8 Disruptive Hotel Technology Trends to Watch in 2021
In 2017, Uber predicted that the company would launch flying car ridesharing by the end of 2020. That hasn’t quite panned out, obviously – joining the list of Jetsons-like technology of the future that never lived up to the hype.
For those of us keeping an eye on technology in hotels, it can be difficult to discern what trends are here to stay and what trends are simply a marketing stunt. We can’t predict what will happen in the future, but we can watch industry trends as leading indicators. That’s just what we’ve done to compile this list of trends that we believe are worth watching in 2021. From white labeling to the decline of OTA dominance, here’s where we predict hotel technology will go this year.
6. WiFi 6
7. Big data
SaaS is Exploding
Interest in investing in hotel technology has slowly ramped up in recent years. Venture capitalists are finally starting to recognize the opportunity to invest in tools and platforms that allow hotels to capture new levels of hotel operations efficiency and revenue growth.
“Despite all the innovation that has taken place in the sector over the last decade, there remains massive, untapped opportunity and potential in many categories within the hospitality arena. Despite being one of the largest and most dynamic segments of the US and global economy, penetration of cloud-based technologies in the segment remains incredibly low, and the vendor landscape remains tremendously fragmented on a global basis,” says Matt Melymuka, co-founder and partner at PeakSpan Capital.
Those untapped opportunities that Melymuka references? Venture capitalists are starting to catch on. This month, Cloudbeds announced a Series C minority investment round of $82 million, led by Viking Global Investors with participation from PeakSpan Capital, Recruit Co., Ltd., Counterpart Ventures, and Cultivation Capital. Cloudbeds offers an all-in-one suite of tools, including a property management system, channel manager, booking engine, and revenue manager, growing revenue and automating workflows at more than 20,000 properties. Their Series C fundraising success indicates a growing appetite among investors for cloud-based, low-cost solutions that seamlessly communicate across platforms to target, acquire, and retain guests.
Mews Systems, another top-ranked, cloud-based property management system, raised $33 million in its Series B funding round led by Battery Ventures. “As hotel and other hospitality property owners look to address the challenge of competition from peer-to-peer platforms like Airbnb, Mews provides hoteliers with the tools to not have to worry about the day-to-day of running the business, and instead focus on improving guest experience and helping travelers have the trip of a lifetime,” said Sanjiv Kalevar, Principal at Battery Ventures.
Oaky, one of the industry’s leading upselling tools, raised a Series A funding round of $9.5 million led by PeakScan Capital. Oaky’s appeal to investors stems from the app’s data-driven approach to driving incremental revenue. Their deep understanding of customer behavior makes Oaky one of the top-rated upselling tools on the market today.
VCs aren’t the only stakeholders interested in investing in hotel tech. Zingle, a guest-messaging software, was acquired by Medallia, an experience management company, for a $42 million cash deal in 2019. Hotels use Zingle’s messaging tools to deliver five-star service at scale; Medallia’s investment in Zingle gives hotels the opportunity to provide frictionless guest service and streamline time-consuming interactions, such as check-in.
Life House, a tech-first hotel experience, shows proof-of-concept: that hotels that invest in technology drive higher revenue, better guest reviews, and a higher star-rating. Life House’s market traction epitomizes the appetite for investing in hotel tech. The hospitality startup closed a $30 million Series B from a large group of investors led by Thayer Ventures. “Life House is an unusual company in that it started out as a software provider aimed at fixing ‘the broken and complex hotel operational model’ before morphing into a combination of tech provider, hotel manager and boutique hotel brand,” reports Crunchbase.
Last but not least in the litany of hotel tech brands seeing interest from investors, SiteMinder raised $70 million led by BlackRock, valuing the company at $750 million – and making it the industry’s first unicorn. SiteMinder, like Cloudbeds, offers an end-to-end tech solution: a channel manager, online booking engine, website builder, and more. Its early success at over 35,000 properties shows that this market is only growing.
APIs are Mainstream
White labeling is a practice in which a product – in this case, hotel software – is manufactured by a third party and uses branding by the purchaser, or marketer, so that the end product appears to have been produced by the purchaser. “The advantage is that a single company does not need to do it all: one firm can concentrate on producing the product; another on marketing it; and another can focus on selling it, each according to its expertise and preference,” writes Investopedia.
