On the cusp of change

The biggest developments in technology are about to happen, but is the industry ready?

The potential impact of technology is the cause for debate in many communities. Today there is little doubt that technology has an influence on most aspects of the sector as new forms of tech continue to grow and adapt at speed. However adopting the right type at the right time is where the difficulties lie. There is a vast range of products and services available which vary from conceptual stage to the very real. They are also diverse – from food to sleep to shelter to work to entertainment to health to transportation. What should the hospitality industry monitor?


Invisible technology
The integration of “invisible” technologies that guests can’t directly see but still interact with is driving some developments which create compelling new product experiences. Voice control is a core part of this, as is AI with its deep learning that allows for a combination of sensors and connectivity. A hotel room that can remember what a guest likes and how it looks might no longer seem an idea for the future, but possibly in the next couple of years.

It may seem obvious, but having the correct key hardware components behind the scenes allows for the latest forms of tech products to work in the sector. The experience with a product ultimately determines its success, but the hardware plays the critical role. Without the right mechanisms, new types of tech products simply won’t operate correctly. In an age where travellers and guests are connected with multiple devices, they require Wi-Fi that won’t slow them down. Smartwatches, tablets and phones all require the reliability of good Wi-Fi and if working correctly make the guest more comfortable. Free Wi-Fi is now an essential need for groups booking meeting space but the infrastructure for putting it in all spaces can be very expensive. However the return on investment for a business can be worth the investment. A stress free experience enables the relationship between an organisation and customer to grow, so having the right hardware to provide the service is an essential need.

Reusing old tech
Many people talk of experiences, style and trends going full circle and this may be happening now with technology. The technology industry is adopting retro trends which we have witnessed with the rise of vinyl in the music industry. Older TVs and PCS are now being reused as are other no-longer-used technology’s such as overhead projectors which are being revisited and renewed. They create conversation pieces and can form a community who are keen to ‘save’ these compelling older products.

3D Printers
3D printing has made strides in other industries such as construction and the fashion sector, with some designers exploring how clothes can be printed. Whilst experimental, they are testing the limits of 3D-printing technology and now Filaflex, a Spanish-made filament that’s more pliable than its hard plastic competitors, is being used for clothes. The bendable textile opens up a world of possibility.

Projecting these experiments further, the hotel room of the future may include a 3D printer so guests can print out clothes, forgotten items or simply enjoy the novelty.

Media walls
Whilst not a new form of technology, walls of frameless screens that appear to be one large screen are being adopted by some organisations in hospitality. The ability to play separate videos or combined to display one video or logo are appealing for event bookers, especially those who interact with social media and want to display live Twitter feeds.

Digital tailoring
Made-to-measure tailoring is being developed with augmented reality technology. Clothes are designed in real time and viewed on a mobile device with the garment shown on a 3D avatar representing a customer. Clients can choose the fabric and create a whole outfit in an interactive setting. This opens up many opportunities for hotel guests who may have clothes designed within their room or at the extreme have a new wardrobe sent directly to their hotel, safe in the knowledge that it fits perfectly and is exactly what they want.

With AI and chatbots taking over from the automated customer service calling systems, the level of understanding will create a more effective experience. Smart devices can learn a person’s patterns and preferences, so it should make better and more accurate suggestions and recommendations. Linked to automation is drone delivery which is undergoing wide-scale testing, especially by firms such as Amazon. The scope of possibilities for drones may change many F&B operation models.

Pervasive computers
Computing, through PCs, smartphones, wearables and cards will become more pervasive according to some technology experts. It has been argued by Intel that by 2020 the world will have 50 billion connected devices and 200 billion connected sensors. This will create massive amounts of data and the industry must be ready.

Smart bandages
The medical technology market is forecast to exceed $500 billion in sales by 2021. Therefore it is no surprise that Swansea University’s Institute of Life Science are focusing on health technology.

Researchers are now developing ‘smart bandages’ which can detect how a wound is healing and communicate with doctors. The 5G-powered dressing also monitors what treatment is needed and tracks the wearer’s activity levels. The project is part of a $1.6 billion deal which aims to turn Swansea into a 5G test hub. The cellular network boasts higher speed and capacity and is expected for large- scale deployment in 2019. 

Future leaders
Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk is now ranked as one of the world’s most effective business leaders. This year Fortune, the multinational business magazine, announced their findings of their annual list of World’s Great Leaders. Together with a panel of experts they found that the visionary and risk-taking Elon is among the greatest leaders. The billionaire entrepreneur employs 35,000 people and with Tesla he aims to achieve a carbon-emissions-free world. For SpaceX, the aerospace start-up, this was founded to lower the cost of space transportation and ultimately enable the colonisation of Mars. The rate of digital advancement with automation, big data, emerging technologies and cyber security will also pose a significant challenge for future leaders. It will be interesting to observe if many of the leaders of tomorrow come from the technology world or if Elon is a rare civic-minded voice.

It is important to monitor developments as they become more recognised and the true capabilities are explored. However, as ever in hospitality, the human aspect must never be overlooked. Personal communication has grown stronger with the rise of certain types of technology and many will make sure automation never gets to the point where it runs their lives. What’s clearer today is that future leaders must be able to use technological change to their advantage, to lead effectivity and look how to maximise the business and create vale in an inter-connected society.