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What’s Next in Travel and Hospitality

Ultra-smart interfaces, savvy virtual assistants and responsive environments will continue to mature, enabling travel and hospitality leaders to deliver irresistible, seamless experiences.

By 2030, international tourist arrivals is forecast to reach 1.8 billion, compared to 25 million in 1950. As a result, we are monitoring several growth trends that we believe will continue to innovate and disrupt the travel and hospitality (T&H) ecosystem over the next decade.


Sooho Choi

Global Travel & Hospitality Lead

Mobile travel companions will only get smarter

Today’s empowered customers already rely on a variety of self-service options to check prices, retrieve boarding passes, study reviews and book tickets directly, largely through their mobile devices. Whether they travel for business or leisure, mobile will continue to become an increasingly indispensable part of the travel journey over the next decade. When guests enter the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas for example, their phone checks them in, unlocks the room, adjusts the room temperature and personalizes the lighting and entertainment options.  

This is just the beginning. Over the next decade, mobile solutions will become even smarter as they are embedded with real-time intelligence and personalized interaction. For example, using an occupant’s age, gender, business or leisure status, hotels will learn about their guests by drawing upon their behavior, occupancy status and room type to suggest services. We’re seeing glimpses of this in several hotels, where ultra-smart interfaces let guests control their personal entertainment systems, lighting, curtains and room temperature. For example, many properties are deploying commercial apps that provide interactive guides to their hotel’s facilities and the city, offering personalized suggestions for dining, shopping and sightseeing.

As our mobile devices grow smarter, guests will take highly personalized interactions for granted. If they are tired from a day of sightseeing and shopping, the concierge can offer a discount on an in-room massage as they enter the hotel. If they don’t have room in their luggage to pack all the items from a shopping spree, a simple voice command arranges to have the purchases shipped home. They can view the video they took on their phone on the room’s 55-inch smart TV, be alerted when a delivery from the office is on its way up from a room’s smart speaker and secure a ride to the airport without having to ask, based on checkout time and flight information.

In 1950, the number of international tourist arrivals was 25 million, a number that is forecast to reach 1.8 billion by 2030.
World Economic Forum

Don’t respond to my needs, anticipate them

When Jack Welch made his famous observation—that competitive advantage lies in the ability to respond to needs faster than competitors do—he was looking through a 1980s lens where concepts like smart machines, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and advanced algorithms resided in ivory towers and science fiction films.   

Fast forward 30 years and emerging technologies are empowering T&H marketers with an electronic looking glass that provides previously unimaginable visibility into the guest’s context—one in which people share where they are, what they are doing and who they are with. While marketers will always strive to respond to demands faster than competitors do, emerging technologies are enabling a shift to anticipating demands before customers are even aware they have them. In this new world of clairvoyant marketing, T&H brands won’t wait even a microsecond for guests to raise their hands as they make offers that anticipate demand before customers are even aware they have them. Picture the Uber car arriving at their door anticipatorily, knowing a customer has a flight in two hours. Or a customer’s Trunk Club sees a friend’s wedding on the calendar and automatically lets his stylist know he may need a new suit.

While marketers will always strive to respond to demands faster than competitors do, emerging technologies are enabling a shift to anticipating demands before customers are even aware they have them.

Seamlessly connect me to your operational staff

In the quest to become clairvoyant marketers, many providers will view customers and staff through a single portal. Add advanced analytics and machine learning, and experiences will become even more intuitive as they connect to back-office processes to predict how a guest wants to experience the facility. 

These integrated platforms—that tie the customer experience directly to the hotel’s back-end systems—will be key to triggering and matching the right employee to the right process. But even more exciting, we anticipate that this tighter integration will help reduce operational costs while also helping hotels reduce their ecological footprint, an attribute more and more guests look for before making a reservation.

Overall, we imagine a seamless future where guests enter a room to find their favorite music playing, their preferred room temperature has been pre-set and their Netflix Watch List is preloaded on the TV. In the future, guests might even control the room’s colors. These magical experiences, based on responsive environments, will decipher and respond to behavior to deliver engaging experiences while delivering useful data to the hotel staff.

