High tech shouldn’t replace high touch: PATAcademy

HOTEL companies are taking a bolder approach in applying new technologies to enhance the guest experience but the industry needs to also stay true to its roots as a service provider, said speakers at this week’s PATAcademy Human Capital Development programme.

Justin Malcolm, general manager of Aloft Bangkok-Sukhumvit 11, shared that the brand has literally rolled out robot butlers at the Cupertino property in Silicon Valley in August this year, and parent company Starwood Hotels and Resorts has begun introducing keyless entry to its W Hotels and Aloft hotels in the region.

Thirty out of 300 rooms at Malcolm’s hotel are categorised as Touch Rooms, coming with Fingi devices that allow keyless entry, control of in-room amenities, connection to guest services, and acts as a local phone number and free wireless hotspot for the traveller who wants to be connected all the time.

PATAcademy, which concluded yesterday, saw a host of speakers talking about possible technologies that could come into play in the next few years, from Beacon technology to wearables to artificial intelligence.

“If you go back 10 years, Starwood was not a technology leader. Most of our hotels were still registering people with hard keys and paper,” said Malcolm.

“But as a company we formed a global centre of excellence two years ago, filled with academics, IT experts, project leaders, and we have a huge stream of project plans in the making, SPG Keyless being one of them. Tech within the hospitality industry has not been tapped. We’re only starting to see what’s coming up.”

However, he cautioned: “We should never get to the stage where we replace human interaction. Technology should enable and make processes that have taken too much effort become seamless, or connect us globally to make us better service providers.”

Sudhir Abdul Rahman, senior vice president, information services, SilverNeedle Hospitality, said the recently opened Next Brisbane hotel also uses the affordable Fingi system to allow express check-ins alongside traditional check-ins and self-service check-in kiosks.

“The variation of business travellers cannot be narrowed down and we cater to all of them,” he said. While SilverNeedle is considering technologies such as facial recognition, Sudhir said hotels have to be tactical about technology and its use.

“We’re active on social media right now but are we getting the mileage out of it? Are we just reacting or are we really engaging with our target audience?”

Other hotels have employed technology to go green. Prasanna Welangoda, senior events and media executive, Jetwing Hotels Sri Lanka, said: “Jetwing Yalla, which opened in January this year, draws 40 per cent of its electricity from solar energy. We focus a lot on going green.”

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