White labeling has already begun in the hotel industry without hoteliers even knowing it. Property management systems that offer channel management integrations are usually white labelling their channel managers from other vendors. We believe this trend will continue, especially in the revenue management space where white labeling can solve two distinct problems: strategy and tactical management. Most revenue management systems focus on reporting and data visualization; the addition of white label software to the backend of an RMS can improve price optimization, letting hoteliers spend their time on higher value tasks and strategic revenue management.
Along with white labeling, APIs are adding efficiency to hotel technology by integrating your tech stack and helping your tools talk to one another. An API, application programming interface, is simply a messenger of data between applications. APIs allow your various hotel technology tools and programs to work together, connecting your RMS to a PMS, or your PMS to your upsell software, or your business intelligence software to your PMS. An API makes your technology user-friendly and efficient; when your tools work together, you capture each platform’s full capabilities.
API penetration in the hotel tech market has opened up a world of opportunities for property owners. For instance, feeding data from your PMS into a business intelligence tool leads to real, operational data to analyze trends and provide recommendations for better marketing campaigns, smarter staffing decisions, seasonal trends, and market competition. Hotels that are comfortable using APIs can automate tasks that take up much of their employee’s time with manual data entry.
Guest Room Technology Innovation
Guests around the world have unprecedented convenience at home. The number of voice-controlled and streaming services that have proliferated the home in recent years is unprecedented: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime for streaming; Alexa, Google Home, and Amazon Echo for voice; Creston, Nest, and other smart-home devices; Uber Eats, Door Dash, and Caviar for food delivery at the touch of a button. On-demand convenience dominates our lives, and guests expect this level of ease from their hotel experience as well.
Hotels are catching on, adding convenience through streaming, voice activation, guest-room tablets, and food ordering tech. “Unlike other amenities that are requested but not necessarily used, streaming services are used on average by 40% of rooms—and they’re used longer than their cable counterparts,” Gavin Philipp, VP of operations at Charlestowne Hotels told Hotel News Now. The Amazon Fire Stick, Roku streaming stick, and Apple TV are all low-cost, easy-to-implement tools that some guests are even bringing with them. Hilton is taking a different approach, partnering with Netflix to allow guests to control their streaming straight from the Hilton Honors mobile app.
As far as voice-activation, Volara is leading the way in providing a thoughtful, Alexa-esque guest-room solution. Volara integrates with the most popular work order management systems so that guests can make requests and get confirmation when the item or service they need will be delivered. It also integrates with in-room entertainment, eliminating the pain point of touching a germy remote control. Volara’s success is more than gimmicky – their product allows properties to interact with guests in a fun and scalable way.
Guest room tablets provide convenience in a simple, straightforward upgrade that improves guest satisfaction scores virtually instantaneously. Tablets like those from Crave Interactive allow guests to customize their experience at will, booking spa appointments, taking advantage of F&B offers, and exploring local tours. And for savvy marketing managers, tablets provide a new channel through which to send targeted, automated messages generating $5,000 per month in additional revenue.
Lastly, hotels are replicating the Uber Eats experience with tools like 2nd Kitchen and Bbot. 2nd Kitchen is a godsend for hotels without a kitchen on-site: guests can order room service from restaurants near your hotel, taking care of care of orders, menus, payment, fulfillment, and customer support for your property. Bbot’s mobile ordering technology gives guests a way to order and pay for food and drinks from their phones, cutting down on labor and menu management at your property. For guests, no need to call down, sign a receipt or spend time waiting in line for service.
Privacy & Cybersecurity
Hotels are a prime target for hackers. “Only about 25% of all U.S. businesses, including hotel operators, are fully compliant with current data security best practices. That means that three out of four are not and are potential disasters waiting to happen,” reported one cybersecurity expert.
Numerous high-profile malware attacks on the hotel industry have led to hundreds of millions of guests’ data being compromised and millions of dollars in damage. Just this February, MGM Resorts revealed they were the target of a massive data breach that compromised personal information for more than 10.6 million guests. Files leaked in the MGM attack included information on celebrities, chief executives of technology companies, reporters and government officials, according to Skift.
With this trend on the rise, hotels are being forced to get smart about security. Property owners must do their research in selecting tech tools that provide multilayer security, data protection, secure transactions, and compliance with international payment and data privacy standards. Hotels must regularly host training to their staff on the proper way to handle personal information, comply with privacy regulations such as the GDPR, and change their access credentials regularly. The many tech innovations we see penetrating the market require constant vigilance of cybersecurity best practices, regular updates to security software, and dedication to routine testing and threat assessment.