For example, hotels as diverse as Miami’s Soho Beach House, Singapore’s Warehouse Hotel and LA’s Farmer’s Daughter have already connected their operational dashboards to customer-facing apps that declutter the experience. Underlying analytics make experiences even more clairvoyant by drawing upon guest spending data, notes from previous stays, social demographics, trip purpose and behavioral observations.

These hotels subscribe to a suite of concierge services that help them reclaim guest ownership through end-to-end experiences that begin before the guest even enters the property and continues post-trip. The solution also lets these providers benefit from direct bookings, which are more profitable than those from online travel agencies.

Integrated platforms that tie the customer experience directly to the hotel’s back-end systems will be key to triggering and matching the right employee to the right process.

Parlay my experience into related segments

Uber has extended its mobility services into the food services industry by making its Eats service available in more than 300 cities. Janelle Sallenave, head of Uber Eats in the U.S. and Canada, recently explained that in suburban and rural areas, Eats connects with communities better than the firm’s ride-hailing business illustrating how providers are replicating experiences from one segment to another to connect pockets of related demand.    

Another example is Selina, which recently extended its popular workspace experiences into its mixed-use destinations for international travelers who occasionally combine business with pleasure. Targeting millennials, Selina has combined its workspace environments (complete with WiFi, coffee bars, cafes and communal spaces) with cost-effective dorm-style living or fully equipped hotel-style suites. During off-hours, business travelers convert to tourists using services that help them explore the city, get tickets to local events and enjoy the local cuisine. The next day they are back at work. Over the next decade, T&H providers will respond to strong demand from travelers that occasionally like to mix business with pleasure.

Over the next decade, T&H providers will respond to strong demand from travelers that occasionally like to mix business with pleasure.

Respond to the sound of my voice

Soon, customers will regularly seek answers from virtual assistants (informed by up-to-the-minute guest reviews) to make decisions about which restaurants or local events to attend. Their voices will also summon housekeeping, room service, set alarms or stream favorite entertainment services. Your virtual assistant will draw upon the queries of other guests (whose profiles and interests match yours) to suggest restaurants, sightseeing tours or other local events. Suggestions will also be informed by your trip purpose and notes from any previous stays.   

Many of these voice commands will trigger smart sensors. As soon as guests get out of bed, their voices might activate small guiding lights, eliminating the need to hunt for light switches. Then there’s robotics which were pioneered in 2015 when a Japanese hotel replaced more than half its human staff with conversational machines to check guests in, answer their questions, take bags to their rooms and hail taxis—all while helping the hotel operate more efficiently. It was an ambitious undertaking to not only innovate the customer experience but also reduce costs.

Fast forward to today, many of these robots have been fired due to their inability to match the performance of humans. While many tasks were fulfilled with accuracy and efficiency, the overall reaction from guests (which was less than positive) underscores that we may not be quite ready to give up human-to-human interaction, which has been fundamental to hospitality services for centuries.

However, the robotics story is far from over. Drawing upon lessons learned from the Japanese experience, many other hotels, such as Marriott and Hilton in the U.S., are deploying similar technology albeit with a more limited scope. Several airports are also experimenting with robots. We believe the interest in robotics, even if their deployment in Japan was premature, will continue as AI-embedded solutions contribute to experiences that are smarter, more personal and less dependent on humans.

Marriott’s Guestroom Lab for example, recently produced an app that showcases how AI, data and analytics use a guest’s occupancy status, room type and time-of-day to automatically make personal offers based on the customer’s individual behavior. Relevance increases even more as the app learns. Hilton announced similar investments that will help them anticipate (versus respond to) the needs of guests. It’s only a matter of time before these capabilities find a home in robots.

Your virtual assistant will draw upon the queries of other guests (whose profiles and interests match yours) to suggest restaurants, sightseeing tours or other local events. Suggestions will also be informed by your trip purpose and notes from any previous stays.

