TORONTO — Get Future Ready is the title of the leadoff panel at the HAC conference to be held at the Delta on Feb. 8. Tony Chapman will talk about the evolving trends in marketing, while Alan Smithson of MetaVRse looks at ways AR and VR will change hotels.
This high powered panel also includes Christiane Germain of Groupe Germain Hotels, Brian Leon of Choice Hotels, Lindsey Iles of Expedia and Carlos Paulo of Google.
As moderator, Chapman hopes to lead participants in finding the most effective ways to get the attention of guests. “It's no longer a driftnet approach — it's a very personalized market,” he said. With two hoteliers, Google in the information business, Expedia in the booking business and Smithson from a technology business, the panel will explore that question from all the different points of view.
“We'll look at how people are adopting technology. Certainly the younger generations are much more open to doing everything online. But the basic needs are still important, feeling safe, secure, as though they belong, and are in the right company of people.
It used to be that people would look at a travel brochure. Now they can see 50 to 60 pictures, online ratings and more, Chapman said. Hotels have had to surrender information distribution to the Internet. Another factor driving change is that more and more consumers are trusting the social network more than traditional advertising. In the old days, you might get ambitious and get a copy of National Geographic. Now the foodies can discover how the hotel plays into their desire to dine well; eco tourism can learn about running and biking trails; and families how the property caters to children.
“Everybody is looking for the shorter and most efficient path to the consumer. Use storytelling, but stop telling your story and make it about 'me'. If your hotel has luxury suites, talk about that naughty weekend with your wife on a bed with high thread count sheets. For the business traveller, talk about the desk, great TV and hotel bar. For families talk about connecting rooms. If you don't connect to 'me' it won't work.
“When I moderate, I like interaction, even a little bit of tension,” Chapman said.
Leon: Technology enables better service
The big benefit of technology is that it enables service and efficiencies and allows hoteliers to meet guest needs in the most efficient way possible. “The benefits of artificial intelligence is that it helps personalize the service experience for guests, and that's increasingly important,” said Brian Leon of Choice Hotels Canada.
“But the technology has to work. If we look at mobile messaging, hotels are using text to engage with guests, to let them know the room is ready and ask how the room was — instead of those phone calls that used to drive people crazy. There's an opportunity to communicate with the hotel via text to get things they need and ask questions in the most effective, efficient way.”
Leon doesn't see technology as replacing staff. “Robotics can be used for low value, repetitive tasks, creating efficiencies that let people focus on high-value tasks. Remember how there used to be typists — is it terrible [that we don't have them anymore] or does that mean the economy has evolved?”
He also gave the example of room service. “Now they have robots that do room service. That's great for hotels like ours, since it means we can offer this to guests — something we don't normally do.
“Everything is mobile — by 2021, 50 per cent of online service will be mobile, and people expect mobile messages to be more personalized. How do we personalize to achieve higher guest satisfaction? Technology is the key to doing it.”
Leon pointed to Medallia, which has allowed hotels to become more effective by using guest reviews rather than inspectors, and Smart Rates, which uses the significant amounts of data to predict demand and rates. “The big data machine is beginning to give us significant data to help us make better decisions,” he said.
Smithson: AR and VR not that far away
Smithson sees the Matterport 3D camera, realtime floor plans, augmented reality teleportals and virtual reality training tools as some of the new technologies that will revolutionize hotels over the next few years. He plans to show an AR teleportals, a VR tour of Mill Street brewing, an augmented reality menu and possibly a VR training tool for kitchens, at the conference.
The Matterport 3D camera is already used in real estate, providing 360 degree views of the kitchen and living room. It allows people to view things quickly online or on their phone. “It's a great tool for sales reps, and the headsets are getting much cheaper and easier to use,” said Smithson.
“If you're with a local tourism board, trying to talk to someone in a different city, you can talk until you're blue in the face. But if you put somebody in it, they can understand the space, size and scale.” A Matterport camera costs about $5,000 plus a monthly hosting fee.
There are a couple of different technologies that provide realtime floor plans that can show clients what the conference ballroom would look like set up for 500 for dinner or 1,000 people classroom style. Once the changes are made and put into VR, the clients can view the room from any vantage point, checking out sightlines and determining where they would like to sit.
As VR technology becomes more pervasive, the costs are coming down, Smithson noted. Three years ago, one minute of 360 degree video cost $10,000; now the cost has come down to $1,000 per minute.
Augmented reality teleportals are still a ways off, but Smithson projects that Apple glasses, allowing viewers to teleport themselves through a door or window in their home to another location, should be developed by 2020 and released by 2021. Expedia unveiled a highly immersive AR experience using the Seattle Space needle a year ago. Smithson's company, MetaVRse, has developed an AR Travel Portal showing a trip to Venice (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2xa7y1J60I).