Tech Trends: Innovations, investments & upgrades to evolve your business

Hotel technology companies are always innovating in an effort to help properties run more efficiently and offer a heightened guest experience. With new solutions constantly arriving on the scene and legacy systems upgrading at a fast pace, the latest trending platform will eventually make way for the “next big thing.”

Hotel Business connected with Klaus Kohlmayr, chief evangelist & development officer, IDeaS; Matt Schwartz, chief technology officer, Sage Hospitality Group; Max Spangler, VP, technology, Charlestowne Hotels; and Scott Strickland, chief commercial officer (CCO), Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; to discuss the top trends in hotel technology, both guest-facing and back-of-house, as well as what new technologies they are keeping an eye on.

There’s always one trend that stands out above the rest, but the executives didn’t agree on what that was.

Strickland, who was promoted to CCO in April after serving as chief information officer for Wyndham since 2017 and continues to lead the technology department, chose guest-personalization technology.

Scott Strickland, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

“For about six years, we’ve invested more than a quarter-billion dollars standardizing our systems so that we can innovate faster,” he said. “Because we’ve made this investment, we standardized on two property management systems (PMS) and one central reservation system (CRS). Now, we can allow the guest to choose what they want to do. Do they want to check-in on their mobile device, or do they prefer to visit the front desk? Do they want to check-in early? Do they want to check out late? Do they want an upgrade? They get to choose and tailor their experience as opposed to us dictating what it should be.”

Kohlmayr believes it’s cloud technology, whether it be platforms working in the cloud or hotel companies moving all of their data to the virtual stratosphere.

“That’s a trend which clearly is getting a lot of traction right now,” he said. “A large amount of investment is going into upgrading technology and moving into the cloud and leveraging the capabilities that come with that in terms of scalability, depth of solutions and connectivity.”

Spangler and Schwartz both chose AI and how it has been integrated into platforms covering everything from property and revenue management to the guest experience and the booking process.

“AI is transforming how hotels manage everything from reservations to personalized guest experiences,” said Spangler. “By leveraging AI, hotels can automate routine tasks, predict guest preferences and provide tailored services that enhance the overall stay. AI-driven systems can analyze vast amounts of data to provide actionable insights. This leads to more efficient resource allocation, optimized pricing strategies and improved guest satisfaction.”

Schwartz explained that AI tools are helping him in the five areas he has been focusing on since joining Sage eight-and-a-half years ago.

“The first is business intelligence and analytics, so we’ve partnered with OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, and we’ve put our own private version of ChatGPT on top of our financial data so that we can have a simple chat conversation to parse the data,” he said. “The second area is CRM. So we’ve moved all of our independent hotels to Salesforce, whose Einstein AI offering can help you with target emails, ‘next best offer’ and things like that. The third area is cybersecurity, which is one that a lot of our owners are very interested in talking about. We deploy AI to look for abnormal or anomalous behavior. So cyber is a big area where we deploy AI like I said, simply not high tech vendors, but cyber is a big area.”

Matt Schwartz, Sage Hospitality Group

The fourth and fifth areas— increasing associate productivity and improving the guest experience—have also been aided by AI platforms.

“We have to get associates up to speed quickly, and we have to make up for the lack of labor, so we have deployed Zoom AI and Box AI, and we’re going to be doing a test flight of Copilot for Microsoft 365 this summer in order to supplement the associates we have, and make them more productive and more efficient,” said Schwartz. “As far as improving the guest experience, that’s anywhere from Amazon Alexa and the guestroom-controlling devices to robots delivering items or cleaning things. It’s things like facial recognition to recognize you when you’re walking into the hotel.”

Guest-facing tech
Guest-facing technology platforms not only elevate the guest journey but also can provide a seamless stay. When the executives were asked about the trends they are seeing in guest-facing technology, their responses revolved around solutions that make the hotel experience as stress-free as possible for the guest.

Kohlmayr chose how the mobile experience and making sure guest engagement and interaction becomes more and more seamless.

“You see a lot of buzz and hype around AI and Gen AI, and how that enables a better guest experience,” he said. “When it comes to guest-facing tech, it’s really about how you create a better guest experience and better engagement with the guests throughout the journey.”

Klaus Kohlmayr, IDeaS

Spangler pointed to relatively new technologies—voice-activated devices, in-room tablets and mobile apps—that are becoming standard in modern hotels, adding, “Voice-activated devices like smart speakers enable guests to make requests, control lighting and adjust the thermostat using simple voice commands. In-room tablets serve as digital concierges, offering information about hotel amenities, local attractions and-room service options. Mobile apps provide guests with the ability to check-in, unlock their rooms and interact with hotel services through their smartphones.”

Schwartz chose messaging platforms. “People want to have easy communication with the hotel,” he said. “They don’t necessarily want to pick up the phone, navigate through the TV or send their kid down to the front desk. There’s still a desire to communicate with someone from the hotel for requests, and messaging to me makes a lot of sense. It just needs to be the right experience.”

Strickland, you may remember, chose guest-personalization technology as the biggest hotel tech trend, so he gave an example of what Wyndham has done in this area.

“One of our most recent implementations allows people to pre-order things for themselves,” he said. “One of our hotels in Rapid City, SD, was selling more than $1,000 a month in additional beer revenue. What was happening is these Harley Davidson bikers would be about an hour away from the hotel, and they’d preorder four packs of beer for their arrival. They were able to do this because we gave them that option on the mobile device.”

