Why Asia leads the race in smart hotel technology
Robot butlers, keyless entry and virtual reality-enhanced room bookings: Hotel guests are increasingly being greeted by these once futuristic tech features around the world.
But hotels in Asia have been upping the ante, with a younger hospitality industry – and many guests in their 20s and 30s – quickly taking to new innovations.
In Japan, for instance, self-parking slippers and furniture are able to return to their designated spots after use. A blockchain reward system introduced by Malaysian hospitality firm Hatten Group allows members to collect tokens in exchange for hotel packages and stays. Meanwhile, Andaz Singapore and Hotel New Otani in Tokyo have introduced chatbots for guests as a handy way of providing recommendations and answer any queries.
“In some respects, it is easier to trial and grow these concepts within Asia as new-build hotels can incorporate these products and concepts into the design at a very early stage,” says Andrew Langston, Executive Vice President, JLL Hotels and Hospitality Asia Pacific. “Moreover, Millennials grew up with technology and they’re very comfortable with adopting new innovations.”
Opportunities and expectations
Asian tech companies are quick to recognise the opportunities in the hospitality industry. Alibaba has developed facial recognition check-in for two Marriott hotels in China, which could be rolled out globally after trials. Hong Kong-based Tink Labs’ created Handy Japan, a concierge-service smartphone that is being used in around 80 countries; Softbank has recently jumped on board to support the initiative as Tokyo prepares for a tourist boom in anticipation of the Olympic Games in 2020.
It’s not just tech companies trying to inject their products. Hotel chains are hungry for more innovation to speed up efficiency and improve customer experience. Langston points out that technology is helping the service industry to meet its resourcing requirements.
South Asia’s largest hotel chain Oyo acquired an Internet of Things firm, AblePlus, to use its technology and Artificial Intelligence in better managing its hotels and assets. Meanwhile, chatbots on hotel sites are helping to overcome difficulties in finding service staff willing to do repetitive tasks and greater restrictions on foreign labour.
Efficiency aside, hotels also turn to technology as a way of managing costs in a capital-intensive industry, especially for the budget mid-scale segments where room rates are more competitive.
“Ultimately technology is increasingly expected in hotels rather than being a nice-to-have feature nowadays, especially for the travellers in Asia and from Asia. If hotel companies do not adapt, they will be left behind,” Langston says.
Evolving with change
As technology becomes a core – and critical – part of hotels, the industry is planning ahead. Progressive Asian cities like Singapore have unveiled a Smart Technology Hotel Road Map to help the industry advance. “It makes sense for governments to support and drive such initiatives. I think we will see similar trends from growing technology hubs in countries such as India and China,” says Langston.
“These are great initiatives. Taking a proactive approach will be the only way to remain abreast of technological advancements. This could similarly accelerate the speed of adoption of technology within the hospitality industry in developing countries such as Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, and Myanmar where the governments see tourism as an excellent vehicle to grow revenues.”
However, heaping new tech into a hotel business isn’t a guaranteed path to greater success. Langston cautions against hotel brands and operators rushing headlong into technology. It would serve them better to define their identity and branding – whether are they “high touch, low tech or high-tech, low-touch” and learn to tread a fine line as they determine who the hotel and its technology – or lack of – are catering for, he advises.