Technology: hotels no longer shaken or stirred

Most of us have, at one point or another, fancied being James Bond. Be it driving fast cars, feeding baddies to sharks or just enjoying the finest in luxury travel at the expense of the taxpayer, there is much to enjoy in being 007.

One area where there has been less to embrace in recent years is technology. The scenes where Bond received his deadly watches, poison-tipped umbrellas and homing pills are long behind us, but for why? Because they’re no longer exciting and fun when compared to the iPhones we carry in our pockets every day, according to the filmmakers. Anyone feeling deprived of the chance to instal machine guns in their Aston Martin should go ahead, of course, just pay attention to local laws.

The sense in the sector at last week’s IHIF was that the special feeling was going out of the technology market for hotels too. There was a time when hoteliers would gather in hushed awe at the latest presentation of some new piece of software which was going to organise their operations, allow guests to find their own rooms and taser bed bugs at the same time, but it’s pretty hard to work up a frenzy of excitement when you have Siri to hand to remind you when to take your cod liver oil.

Have hotels seen it all before? Are they being sold incorrectly? Or is technology just not a miracle cure? Climate change has become a decent bellwether for public attitudes to technology versus the reality. Ask some senior members of the UK government and they’ll tell you not to fret, technology will come up with a solution. Have faith in the scientists. They’ll think of something. Then watch as they trot off to warm their hands on the nearest coal fire.

And yes, there is exciting technology in the form of carbon capture and the like which does give us hope. But the reality is that it’s just part of a whole. Other actions will need to be taken. By us.

When the OTAs first sprang up, they were seen as the fun new way to sell hotels, without any effort from the hotels themselves. Build it and they will come. Somehow. That turned out to be rather more nuanced than first advertised and became the stuff of conference riots for many years to come. 

Every fresh piece of technology has suffered the same consequences (maybe with less open warfare). There is no one piece of technology which can improve business by 60% just by plugging it in and leaving it alone. The mood at Berlin was very much along the lines of ‘well we have to have it, but let’s not overdo it’. Somewhere around the enthusiasm for bathroom taps. You can’t operate without them, but you’re not going to get a massive uplift in ADR by having a fancy one. And TripAdvisor is no longer the force it once was. 

Some brands, such as Bob W, are tech only, of course, but these are seen as novelty outliers. Where technology folk need to focus their attention is away from the product and onto the result. When you buy a car no-one explains the internal combustion engine to you, but you can hear all about how fast it goes. Too many tech companies tell hotels (and by hotels, we largely mean investors, given they’re the ones with the cash) about how something works, without selling them on the cash they can save through efficiencies and raise by driving ancillary revenues.

After all, we’re still happy to watch Bond, even though the tech has faded from prominence. The last outing hit a record £21m in the UK in its opening weekend. Be more results driven. Be more Bond. 

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