Back-of-house tech
Back-of-house solutions help hotels run smoothly and more efficiently. The executives’ responses varied when asked about the trends in back-of-house technology.

Spangler explained that automated inventory management, advanced energy management systems and predictive maintenance are “key areas where technology is making a significant impact.”

He continued, “Automated inventory management systems help streamline operations by providing real-time tracking of supplies and minimizing wastage. Advanced energy management systems optimize energy consumption, reducing costs and environmental impact. Predictive maintenance uses sensors and AI to monitor equipment health and predict failures before they occur, ensuring smooth operations and reducing downtime. The main advantage of these technologies is increased efficiency and cost savings. However, the initial investment and integration with existing systems can be challenging. Moreover, maintaining and updating these systems requires ongoing effort and expertise to ensure they continue to deliver value.”

Schwartz said his company is “really bullish” on labor management, adding, “We’re deploying labor management across all of our hotels and restaurants this year. We’re going to be doing some more work on forecasting accuracy and how we improve our financial forecasts. Most of the people at the hotels and restaurants didn’t get into the profession to sit behind a computer or at a desk. They want to be out there interacting with guests and associates. We’re trying to really find a way to, when they’re in front of the computer, make them as productive as possible so they can spend the least amount of time in front of the computer as possible. To me, it’s really about trying to squeeze as much efficiency as possible in terms of time reduction in front of a computer—where there’s no human interaction—so that we can maximize the amount of time that the property staff can spend actually interacting with guests and associates.”

Strickland brought up two innovations—automatic WiFi logins and digital tipping—that removes friction for the guest.

“Our technology suite allows our WiFi to be set up where guests can travel from one hotel to another with the same WiFi login,” he said. “The WiFi will automatically log you in and recognize you. You go up to your room, and you’re auto logged into the TV because you’re on the WiFi network. Another example of what we consider back-of-house technology is mobile pay. Mobile-enabled tipping allows our housekeepers to receive rewards and tips via somebody paying on their mobile device. They scan a QR code and pay with Apple Pay, Google Pay or a credit card. We’re also integrating it in with our PMS folio as well, which allows that housekeeper to receive benefits at the end of the day.”

Kohlmayr agreed that it’s all about productivity and efficiency, noting, “One way to do that is to move back-of-house technology above property into a central environment.”

Emerging technology
There are always new or recent innovations that can become trendy in the future, so what are these leaders excited about in this area?

Strickland is bullish on digital assistants and what they can become in the future.

“I believe that they’re going to continue to mature,” he said. “Imagine the ability to interact with a digital assistant via voice and have it, for example, look at your calendar, know what it looks like for the day and go in there and auto-schedule lunch for you or reschedule a meeting based on an email that comes in. These are technologies that exist within Copilot from Microsoft, but we’re going to start to see adoption by people outside of an office space environment, and I think the sky’s the limit on some of those use cases.”

Another relatively untapped technology is facial recognition, which Schwartz is excited about.

“I do think we’re going to see more innovations in facial recognition because there’s such an opportunity to have,” he noted. “The first impression you typically have of a hotel is the arrival experience, and there’s nothing worse than having a long line for check-in and someone at the desk who doesn’t know who you are and makes you feel like it’s a transaction. Imagine the experience where you arrive at the front door, the facial recognition camera captures you, you have maybe 30 seconds of walk before you get to the front desk, and it’s a ‘Welcome back, Mr. Schwartz’ experience. I haven’t yet experienced that in a hotel, but I think we will get there.”

While Kohlmayr mentioned bringing back-of-house technology above property as a current trend, he said there is more to come in that area.

“In our area—pricing and revenue management—we recently started talking about making decisions for not just one property but for hundreds and potentially thousands of properties from above property in a very efficient manner through a central kind of capability,” said the IDeaS executive. “The person in control can really understand what they should be focusing their time on rather than having to look at all of their properties at the same time. It’s about making people above property more efficient, more effective and more productive. I think that’s a huge step forward because it wasn’t possible at scale before, and it’s becoming possible now.”

Charlestowne’s Spangler took a different approach. Rather than new innovations, he’s excited about improvements made to existing technology platforms.

“Rather than chasing the latest trends, the focus on optimizing existing systems through better code, enhanced security features and more intuitive interfaces is truly promising,” he said. “One of the key areas of improvement is the optimization of code for more performant applications. Companies are investing heavily in refining their software, making it faster, more reliable and capable of handling greater loads without compromising performance. This means that the applications we rely on daily in the hospitality industry, such as PMS and CRS tools, are becoming more efficient and robust.”

Max Spangler, Charlestowne Hotels

He also pointed to the enhancement of documentation, noting, “Clearer, more comprehensive documentation makes it easier for our technical teams to integrate, manage and troubleshoot systems. This reduces downtime and ensures that our staff can effectively utilize the full capabilities of these technologies.”

He continued, “Additionally, the development of new interfaces and the refinement of existing ones make these technologies more user-friendly. Intuitive, user-centric design ensures that both our guests and staff can interact with these systems effortlessly. For instance, more accessible and responsive mobile interfaces enhance guest engagement, while streamlined back-end interfaces improve operational efficiency. Moreover, the investment into these existing technologies signifies a commitment to long-term reliability and support. Companies are not only enhancing their products but also ensuring that they can adapt to future needs and challenges. This ongoing evolution is crucial for maintaining competitive advantage and delivering consistent, high-quality service.”

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