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With 3D-printed custom shoes and butler robots, technology is reshaping hospitality

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The New Luxury

Luxury isn't just the stuff we buy—it's a mindset.

What will travel and hospitality in 2030 be like?

If the Hyperloop—ultra-fast transportation that zips you to a city and back in next to no time—is a reality, will there be such a need to stay in hotels on business? Work on the Hyperloop is speeding up and the futuristic transport solution could be a reality sooner than we think. You could take a business trip and return the same day.

Will there be only leisure hotels then?

That’s clearly not a scenario that hoteliers want to think about, though they are thinking a lot about the future. The point one is trying to make is that disruption is coming from not just within the industry, but from seemingly unrelated innovations. Every new path-breaking technology could impact hotels in some way or the other.

Technology impact

As far back as 2014, Phil McAveety, chief brand officer of Starwood Hotels—this was before the merger with Marriott— had painted a scenario where a guest would send a 3D print scan of his shoes and the hotel would have gym shoes of the exact size ready and waiting in the room when he checks in.

The other trends he outlined included checking into a hotel through a smartwatch, sending voice-activated requests for car pick-up, and robots as valets are all a reality already. At the St Regis Hotel in New York, as you brush your teeth you could press a remote and the mirror in the bathroom turns into a television. At an Aloft hotel in Cupertino, you might be served tea by a robot butler quaintly named Botlr.

At the Starwood Experience Centre in Stamford, Connecticut, where the hotel chain creates mock-up rooms for all its brands, you get a sense of some of the changes happening inside hotels. At the Aloft mock-up room, for instance, there is no television but a projector on top of the bed and a smartphone dock at the bedside. The guest of the future will be bringing his own entertainment is what the chain anticipated, and this could change the room interiors.

Apps in the hands of travellers allow them to directly communicate with front desk, housekeeping and concierge staff. Nakul Anand, executive director, ITC, felt that travellers will increasingly want to be in control, and hotels have to hand this over. So typically, many of the services you would ring for will all migrate to within the room.

Technology is clearly one of the biggest drivers of change in the hotel experience today.

Technology is clearly one of the biggest drivers of change in the hotel experience today. “Companies that don’t embrace technology as an enabler will disappear,” said Dilip Puri. Artificial Intelligence will allow guest experience to become so much better. Chatbots are already making the booking experience easier.

All trends point to the latest kid on the technology block, blockchain, disrupting the hotel industry. Blockchain is a growing list of linked digital records using cryptography that has already begun to change thinking about online distribution of hotel rooms.

Currently, all hotels depend a great deal on OTAs that use technology to connect consumers with hotel chains. Every hotel has to invest in technology—booking engines, property management systems and channel managers—to connect to the OTA system. In a blockchain-based system, hotels can use any device to connect directly to a blockchain and there on to consumers eliminating expensive OTAs. It is a distribution landscape that is very creative. And it could especially benefit smaller hotels. Google and Amazon could get into this technology. Several blockchain-based platforms have come up and early movers like CitizenM Hotels have logged on to it.

Technology is also going to impact operations—the way hotels source their supplies, for instance. Currently, many hotels stock 30% extra inventory of some supplies, keeping in mind damage and theft. What if there comes a time when there is a way to do everything in real time?

Consumer behaviour

But there are other trends too shaping the future of hospitality.  As Frits Van Paaschen, the former head of Starwood, author of the thought-provoking book The Disruptor’s Feast, pointed out, the consumer could be a disruptor.

Consumer profiles, tastes, needs, expectations are all changing. Every hotel chain from Marriott and InterContinental to Taj and ITC is studying the changing consumer and new guest expectations, and beginning to redo their services accordingly. But the trick is in getting the trends right, and also time the changes to services correctly to catch it at the exact moment.

Bits and pieces of what these changes are going to be in consumer profile is already available. A study by the InterContinental Group finds that the big travellers of tomorrow are going to be from different places. More travellers will originate from emerging economies like Brazil, Russia, China, India and parts of Asia. These new global explorers have very different needs from American and European travellers, and hotels will need to gear accordingly.

That’s why IHG has introduced HUALUXE Hotels & Resorts, a hotel brand designed by Chinese for the Chinese within its portfolio. Others like Accor are adapting their offerings too—Accor’s Grand Mercure Mei Jue brand focuses on the Chinese traveller’s expectations. According to Jean Michel Cassé, it is a matter of time before a hotel tailor-made for Indian guests comes up.

[…]

The millennial cohort is a demographic that has already altered many a hotel’s offering.

The millennial cohort is a demographic that has already altered many a hotel’s offering. Shared spaces and community activities are all geared towards millennial guests. But Gen Z—those born in the mid-1990s to early-noughties—is rising and that’s another cohort with a very different personality. At the same time you can’t leave out older guests’ preferences so hotels will have to balance all their offerings to cater to many generations.

Another growing set of consumers is the woke brigade— guests who passionately care for environment, are worried about climate change, are activistic in nature and will stay only in places where everything is ethically sourced or made. Witness the way Marriott has already committed to reduce plastic usage in its hotels.

Excerpted from Chitra Narayanan’s From Oberoi to Oyo with permission from Penguin Random HouseWe welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.