Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, the subsequent deployment of 4G and now the imminent 5G roll-out, the pace of technology change has reached sprint levels. It’s clear the pace is not slowing.
Apple kickstarted the mobile revolution, but it was when cumbersome 3G was replaced by the faster 4G at the beginning of the last decade that smartphones immersed themselves deep into our lives. The power of the smartphone brought companies such as Airbnb and Uber and now the world is firmly in our pocket with smartphones central to our everyday lives.
The last decade also saw the launch of digital voice assistants with Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant all arriving. Voice brings a whole new mobile experience introducing the idea of voice commands and hands-free device control.
It has been predicted that this coming year we will reach 200 billion voice search queries per month, and that by 2023 there will be over 8 billion digital voice assistants in use . Today’s consumers are searching for quicker and more efficient ways of accomplishing tasks and voice is quickly fulfilling that need in many cases.
The mobile experience has been further enhanced by the smart watch and by the arrival of smart wireless earbuds and wearables. The Apple Watch revolutionised the market when their fashionable device launched in 2015. Wireless earbuds replaced headphone jacks, again led by Apple when they decided to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 in 2016. Addressing the growing need for convenience, earbuds offered freedom to move around without having to deal with cables. It may seem like a trivial thing, but Apple’s earbuds are evolving into a clever ecosystem enabler, bringing Siri to more users and developing into an $8B contribution to Apple’s top line as of this year by some estimates (yes, billion).
Devices that appeared in the last decade have evolved quickly and have fundamentally changed how we communicate, how we organise, and generally how we live our everyday lives.
The Social Decade
The smartphone revolution led directly to the social media revolution. Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest and more recently TikTok were all launched in the 2010s on the back of the smartphone, offering new ways for consumers to stay connected and share their views. (Whether this was really a social revolution or an antisocial revolution is debatable.)
In 2018, an estimated 2.65 billion people were using social media worldwide, a number projected to increase to almost 3.1 billion in 2021. When you consider that the world population is 7.7 billion, that is a staggering penetration rate.
As broadband became faster over the decade watching video on our phones and tablets also took off. TVs have got smarter and new streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video now bring to our fingertips entire content libraries. Netflix has amassed 158 million subscribers and has normalised the expectation of getting the content you want, when you want it. With the super speed that 5G promises the market is set to get a lot more crowded with new players such as Apple and Disney beginning to make their mark.
Consumers now get a highly personalised experience on their devices, with social media and other services adapting by algorithm to each consumer’s preferences and consumption habits. No one sees the same online anymore, and that fact has consequences for hospitality also.
Consumers are looking for authenticity and are increasingly more influenced by user generated content (60% in 2019) and increasingly less so by brand (19% in 2019). As a result user generated content, dark social, and ephemeral content (content with an expiration date) are all growing in both popularity and influence.
The Data Revolution
In 2019 5G wireless arrived, creating a stir with its ability to push the boundaries of technology on a much grander scale than was ever possible with 4G. 4G was a 5x improvement in speed and latency over 3G, while 5G is a 10x to 100x improvement in speed and latency over standard 4G. In practical terms that means movies will take seconds, not minutes to download (once you have the upgraded device and upgraded network access of course.)
The rapid advancement of emerging smart technologies is made possible by the decrease in latency that 5G brings, enabling applications that require real-time access to data and analysis. Without 5G, going to and fro to corporate servers takes too long for mainstream use of “intelligence”. But 5G access brings a major change for technology services such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, virtual reality, augmented reality, internet of things (IoT), connected cities, autonomous or self-driving cars, remote robotic surgery etc. The list of possibilities is endless once data flow is seamless and instantaneous.
5G bandwidth lets you simultaneously connect your smartphone, tablet, laptop, virtual reality headset, wireless thermostat, video game console, smart locks, wireless security cameras, all to the network without worrying that they’ll stop working when they’re all on at the same time.
5G brings much bigger opportunities for hoteliers no longer burdened with the restrictions of bandwidth. The average person has 3.4 electronic devices and usually brings a few of them wherever they go.
