May 18, 2015
As was the case in retail, much of the discussion when it comes to wearable technology in travel & hospitality has focused on how wearables stand to change the travel experience for consumers (i.e. the travelers) as opposed to those who work in the industry. For example, in the near future smartwatches (or smartglasses) will provide all the information that fuels a person’s trip – flight & boarding pass reminders, gate updates, reservation numbers, confirmation codes, directions from the airport, transportation options, even restaurant recommendations & weather forecasts – all at a glance, all in real time, right there on the wrist (or in front of the eyes). Travelers can already receive regular updates, book rooms, check-in, even order room service using mobile devices – a phenomenon referred to as the mobile concierge – and soon they will be able to do the same with wearables, or so the forecast goes. Of course, this all banks on wearable tech taking off with consumers, which it has yet to do but may very well once the Apple Watch is made available on April 24.
The hotel industry once attracted guests with technological innovations. Consider the television for a moment. Back when guests could not dream of having a TV set in their own homes, most hotel rooms were equipped with one. Nowadays, the average traveler doesn’t even turn on the TV in his hotel room, opting instead to bring his own entertainment (tablets, laptops, headphones).
Should hoteliers aim to wow guests again with their in-room technology? Is that even feasible? Perhaps it’s not just suit-and-tie businesses that should prepare for the WYOD (Wear Your Own Device) trend but also hoteliers. Either hotels provide guests with Google Glass, wearable sleep monitors, and the like to try out (as many now provide iPads & iPod speakers); or they embrace guests’ personal wearable devices, and aim to connect with them on a new technological level.
Travel & hospitality is an inherently consumer-facing industry; it’s a service industry dependent on the satisfaction of the guests, passengers, travelers, and visitors it caters to. The wearable technology applications for this sector are not quite as dynamic as compared to, say, retail or construction, yet wearables stand to fundamentally change this industry as much as any other. We see wearable tech coming into play here in one of two ways:
Employees can don wearable devices in order to enhance, speed up & improve the customer experience, as did agents of Virgin Atlantic at London’s Heathrow Airport.
Travel & hospitality brands can engage with & assist their customers via consumer wearables (ex. a hotel booking app created for a smartwatch) or via specially designed devices like Disney’s MagicBand.
In other words, companies can either develop applications or services based on existing wearable technologies, or else develop bespoke devices for customers to use.
So what can wearable technology do for the travel & hospitality industry? The main benefit seems to be improved customer service, or an enhanced service experience. Employees who utilize wearable tech can provide more efficient & personalized service to guests or passengers, while travel apps developed for consumer wearables will also contribute to a better customer experience. Companies will have to create such apps – real-time response apps for bookings, directions, and other concierge-style customer services – to continue reaching & engaging with modern travelers. Will wearable technology allow hotels & airlines to provide a truly personalized travel experience; to make the travel experience more efficient, smoother, and pleasant; to exceed consumer expectations? We will have to see. For now, let’s take a look at a few of the pioneers in this sector who are already integrating wearables into their service offerings.
The most notorious user case goes out to Virgin Atlantic’s wearable tech pilot scheme at Heathrow Airport. Virgin staff greeted first-class passengers wearing either Google Glass or a Sony SmartWatch. The technology, developed in partnership with SITA Labs, delivered personal info about each individual traveler, allowing Virgin agents to provide a unique customer experience while efficiently processing passengers for their flight.
Walt Disney World Resort now offers the MagicBand, which is a smartband guests can use to enter parks & hotel rooms as well as make purchases. Disney is even using aggregate data from the bands to create a better, more “magical” customer experience than employees alone could ever provide.
Hotels are also lending out sleep-sensing wristbands to aid in guests’ well-being (Westin Hotels & Resorts), and developing apps for Google Glass & the Apple Watch to allow future guests to do everything from exploring & booking hotel stays around the world to entering their rooms without a key (Starwood).
Imagine arriving at your gate at the airport; the concierge checks his smartwatch, processes you seamlessly for your flight, while also providing you with real-time updates about the weather & local events in your destination city. On the plane, the inflight staff has already been made aware of your personal preferences, from dietary requirements to past beverage choices, via smartglasses; and a special blanket lights up red whenever you are in distress, prompting an attendant to come right over. Upon arriving at the hotel, the front desk clerk is wearing Google Glass armed with facial recognition software; she greets you by name & pulls up your reservation before you even reach the counter. Airport, airline, hotel and other travel & hospitality workers could even use wearable technology to translate & provide information to customers in a foreign language—hands-free & in real time (of course).