Guest Preferences for Technology Use in Hotels
IndustryView | 2015
The relationship between hospitality and technology is a balancing act: Technology can add value, convenience and personalization to a guest’s stay, but too much of it can undermine the human touch many travelers appreciate.
With many hotels allocating more of their budgets for technology, it’s important to gauge interest from travelers before determining what to implement. Here, we ask consumers about their likelihood of choosing a hotel based on various technological offerings to help hotel professionals determine the smartest investments to make.
Hotels are always looking for ways to increase customer satisfaction by providing value, convenience and comfort. Implementing new technology can help accomplish this—but hotels must be careful to invest in technology guests actually want.
Smartphones are nearly ubiquitous today, in the hospitality industry as well as the general public. The use of brand-specific mobile apps give hotels the opportunity to reach guests with targeted offers, and allow travelers to view and book rooms on their phones through online travel agencies, such as Orbitz and Travelocity. Lobby touchscreens are another type of technology that has successfully been in operation at thousands of hotels for several years.
Other new technologies are also being pursued by hotel brands. For example, 2014 saw a bigger push of smartwatches into the mainstream consumer market with the announcement of Apple’s version. Some hotels are starting to use facial recognition technology to identify guest demographics and identify individuals to increase personalization.
In an October 2014 report, Software Advice surveyed travelers about their interest for robotic hotel service, which is debuting in a handful of Starwood hotels. A significant 56 percent of that survey sample said they would like to try out the service, with millennials (younger adults, also known as “Generation Y”) expressing the most interest.
For this report, we surveyed a random sample of U.S. consumers on how they feel about technology offerings in hotels to find out if such technology would make them more likely to book a stay in 2015.
Today, hotel guests can perform a handful of actions with smartphones, such as checking in before arrival or ordering room service.
The latest development in smartphones and hospitality involves Bluetooth-enabled door locks. Instead of printing physical card keys, a portion of hotels in the Hilton and Starwood brands now allow guests to download an app that enables them to access their rooms and any area on the property that requires a key card—such as the gym, parking areas or conference rooms—from their smartphones.
Among respondents in our sample, a combined 60 percent say they would be “more likely,” to varying degrees, to stay at a hotel that allows them to use their smartphones to enable these features. (Note: We did not filter respondents by whether or not they own a smartphone, since many consumers either own one, or are at least are aware of their various uses.)
Smartphones are a major factor in hospitality sales. Indeed, eMarketer reports that about 33 million people will book travel from their smartphones in 2015. Since hoteliers know that many of their guests have smartphones and use them while traveling, these devices thus represent another channel through which to engage guests throughout their stay.
For example, through mobile apps, hotels can push room-upgrade offers or promote specials at the bar or restaurant straight to guests’ phones. Given this, allowing guests to use a hotel mobile app to unlock their doors will likely increase the chance that they'll opt into an upgrade offer or promotion special offered through the same app.
We reached out to Hilton Worldwide hotels to see how their guests engage with smartphone features. Dana Shefsky, director of digital product innovation for the hotel brand, says one-third of their guests have used the digital check-in with room selection available on the Hilton HHonors app. More than 90 percent of those guests report being “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with the features, and would use it again.
No hotels thus far have released information about their use of smartwatches to engage guests. However, the Bluetooth functionality in these devices means they could likely be used in similar ways to a smartphone, to do things such as opening guest rooms or checking in.
We asked those survey-takers who currently own, or plan to buy, a smartwatch (37 percent of our overall sample) whether they would be more likely to book a room at a hotel that has this sort of functionality enabled. (Note: We only asked this question to those who have or plan to own a smartwatch in 2015 because the devices aren’t as widespread as smartphones yet.)
A combined 63 percent say they are “more likely,” to some degree, to book a hotel that has smartwatch capabilities over one that does not, while 28 percent say they would be “much more likely.”
These findings belie the relatively low market penetration of these wearable devices. Indeed, 63 percent of respondents in our sample overall don’t own or plan to buy a smartwatch, and much of the general public doesn’t see this new entry into the wearables market as particularly useful right now, given both the expense and lack of unique features.
However, with so many companies introducing their own version within the last year, the global smartwatch market is estimated to grow by about 97 percent year-over-year from 2015 and 2019. Many of these sales are likely to be to millennials, as this age group includes the most early technology adopters—more than half of those between 18 and 34 say they want to be the first to have the latest technology.
When we break down the above chart by age, a majority of respondents between 18 and 34 years old say they are “much more likely” to choose a hotel that uses smartwatch technology than a hotel that doesn’t. (Note: No one in the 18 to 24 or 65-plus age groups chose “moderately likely,” and “no more likely” choices were removed.)
Despite conflicting opinions in the general market about whether or not smartwatches will become more popular, it’s clear that there is significant interest in using this new technology for hospitality purposes, particularly among younger travelers.
Lobby technology isn’t as new as others in this report: Many hotels currently offer guests information such as weather, flight updates, news or recommendations for local attractions through interactive lobby touchscreens. Guests can use these to swipe, pinch and drag items on-screen as if they were large smartphones.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents say they would be “moderately” or “much more likely” to choose a hotel with this technology than a hotel without it.
