Robots. Facial recognition technology. Virtual and augmented reality. There's a seemingly unending stream of cool tech tools flowing out of research-and-development centers and into all corners of the meeting and hospitality industries. It's influencing hotel and event check-in processes, adding bells and whistles to guest rooms, and innovating meeting spaces. To borrow from Thomas Dolby, they're blinding us with science.
Before delving into the latest tech trends, it's worthwhile to hear the consensus view from meeting planners, hoteliers, and futurists who focus on the hospitality industry: Technology will enhance but never replace the way hotels cater to guests.
As someone who helps people understand and cope with the implications of new technology and ways of working, Jim Carroll often finds himself thinking that many of the predictions made about tech products are way off base.
"I shudder every time I hear one of the 'experts' suggest we are about to see a lot less human contact in the way we work, and the way we get together, particularly when it comes to meetings and conferences," says Carroll, a speaker and author who focuses on global trends and innovations.
Carroll made that very same observation in print way back in February 2002. He wrote an essay that appeared in the pages of Successful Meetings, in the wake of America's 9/11 tragedy. "What I wrote back then, the same thing is true today," he says.
It bears repeating: Technology will enhance, not replace.
While acknowledging that the rate of new technology is speeding up, Carroll points to a telling correlation on how the public views change. "People tend to overestimate how much change will occur over the next two years, and underestimate change that will actually occur over 10 years," he says.
Carroll points to the Gartner Hype Cycle, a theory that attempts to differentiate a technology's bold promises from its commercial viability. That cycle typically includes: an innovation trigger, a peak of inflated expectations, and a trough of disillusionment. That's sometimes followed by a slope of enlightenment involving the product and, hopefully, a plateau of productivity.
Take, for example, something as basic as Wi-Fi in hotels. Remember when it was a novelty?
"There's nothing as irritating as substandard bandwidth," says Dr. James Canton, a futurist, author, and CEO of the Institute for Global Futures. "Yet, it's still a problem at some hotels. Not every chain has figured it out that guests expect fast Wi-Fi and expect it to be free."
In-room devices are becoming more
sophisticated, and practical
Some companies get it. "We realize guests bring multiple mobile devices and need to stay productive," says Gary Murakami, director of global sales for MGM Resorts International and member of the board of directors for the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). "In Las Vegas, we offer high-speed, seamless connectivity over all our properties. And if you're using multiple properties, it spans to wherever you are."
Wi-Fi may be experiencing a plateau of productivity in Vegas. But in Sin City and all over the country, tech gadgets exist in all stages of the Gartner Hype Cycle. How the toys and tools are integrated into traditional hospitality will be the measure of success.
"It's all about the customization and curation of the experience," says Murakami. "Whether you're holding a meeting for 10 or 10,000 people, technology is now at the center of what we're focusing on."
Here are some examples of technology that's hacking its way into your next event and hotel stay:
Amazon's Alexa and Echo, and Google Home, are residence-based examples of chatbots that employ artificial intelligence (AI) to receive and respond to questions with audible, humanlike capabilities.
First, a definition: AI is a broad term that is applied to a machine that mimics cognitive functions we associate with the human mind, such as "learning" and "problem solving." Technology labeled as AI tends to change from year to year, and yes, it's been a scientific vocabulary word since the 1950s.
Corbin Ball points out that the Wynn Las Vegas is putting the Amazon Echo in every one of its upscale hotel suites. The Echo can be used to control the TV and thermostat, raise and lower the blinds, and contact the concierge desk to make requests.
"It's great, though there is some concern that the chatbot is always on and listening to you," says Ball, a meetings industry speaker and technology expert.
He adds that the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Vegas offers a text-based chatbot concierge -- named Rose -- that's programmed with a little … attitude. At check-in, guests receive a card that says, "I am the answer to the question you never asked; know my secrets. Text me."