen for example, the less time they send interacting with colleagues and guests and this poses a number of problems, many of them highlighted by Vijay Verghese, Editor of Smart Travel Asia in his piece Return of General Cluster. If, as Vijay warns, “anonymity breeds contempt” then hotels are putting themselves in an increasingly precarious position by distancing general managers at a time of intense competition.

During the HITEC panel, Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Kerten Hospitality and Mohamed Awadalla, CEO of Time Hotels discussed some of the technologies they had been researching and implementing in recent years and we also looked at the world’s most high-tech hotels.

Of course, like other industries we are reaping benefits from new technologies but for now the consensus seems to be that the value lies in areas like systems management, operational efficiency, and sustainability, rather than elements that directly affect the guest.

Mobile devices as door keys, motion sensor thermostats, and voice activated controls might be the way of the future but these things demand a big investment for largely untested, and frankly mixed, results. With any new initiative there’s the inevitable teething problems and what are the costs when you encounter problems? Above all, will they actually enhance your guests experience when the majority of people are still looking for comfort and convenience?

As always, there’s a balance to be had but I believe there’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple. People come to hotels for the hospitality and it’s usually the little things that leave lasting memories, both positive and negative.