Lobby technology also includes self check-in kiosks for guests who would prefer to skip the front desk and go straight to their room. In a previous report, we identified several benefits of self-service technology, such as faster check-in for guests and upselling and marketing opportunities.
Gene Hopper manages strategy and alignment for Monscierge, which offers software and interactive technology (including lobby touchscreens) for the international hospitality industry. She explains that, at least for millennials, the absence of lobby technology could actually be a detriment to hotels, since it’s a technology these guests are now accustomed to. So, while our respondents may not indicate a strong preference for lobby technology, this may simply reflect how commonplace it has become.
“It’s not that they would choose [a hotel with] this technology over another—[rather,] they come in expecting it,” Hopper says.
Facial recognition technology, in which biometric software (which analyzes biological data) linked with cameras can identify an individual from afar based on an image of their face, might seem like something from a science-fiction movie. However, it’s been used by the retail industry and law enforcement for many years to spot known shoplifters and even to track the age and gender of customers.
When asked if they would be more likely to book at a hotel that could offer increased personalization by using facial recognition technology, 41 percent of respondents say they would be at least “minimally more likely.”
Allen Ganz works on digital media solutions and biometrics for NEC—a company that offers various technologies, including touchscreens and facial recognition systems, for hotels. He says this level of interest is a good sign for the future of a technology that isn’t yet top-of-mind for many consumers.
“That statistic is encouraging to me, especially since this technology hasn’t made its formal debut,” Ganz says. “It actually marries nicely with the interest we’re seeing with major [hospitality] brands.” (He is not, however, permitted to name the brands that are currently pursuing this technology through NEC.)
One obvious use of facial recognition software is to enhance the guest experience, Ganz explains. For example, cameras could identify guests’ faces as they enter the hotel, which could alert the general manager to greet them in person and by name. VIP guests could also be recognized by the technology and automatically granted access to special clubs or other areas on the property, or a bartender could be notified of a guest’s favorite cocktail as they walk in.
As mentioned earlier in this report, we consistently find that younger consumers tend to be the earliest adopters of new technology. For facial-recognition technology, the results are no different.
Ganz expects the aforementioned uses of facial recognition technology to be commonplace in major hotels within the next few years. He says this will be driven by widespread acceptance of other biometric technology that millions of consumers use multiple times a day.
“Today, I use my fingerprint to unlock my iPhone,” he says. “I demand [biometric technology] because it’s part of the convenience I’ve come to expect to access my phone.”
A survey conducted by Unisys, a global IT services and consulting company, found that 75 percent of Americans are willing to use various advanced biometric methods (including fingerprint, eye and facial scanning) to be identified for governmental, banking or other organizations to avoid fraud. This growing acceptance of biometrics, Ganz says, is helping to drive the adoption of the technology in other industries, including hospitality.
Finally, we wanted to learn how consumers think the technology hotels use to provide service, such as check-in kiosks, should benefit them most. Among our respondents, 40 percent say that reducing costs should be the primary benefit of hospitality technology.
Indeed, a recent worldwide survey by CNN International shows that, just behind safety and security, price is the key factor that influences travel decisions.
There is technology already in use at hotels that can reduce operational costs. For example, “smart” room controls that turn off lights or air conditioning when no one is in the room can reduce energy costs. Some hotels display discounts or free offers on lobby touchscreens, and using smartphones or smartwatches to open guest rooms reduces the cost and waste of printing thousands of physical key cards each year.
This technology can indirectly lower costs for guests by reducing the hotel’s bottom line, and the resulting savings can be passed on in the form of specials and lower rates.
Overall, the newest technology entry into the consumer space—the smartwatch—is the device that is most likely to drive bookings to a hotel. However, only 37 percent of consumers in our sample say they own or plan to buy one of these devices, so it seems reasonable for hotels to wait before investing in features that utilize them.
Smartphones, on the other hand, represent a nearly ubiquitous technology that is likely to encourage bookings among a much larger sample, our survey results show.
Respondents say they are less likely to book a hotel for its lobby touchscreens or check-in kiosks. But this is likely because many travelers, especially millennials, have come to see this technology’s presence in hotels as a given.
Finally, facial recognition technology is the least likely to drive bookings to a hotel using it to provide more personalized service. However, experts in this technology see the 41 percent of our sample who say they would be somewhat “more likely” to book—as well as the growing acceptance of biometrics in the general public—as encouraging signs that its widespread application in hotels is not far off.
Millennials are now the predominant segment of travelers hotels want to attract, and these travelers are the group most likely to choose a hotel with the aforementioned technology offerings. Incorporating these technologies can be an effective way to increase bookings, specifically from younger travelers.
To find the data in this report, we conducted a five-day online survey of six questions, and gathered 3,103 responses from random travelers within the U.S. We screened our sample to only include respondents who say they plan to stay in a hotel at least once during 2015. Software Advice performed and funded this research independently.
Results are representative of our survey sample, not necessarily the population as a whole. Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent client vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.
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