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Want a nap? There’s an app for that

When discussing technology with hoteliers it is easy to fall into the trap of asking what new devices are being adopted within the business, forgetting that customers bring their own bewildering array of ‘solutions’ into the property without us having to lift a finger.

I suppose an early example was the mobile phone itself, rendering vastly expensive BT systems almost redundant. Maybe the TV will be the next item on the scrapheap, although screen size is probably important enough to keep good kit in place for a few years yet. So far guests continue to rely on their hosts for hot water and food, at least.

I was astonished to learn that some people use a mobile app to help them sleep, or to be woken at the least disruptive time according to their personal sleep pattern. This is just one example of a solution being found, using software, for a problem we never knew existed. Meanwhile the basics can be relied on to frequently fail, such as train services and the many conduits under our roads that have to be dug up again and again. Oh, and milk cartons that are hard to open unless you’ve a pair of pliers handy.

My point is that nearly all of the technological advances happening around us are centred on things that can be controlled with a smartphone. Of course, development in one area can often spill over into other areas, a good example being batteries. The need to power heavy vehicles using re-chargeable batteries has led to massively greater capacity, meaning cordless vacuum cleaners and who knows what else around the corner.

So let us consider what hotels could benefit from and see if the market listens and comes up with the goods, accepting we already have many labour-saving devices in the kitchen and the office. How about a machine that can make beds; or one that silently re-stocks the bar during the night; a shower without those freezing initial seconds or light bulbs that never need replacing? Surely these are the kind of advances we need more than tablets on which to place a meal order than can be done perfectly well face to face?

Surely the most transformative new technology affecting our business is in hotel search and reservations. Yes, it does involve systems within the property but most of what’s required is in the hands of third party agents and the consumers themselves. Literally billions a year are being spent on advertising by the likes of Booking.com of which hotels are mere beneficiaries, or victims depending on your point of view. Soon we may see these disruptors displaced by even better apps and websites that use artificial intelligence to bypass what is currently a pretty unfair regime in which commission plays too great a part in the results served up to consumers. The march of progress is unstoppable and almost all of it will happen with or without our consent.

I once worked for a publisher who used his old-Etonian confidence to great effect, embracing new technology while sceptical of his employees’ ability to master it fully. Anything that came out of a computer such as an accounting spreadsheet, however innocent, sparked the same response “you know what they say about computers don’t you: garbage in, garbage out”. What he encouraged us all to do was question “facts” and use our minds to find better answers to problems. Sometimes we succeeded, and those answers tended to come with nothing more than a biro and a sheet of A4.

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