Technology continues to innovate how travelers arrange and enjoy their journeys, and how hotels accommodate those guests’ shifting preferences. At the 2017 Phocuswright Conference from Nov. 7-9 at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Fla., LODGING spoke with hospitality and technology leaders about emerging technologies impacting the industry. Below are eight ways that new and evolving technology is shaping travel and tourism.
Blurring the line between hotel companies and tech companies
As hotels increasingly develop and own technology assets and tech companies enter into the lodging space, the definition between a hotel company and a technology company is starting to look less defined. Klaus Kohlmayr, chief evangelist for IDeaS Revenue Solutions, says that more hotel companies are open to redefining their mission to include technology. “That’s a good model,” Kohlmayr says. “Hotels will be required to do that more and more frequently, and they’ll be required to work more and more within the travel ecosystem rather than evolving [technology] in-house.”
Addressing the gaps in hotels’ legacy systems
The lodging industry is in the process of puzzling out how to best adopt emerging technologies into legacy systems. Chris Hemmeter, managing director at Thayer Ventures, says that this process leaves opportunities for startups and tech companies to patch gaps and work on top of the existing technical infrastructure. For example, Splitty is an online booking platform that leverages technology to figure out the lowest rate for a hotel room by splitting the reservation in two. From Hemmeter’s perspective, calling attention to the areas that are broken in hotels’ current systems is precisely the role that technology should play. “We’re not in the business of protecting legacy platforms,” Hemmeter explains. “When tech entrepreneurs attack weaknesses, it gives the industry a real opportunity to wake up and think about how it has to change. And when the industry is waking up and thinking about how it needs to change, it’s more open to the adoption of new technology.”
Slowing online growth
Lorraine Sileo, senior vice president of research at Phocuswright, says that one of the leading discussions at the Phocuswright Conference focused on the slowdown in online growth. “With the stock market reacting unfavorably to the results at Expedia, TripAdvisor, and Priceline, there was a lot of discussion about the online hotel market slowing down, particularly for OTAs,” Sileo explains. “Glenn Fogel [CEO of The Priceline Group] made the case that with less than half of hotels booked online, there is still a long runway for growth. Intermediaries do remain strong, but hotels are making some inroads with their loyalty rates, especially in the U.S.”
Leveraging artificial intelligence and neural networks
Tech companies are leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to pull in massive amounts of data and draw insights from that data in real time to create optimized results. Several companies were recognized during the 2017 Phocuswright Conference for doing this well. One example is Mezi, an AI-powered personal travel assistant that helps arrange and execute a traveler’s entire journey, collecting information on and learning from travelers’ habits and preferences along the way.
Streamlining meetings and events
Several tech companies are focusing their efforts on how to drive more business in the meetings and events space. GroupWise has created a tool to enable travel management companies and corporations to better manage small groups, including booking hotels and room night blocks. The software is not involved with pricing, but rather enables a smoother process for the company to drive more traffic to meeting and event spaces. SocialTables is another company that’s focusing on this space by providing full marketing and operations software platform for hotels. The company’s diagram platform allows hotels to layout meetings and collaborate with planners, as well as integrate search, conversion, and RFP tools into a hotel’s website to convert and drive more business.
Creating new ways for consumers to pay for travel
Another trend that emerged during the 2017 Phocuswright Conference is the rise of companies seeking to disrupt how consumers pay for travel. Uplift is one company recognized during the conference for the way it taps into data to assess risk and approve financing for travelers. The company is working to invite more travelers into the fray by approving debt and allowing people to pay for vacations over time.
Updating the tours and activities space
Several tech companies took the stage at Phocuswright to explain how they are working to streamline outdated systems in the tours and activities space. Redeam is one of the companies attempting to update this space by enabling mobile voucher processing for tours and activities such as sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty or entrance into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, two of the company’s clients. Redeam’s app can support both handwritten vouchers as well as bar codes, and is designed to be integrated into ticketing and reservations systems. “Not selling mobile tickets is leaving money on the table,” Leith Stevens, vice president of business development at Redeam, explains.
Learning from alternative accommodations
The increasing popularity of private accommodations and vacation rentals will continue to fundamentally change the lodging industry, Chris Hemmeter says. “There’s a massive maturing of an asset class that’s telling people that there’s an alternative way to sleep away from home, and that’s wise for a hotel owner or operator to understand,” he explains. For example, a family of four might experience difficulties booking connected rooms at a hotel, whereas a private vacation rental might make that experience much more simple. As these tech companies create channels to organize the alternative accommodations field, bring more reliable consistency to listings, and even integrate loyalty programs for alternative accommodations, hotel companies need to figure out what makes their brands unique and competitive in that world, he adds. “Hotel companies have to figure out their advantage,” Hemmeter explains. For example, booking an apartment may not provide the sort of social experience that a hotel could leverage through its shared spaces, programming, and staff. “Some hotel companies are getting better and better at recognizing that as a differentiator and an asset,” Hemmeter says.
Photo: Lorraine Sileo, senior vice president of research at Phocuswright, speaks at the 2017 Phocuswright Conference.