High Tech High Touch: The Future of Hospitality

This article was originally published in VRMA Arrival, Issue 5, October 2019

There is no doubt about it; tech has been a phenomenal driver of the growth in the vacation rental industry. Without tech we’d still be finding our rentals in the back of a destination marketing catalogue or through the window of a real estate agent.

Communication would be limited to only when we had the actual time to respond, and we’d still be using a combination of Excel and post-it notes to manage our bookings. Maybe it wouldn’t be quite that bad, but it certainly would be virtually impossible for an enterprise level property manager to form – let alone grow.

I’ve worked with many hospitality technology clients as well as the creatively dubbed ‘tech-enabled’ property managers. I’m not very technical myself (ask my son…) but I absolutely love working with innovative tech companies and being a small part of the transformation that tech is having on hospitality, property management and the guest experience. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a techie. What matters is that I understand how technology can transform people’s (read property managers’ and guests’) lives. And I’m able to tell the stories around that.

But with everything in life, there is a need for balance. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to technology and hospitality.

John Naisbitt, the celebrated futurist wrote in his 1999 book, High Tech High Touch: Technology and Our Accelerated Search for Meaning, that “It is embracing technology that preserves our humanness and rejecting technology that intrudes upon it. It is recognizing that technology is an integral part of the evolution of culture, the creative product of our imaginations, our dreams and aspirations – and that the desire to create new technologies is fundamentally instinctive. But is also recognizing that art, story, play, religion, nature, and time are equal partners in the evolution of technology because they nourish the soul and fulfill its yearnings. It is expressing what it means to be human and employing technology fruitfully in that expression.”

This understanding that technology needs to be tempered with humanity is never more pertinent than in the sphere of hospitality and the issue of where we lay our heads to rest at night – especially when we are not in our own homes. But it is also about using tech to heighten the very human experience of staying in a property.

Technology can give guests many elements that elevate the guest experience (think property automation, smart tech, digital guest books, anticipating guest preferences, instant communication and booking) but according to a report by the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, the top-ranked Hospitality & Leisure Management Universities in 2019, 81% of travellers mention the quality of beds and the sleep experience as being the decisive factors when choosing a place to stay. As far as I’m aware we don’t (yet) have tech in mattresses or bedding.

Emotion, perception, authenticity, connection and humanness (and a good bed) are just as important to the future of hospitality as technology developments.

Today’s guests are looking for personalized experiences that are tailored to their individual needs and they want each of their interactions to be part of a seamless and continuous experience.

However, as tech-savvy as customers have become, the majority still prefer a ‘human touch’ when interacting with a service provider. This is particularly true for the modern traveller where the emphasis is on the ‘experience’. They don’t want to feel like a commodity or that their needs are not unique and valid.

So, the main challenge for today’s property manager is to improve guest experience from an increasingly demanding guest who expects a High Tech High Touch experience, alongside making good business and operational decisions around technology.

About Jessica Gillingham

Jessica is the CEO of Abode Worldwide, a boutique public relations and content marketing agency partnering with clients operating in the international short-term rental, hospitality technology and PropTech space. www.abodeworldwide.com

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