Robot-bellboys and smart-concierges: What’s next for hospitality?


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Hospitality is an intrinsic part of being human. From pre-colonial communities welcoming foreign traders to our shores to Filipinos opening their homes to their balikbayan friends — over time, the forms it’s taken has evolved and grown, but the desire to make guests feel warm and welcome has always been constant.

Five-star hotels offer luxury accommodations and signature restaurants, while boutique hostels promise coziness and a feel of home. With millennials and Gen Zs becoming the market of choice for those in the hospitality industry, two main factors will influence the industry for the coming years: new technologies and a new customer mindset.

Machines and mindsets

Several establishments have already begun integrating new technologies into their operations. Multinational hospitality groups Marriott and the InterContinental are using autonomous robot developer Savioke’s Relay robots to perform menial tasks like room service deliveries. Opus Hotel installed an artificial intelligence-powered, smartconcierge system called Ivy to accommodate guests upon check-in.

And these changes aren’t just on the front-end. Shore Suite and Hotel Link Solutions are two of the many solutions providers for hoteliers looking to streamline their operations. These firms offer everything from booking engines to online reputation management systems.

This kind of industry innovation may be par for the course for millennials and Gen Zs. Growing up with different technologies like the internet has contributed in shaping their mindset as customers, a force which establishments will need to adapt to in order to capture their loyalty.

As digital natives, millennials and Gen Zs come to expect these kinds of adaptive, intuitive systems. Hospitality companies looking to capture their loyalty need to understand that for this market, new tech isn’t an advantage, it’s the baseline.

This inter-generational group values convenience, demanding access to services regardless of the time and place. Services like the Hilton’s Digital Check-in and Keyless Entry allows guests to skip the front desk and use their smartphones as virtual room keys.

These customers also want personalized experiences tailor-fitted to their needs. And they’re willing to share personal information with establishments to get that, not unlike the exchange between social media platforms and their users.

“That’s part of the bargain: I’m providing you this information… part of that value should be [that] you should offer me something that’s of interest to me, that’s personalized to me,” said Colin Christie, director of digital transformation at Enderun Colleges.

Addressing challenges

Local establishments are working to adapt to these changes effectively, but several challenges need to be overcome before the sector’s full potential can be realized.

One of these challenges is bridging the gap between education and global standards. Alistair Israel, CEO and founder of Shore Suite, shared his experience re-training fresh IT graduates for work. “[Schools] are still teaching this, but the rest of the world has moved forward,” he said. “Now we’re five to 10 years behind what is considered best practice. That’s probably true not just for IT but also for hospitality.”

Ibrahim Bernardo, chief immersion officer of I AM Cardboard PH, sees the need to fortify infrastructure, essential to supporting current and upcoming technology. I AM Cardboard PH’s augmented and virtual reality platforms, for example, require a stable internet connection — a given in many other countries, but hard to come by even in our nation’s capital region.

While the Philippines is resource-rich and more than capable of bridging these capacity gaps, political will and cooperation among stakeholders are sorely needed and hard to come by. As in the hospitality industry itself, it’s a matter of connecting and collaborating. “We’ve got the raw materials; we’ve got 7,000-plus beautiful islands; we’ve got incredible people. It’s just so easy to get there, except it’s not,” Bernardo said.

While much of the innovation in hospitality rides on technological advancements, the future of the industry isn’t necessarily streamlining human beings out of the picture and opting for robot bellboys and AI concierges. Rather, these tools will supplement the human touch at the core of the industry. “It’s in the name itself: Hospitality,” said Enderun’s Colin Christie. “It’s all about relationships and engagement with people.”

“It’s still about listening to our guests, creating remarkable guest experiences, making an emotional connection and taking these opportunities that’ll help us stand out,” said John Paul Maclang, country manager of Hotel Link Solutions. “These elements of hospitality are constant and will remain the same for years to come.”