One of the oldest industries in the world is poised to pave the way forward for one of our newest technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT). Luxury hotels could be the frontier that finally moves the vision of IoT fully connected living from CES displays to real life. Frankly, given all the efficiency and cost saving advantages the IoT could bring the hospitality industry, it’s almost surprising it hasn’t happened yet. (McKinsey finds that IoT hype actually understates the full potential.) So it seems appropriate now to take a moment to imagine how we should communicate this revolution to the end user, the global affluent guest.
Sure, a robot butler sounds pretty cool, but the joy of having a toothbrush delivered to your room by a “Botlr” is likely short lived. The true consumer benefit of the Hotel Internet of Things (let’s call it the HIoT) will be a perfect balance of truly personalized service – human interaction when you want it and machine efficiency when you don't.
As always in marketing, you will be infinitely more effective when you consider the context — in this case, modern ultra-luxury travel. This consumer is accustomed to having access to the best of the best, likely in every aspect of daily life, so it takes something truly special to surprise. World-class concierge and amenities, exclusive restaurants and spas, amazing locations and curated experiences … those are the table stakes. (Sounds nice, doesn’t it?)
Right now you can stay at a five-star hotel near Central Park complete with famous chef, award-winning spa, bar filled with celebrities (or at least a couple of your favorite Bravo Housewives), but go back to a room with a phone that looks like it could have belonged to Zack Morris. Want turn-down service? You will likely root around for the right button, accidentally request the weather report, turn all the lights on and off a couple times, and ultimately give up and call the front desk anyway. The ideas of time-as-the-only-truly-limited-resource or personalization-as-the-ultimate-luxury are not new ones, but the first brand to crack how to use the HIoT to create more streamlined and custom experiences for the guest will be the one who truly breaks new ground.
Here are three reasons why the IoT should work particularly well in a hotel environment, and the key messages that will genuinely appeal to affluent visitors.
In relation to manufacturing and organizations, SAP concludes that proximity-awareness technology will bring scattered pieces of IoT together into a cohesive, cyber-physical system. This same logic applies to hotels where it is entirely feasible to cover the end-to-end guest experience with proximity sensors and where the guest has a specific set of extremely predictable need states – variations on I need to sleep, eat, work, or have fun. The manufacturing metaphor translates across assets (the hotel), supplies (amenities), suppliers (staff), and customers (guests). The HIoT can connect all of these pieces together, sometimes sending in a person and sometimes not, when the personal touch is actually the obstacle. For guests, this everything connectivity means an experience so seamless you never need to waste time waiting for anything (i.e., valet), looking for anything (i.e. directions), or asking for anything (i.e., cleaning). In fact, you can reinvest all of this new found time in actually relaxing and unwinding.
Experience Design at Scale
IoT adoption by individual consumers is stymied by incompatibility – not everything works with everything else, and the technology changes so fast it’s scary to invest. Furthermore, as Harvard Business Review points out, “Customers don’t buy IoT” and many don’t know what it does. What people are looking for is the value-in-the-end benefit the IoT provides them. In other words, they probably won’t pay more for a hotel because it’s high tech, but they will return again and again and rave about a hotel with the perfect climate/ music/ pillows/ bath products/ turn-down service/ mini-bar/ recommendations. People already see the benefit of joining travel loyalty programs. A simple survey can help a human concierge provide individualized service. A robust consumer profile paired with automation and smart embedded devices will only make service better and better each visit, remembering more and acting faster than a person ever could. A hotel that genuinely understands your tastes and preferences as well as a go to friend — this is where VIP goes beyond privilege to become personal.
Big data, smart data, cognitive data … it would be impossible to write about the IoT without a mention of data. Going back to the theme of guest-centric communications, what seems most interesting are emotional analytics — moving beyond sentiment tracking to real-time engagement. It sounds complicated, but what it means for marketers is this: don’t wait to analyze your reviews after the fact. Instead, find out how your guest is feeling and solve in the moment. An extremely simplistic example – what if you had an emoji-based system for guests to alert you when they were cold, hungry, bored, or angry? Offer some options and let them pick the solution. Whether it’s brought to them by technology or timely human interaction, it’s all at their fingertips. This is what can transform hassle into unforgettable, indecision into adventure, and a one-time stay into lifelong loyalty.
The IoT has arrived and companies are moving fast to integrate it into their business strategy. But as long as the IoT remains abstract to the consumer unfamiliar with electronic trade shows, its real potential will remain veiled. When luxury-hotel guests enjoy a truly connected experience from check-in to check-out paired with communications focused on personalized benefits vs technology, we’ll see the true resonance of the IoT.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on March 15, 2017, in Engage:Affluent.