Vacancy: Hotels are using this time to rethink tech infrastructure

The hospitality industry is in dire straits due to the coronavirus lockdown. Rather than waiting idly on the sidelines, some companies are using this time to retool.

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Now, months into lockdown, the global coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on populations and economies around the globe. The hospitality industry in particular has acutely felt the seismic reverberations of this global standstill. With flights grounded and cancellations abound, the sector as a whole is on the ropes. In one top market, hotels have seen occupancy decreased by more than 90%, based on recent data from STR. That said, some hotels are resorting to unusual measures to ensure cash flows. LondonHouse Chicago, for example, recently started selling bonds offering a return of 50% on a $100 investment.

Rather than remain idle during this occupancy lull, some innovators in the industry are reimagining the future of hospitality. As the saying goes: When life gives you lemons you make do. The hotel industry is following this old adage, with many hoteliers using this downtime to beef up their technical infrastructure, automate various guest services, and add artificial intelligence to the fold. With fewer guests in rooms, hoteliers have the unique opportunity to boldly tackle larger renovation projects and retool for the years ahead.

"This is a great time because hotels can catch up on facilities and technology projects without disruption to operations or guests," said Brandon DeCuir, VP of marketing at React Mobile Inc.

"Alexa, order room service."

Anytime Amazon makes moves the markets pay close attention. The company garnered plenty of headlines when Amazon rolled out its Alexa for Hospitality platform in 2018. In walks Alexa to fulfill the role of the traditional front desk guest service. The new feature is a way for guests to more aptly personalize their full hospitality experience. Amazon self-admittedly envisions this overall integration with existing hotels to function as a " virtual concierge." Whether this is simply requesting another set of towels, late-night room service, adjusting the room temperature, or finding a food and entertainment recommendation, there's a virtual assistant for that.

Guest engagement software company Nuvola is a current Alexa for Hospitality partner. Nuvola Founder and CEO Juan Carlos Abello sees the overall framework as a way to efficiently streamline a clunky patchwork of existing systems.

"Many hoteliers today using software companies for backend and front-facing processes deploy a number of different solutions, from different companies/developers, creating a fragmented system where necessary data is not communicated across the hotel's various departments," said Abello. "Involving multiple products that do not effectively communicate with each other makes it difficult for systems to work together."

Using Nuvola's Angel app (Nuvola translates to cloud in Italian) the company brings these various solutions into a single system. Nuvola offers a range of hospitality app-based communication services. These range from chatbot solutions for frequently asked questions to a digital lost and found system. This overall suite of services is modular so hotels can pick and choose the systems they like without paying for items they can operate without.

SEE: Hotels with cool tech for the business traveler (TechRepublic)

Many of us are well-adapted to using our digital assistants in our day-to-day lives and there has been a boom in smart home integration in recent years. This makes the extension to the hospitality industry as more of a natural progression of the technologies rather than a total outlier. Abello sees the incorporation of these smart devices and systems into the hospitality industry as a way to bolster customer satisfaction.

"The familiar device creates a sense of comfort through using a platform already familiar to most guests in order to personalize their hotel stay and feel right at home," said Abello.

Upgrading security systems

Aside from tweaking the traditional guest services experience, other companies are looking to incorporate advanced security measures to protect staff. Hotel employees, especially housekeepers, are routinely subjected to sexual harassment and physical assault on the job. One company, in particular, React Mobile Inc., specializes in panic button solutions. The security system is based around a small device employees can keep with them during the workday. (Imagine your typical modern car key with a panic button in the middle.)

"The employee in distress presses their panic button which locates the nearest BLE beacon for location information. The button then sends a cellular signal to our cloud-based enterprise platform and reports the location in real-time throughout the lifetime of the emergency," said DeCuir.

SEE: Futuristic hotels for business travelers in China and Japan (TechRepublic)

The device works with Bluetooth beacons in-place throughout the property to pinpoint a distress signal down to the exact floor and room. The device also works off of company property. In this instance, the device will relay GPS coordinates as well as Google maps detailing the exact location of the distress signal. The company has had no shortage of suitors with clients including Hilton, Accor, Caesars, and Waldorf Astoria just to name a few.

For now, the industry is tightening its collective belts and planning for an extended slow period and potentially even a lackluster summer if the pandemic and ensuing lockdown measures continue into June and July. There's no telling how long this will all last, but one thing is certain, heading into an unknown future, the effects of this global event will alter the status quo of this particular sector, for the better or the worse.

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Hotel reception with bell

Modern luxury hotel reception counter desk with bell

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