Although the hospitality management industry has not traditionally been considered a tech-forward industry, new technologies have very much shaped the hotel experience over the years. Many of these “innovations” are things that you may not consider to be high tech, such as in-room bathrooms and phones. However, when these amenities appeared at the turn of the century over 100 years ago, they were on the bleeding edge. These items, along with TVs, ice machines, etc. were very much on the guest amenity side of the tech spectrum. It really wasn’t until the first electronic reservations systems appeared in the 1950s when technology innovation started improving the actual business of hotels.
Business and sales improvement was really the focus of the 1980s and 90s, when the innovators looked expand distribution through the concept of interconnectedness. We saw the development of the GDSs, hotel websites and the first online travel agents. The PMS (property management system) became the central nervous system for the hotel, and central reservations systems could now integrate with the PMS in real time.
In the “00s” we began to see an interesting development. Distribution interconnectedness sort of melded with the consumer Internet resulting in the explosion of online reservations. What had happened was that consumers could now, in essence, access what always had been back-office systems and data. That’s really what online booking is – the consumer accessing inventory directly instead of calling someone else to do that query for them.
The nature of this consumer-meets-back-office technology trend is very important to understand, because it sets up and helps us identify the trends happening today. In today’s world, the number one technology trend that is transforming the hotel experience for both staff and guests is mobility. But this goes beyond just being able to book a room on your phone. Mobility has now been applied to the operations side of the business. Just as consumers could book rooms without going through travel agents, today guests can check in, check out and order amenities without going through the front desk staff. How? Guests can now tap directly into the hotel PMS via their phones. In fact, mobility means connecting the PMS to the guest or staff member wherever they are on any device – phone, tablet, kiosk or desktop. Mobility is forever changing the way the hotel world is operates much as online booking did. This self-service trend has helped hotels reduce overhead and re-focus on service levels elsewhere on the property.
But behind a Mobile PMS there are two critical supporting technology trends. The first is cloud technology. In order to be anywhere on any device, hotel technology needs to be untethered. Cloud-based systems enable mobility, but they also are a hotel IT manager’s best friend. The PMS, for example, is no longer sitting in a box in the basement of the hotel. When support and upgrades are needed, there is no longer a need to wait for a site visit from the software company. That is so analog! The Cloud has meant faster support and more uptime.
The second supporting trend to mobility is the SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) model. Buying hotel software the traditional way was like buying a car. You put down a big down payment and you get something bright and shiny and new. But after a while, when things begin to break down, there is only so much you can do to improve it. Sure, there are a few after-market parts you can add to it, but your car isn’t built to ‘evolve.’ SaaS software is different. It is more like your phone’s operating system. You don’t take it to the shop – it is always updating on its own. It comes with some core killer apps, but it is also designed to constantly be improved by new 3rd part apps – just like your phone. Plus your finance guy loves it. Pricing is simple – it’s monthly and all-inclusive. You don’t have to “guess-timate” how much service might cost in the next year. When combined SaaS and Cloud lighten the technology burden on a hotel.
In summary, hotel technology trends long tended to support only the guest experience through things like TVs and indoor plumbing. Soon though, the hotel’s back office figured out that technology was the key to expanding the reach of the hotels’ sales capabilities and distribution innovation ruled the day. The Internet brought data and functionality out from the back office and into the hands of consumers, thereby driving better business AND better consumer experience. Connecting consumers directly to hotels systems continues today, though now the PMS is involved, giving guests control and choice through their mobile devices. Mobility will continue to change the hotel experience, but will do so because of the supporting trends of Cloud and SaaS that have combined to bring hotel IT systems out of the Dark Ages.