We also expect the rapid adoption of wearables, currently in use at theme parks and cruises in the form of multi-function wristbands that provide information while serving as digital wallets. In the not-too-distant future, a guest’s smart watch will help them board with the flick of a wrist, reducing (even eliminating) misplaced boarding passes or the dependence on scanning from smartphones.

Sense and act

T&H providers will also rely on smart watches to communicate the right information, at the right time, to the right employee—for example, fulfilling a request for more towels, a request to fix a broken toilet or updated flight information. Watches will notify staff via silent vibration alerts helping managers track tasks in real time to make sure requests and vital information are delivered in a timely manner.

But, while conversation is the easiest way to communicate, it can also be a barrier as travelers venture to other countries. That is changing as evidenced by Google's new wearable earbuds, which facilitate real-time translation in 20 languages (a welcome tool on Emirates, which reports 10+ languages represented on a typical flight). We see this invention as a major boon to travelers as well as workers in all T&H segments.

And don’t forget the biometric tracking features of wearables, which will help airlines monitor the heart rates of pilots, air traffic controllers, train conductors and bus drivers as a key measure of passenger safety to prevent potentially life-threatening incidents.  

Let me try before I fly 

We believe the potential of wearables is bright as they become lighter, more connected and richer in functionality to facilitate seamless experiences. For example, the industry is moving quickly to embrace virtual reality, using headsets (equipped with generators) that replicate real travel experiences, such as the smell and sound of ocean waves. Thomas Cook, one of the first travel agents to adopt virtual reality experiences, does this and more, letting prospects fly over Manhattan, experience lounging in the sun by the pool at a premier hotel in Spain or check out a restaurant in Cyprus, using Samsung-powered headsets.

Marco Ryan, chief digital officer for Thomas Cook, says the technology is not only boosting package holiday sales but is also integral to the brand’s future strategy, adding, “Before, travelers just had a brochure or information on the website to inform them of their choices. Virtual reality allows them to get a true sense of the hotel and the excursions they can go on—it’s been a real game-changer for us.”

Marriott uses the technology to deliver real-time guided tours of its 14 European properties. Like other virtual reality advocates, it is not looking to recreate the on-ground experience of visiting these remote destinations, rather tempting the buyer with an experience that is so engaging they will be compelled to buy it.

While conversation is the easiest way to communicate, it can also be a barrier to travel. That is changing as evidenced by Google's new translating earbuds, which facilitate real-time translation in 20 languages.

Experiences will become easier to buy

Through alliances, T&H players have regularly increased market share and global reach, proving that one plus one can equal three by leveraging resources beyond what one competitor can do alone. It began In 1841 when Thomas Cook offered a single travel experience (delivered through multiple providers) at a price lower than the sum of its parts, an innovation that has stimulated nearly two centuries of T&H alliances between airlines, hotels, food services, car rental agencies and event managers. While these alliances have remained active and steady for decades, they will get more creative with connectivity (as we’ve witnessed with Airbnb and Uber).

Even when providers believe owning a capability makes them more competitive than acquiring it in-house, they will likely become more open to using partnerships to fulfill immediate demand especially in an age where digital services are quickly becoming available at anytime from anywhere. Therefore, we see providers leaning more and more on strategic alliances to complete their offering, at least in the short term.

In the future, innovation and big data will continue to go hand-in-hand as all T&H competitors use more information than ever to compete in a highly connected travel ecosystem. That’s because with connectivity all T&H executives are gathering extensive insight into the preferences and personal interests of their customers. Therefore, they will likely step up partnerships with other travel sector providers, including restaurants, airlines and local attractions as they share data and build comprehensive customer preference records.

As the connected economy matures, T&H executives will harness new capabilities to reinvent, reimagine and rethink the ways we experience everything the industry has to offer. From using our phones to unlock hotel rooms and adjust room temperatures to previewing destinations with virtual reality—T&H experiences promise to become more engaging, efficient and seamless.