Unlike 4G, 5G can support all the new interconnected tech coming. Closer to our own industry, we all expect that hotel rooms will increasingly become smart rooms with potentially dozens of IoT sensors monitoring and updating the status of each room. Furthermore fast and mobile network access can power edge computing to analyse huge amounts of data giving hotels a much better understanding of each individual room no matter how many rooms it has.
The concept of a fully automated stay was introduced at Alibaba’s FlyZoo Hotel in China. You use their app to preview and purchase your room, check-in without an attendant, unlock your room via biometrics, and call for your own personal ‘robot butler’ via each room’s built-in voice assistant. The future is now!
The challenge for hospitality however is to remain “hospitable” and human where possible even as more and more technology reaches into the guests’ stay.
At the start of this new decade the traditional lines between “computer” and “mobile device” are increasingly blurred. The mobile revolution may have started with the first iPhone in 2007 but the arrival of 5G brings mobile to a whole new level.
95% of internet users have a smartphone so Bookassist’s advice should come as no surprise: “To be successful, 2020 and beyond must be viewed under the Mobile lens. A mobile first strategy has never been so important”, according to Bookassist CEO Des O’Mahony at the BTO Conference in Florence in March 2019.
The winners will be those who can leverage growing amounts of data, new technologies and tools to offer a superior customer experience while at the same time addressing the concerns around privacy and safety.
As we enter this new decade what can you actually do to take advantage of these changes to better market your hotel and what can you as a hotelier do to gain competitive advantage?
There are a number of the areas we think are priorities for the year ahead and we will be tackling them all in detail in the weeks and months ahead.
Focus on a mobile strategy or die. Don’t read any further unless you fully digest this one! Traffic, and increasingly revenue, are switching more and more to mobile. Expect the concept of desktop versus mobile to disappear as we simply talk about “access”.
Analyse your data and use it to enable real-time decision making. The challenge of today’s data is the sheer scale of it, so we need more systems to digest and analyse it and only tell us what is important about our business. Relevance and actionable data are what matter to give us the pulse of our business without the noise. This is an area Bookassist will increasingly tackle for our hotel partners. Watch this space.
Personalise. The explosion in data tracking gives us huge amounts of information on our customers. And the advancement of machine learning and AI will allow brands to personalise more effectively. But there’s a balance to be had, since we also want to retain the individual personality of the hotel we run and the human-level service we bring. Personalisation doesn’t mean everything is different for everyone, it just means being more aware of the individual consumer’s needs and desires.
Up your video game. Faster 5G enables us to consume video streaming on any device so video marketing should be a priority. With the low latency that 5G brings live video chats will allow you to communicate in real time with no lag time.
Enhance the customer experience with chat bots, AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality) and IoT (internet of things). But be cautious also and don’t spend unless technology is giving a proven return.
Focus carefully on local SEO as voice search continues to grow. Write conversational FAQs that optimise for Voice. Focus on creating useful FAQ questions and answers on your website that voice assistants can pull from when answering queries. Use a casual conversational tone to address voice search queries that tend to begin with the 5 W’s of who, what, where, when and why.
Invest more in location marketing. Target mobile users using mobile geolocation marketing practices such as mobile audience and location targeting.
Encourage user-generated content. leverage the growing opportunity to generate authentic and positive content by encouraging guests providing interesting activities, personalised experiences, and share-worthy attractions during a stay.
Make use of ephemeral content to engage visitors. Give users a more playful and less polished view of the brand “behind the scenes” for authenticity by sharing candid photos and videos. The short-lived nature of ephemeral content can also be used to elicit an immediate response from users.
Investigate opportunities through paid search. The number of platforms available is growing and the effectiveness of those platforms is increasing through the use of AI and audience segmentation, so take advantage of these new opportunities to increase visibility and grow revenue.
The pace of technology change has reached sprint levels. Unless hoteliers apply laser-sharp 20:20 vision to the decade ahead they could easily get lost in a technology fog.
With so much more change to come, it’s more important than ever to select the right technology and digital strategy partners to guide you through the decade ahead. It’s equally important to stay focused on core technologies and services that can deliver, and not to be distracted by new and shiny things that are as yet unproven.
Bookassist’s award-winning mobile first and data led approach are well positioned to successfully build the online direct booking channel for hotels as we enter the decade ahead.