OTAs are Struggling
Expedia and Booking have taken some pretty big hits in recent months. Expedia’s shares ended 2019 down 4%, a slight decline but significant in comparison to the S&P 500, which returned 29%. Booking.com’s stock finished down 11% in January 2020 (in part due to COVID-19).
Why the dive in stock price? There are two factors outside Coronavirus that are impacting OTAs. First, hotels are getting better at capturing direct bookings. Hotel tech like direct booking platforms, metasearch ad managers, and messaging integrations help properties draw more visitors to their site and convert more direct bookings, circumventing the high OTA commissions in the process. Direct booking tools that connect a property’s PMS, parity, behavioral and demographic data across the entire booking journey has put hotels on even footing with OTAs when it comes to winning bookings.
Secondly, Google has entered the travel market in a big way. Google has expanded from traditional AdWords to include hotels everywhere via its Hotel Ads product. Google has historically been the source for much of OTAs inbound demand, and now that the platform is a direct competitor, OTAs are vulnerable unless they pay billions of dollars each year to Google to ensure they show up high in search results and get clicks from travel planners. Free traffic is “shrinking all the time”, Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom explained to analysts.
5G may be getting all the buzz, but for property owners, WiFi 6 is much more relevant. WiFi 6 is the term used to describe the next iteration of Wifi, a faster, more efficient connection enabled through new technologies. WiFi 6 is about 30% faster than our current WiFi. This might not sound that impressive at first glance, but considering how many devices we’re adding to our WiFi networks, the increase in speed is dramatic.
Like 5G, WiFi 6 will have obvious implications for guests who use their smartphones to book and manage their stay. But beyond the guest experience, hotels can take advantage of faster WiFi to power all those streaming, tablet, and voice-activated devices. With WiFi 6, your property can leverage in-room technology to provide better service, driving positive guest reviews and repeat business. Smart thermostats, smart speakers, and smart locks will all perform better with the adoption of WiFi 6 over the next five years.
Investors in Oaky already recognize this next insight: data has become the world’s most valuable resource. The sooner you start to mine guest data for better customer insights, the better positioned your property will be against your competition.
Why is data so valuable? “Data are now part of every sector and function of the global economy and, like other essential factors of production such as hard assets and human capital, much of modern economic activity simply could not take place without them,” argues McKinsey. Data can fuel smarter marketing campaigns, inform your pricing, and help you capture a higher market share than your competitors by knowing your guests on a deeper level.
Hoteliers are just starting to realize the potential of its guest data. Earlier this year, Revinate launched the hotel industry's first Guest Data Platform to aggregate, clean and deliver rich guest profiles for hotels and property groups of all sizes. The platform combines data from multiple sources to provide a complete picture of a hotel’s guests, delivering the information needed to increase guest satisfaction scores, direct bookings, and ultimately, profit.
An acquisition by CoStar Group put a dollar figure on just how much hotel industry data is worth. The Group purchased STR for $450 million in cash in the fall of 2019. STR aggregates data from more than 65,000 properties worldwide, distributing more than 1 million reports each month. That amount of data synthesized into nice reports? Priceless.
Digital Hotel Companies
All these trends – the flow of VC cash into hotel tech, the rise of consumer-convenience tech, the use of white-label software and APIs – means the landscape of the hotel industry is changing. New competitors are challenging old management companies that haven’t innovated enough. These next-gen properties are sometimes called hometels (home+hotel), or more generally, alternative lodging. Brands in the alternative lodging sector include Stay Alfred, Sonder, The Guild Hotels and to some extent groups such as Selina and OYO.
VCs seem to love these alternative lodging options. Sonder, for instance, hit $100M in revenue thanks to its venture capital-fueled growth; the brand raised a $225M Series D and projected $313M in forward 12-months revenue (2019/2020).
The biggest distraction or barrier these next-gen hotels face is that they’re taking the wrong approach to tech. The companies that win will be the ones who stop acting like tech companies – using buzzwords like AI and virtual concierge – and focus on being more innovative and agile real estate businesses than traditional market players today. Those that succeed will be tech-enabled businesses; not tech businesses. They will be better at buying and using tech components via APIs and lean infrastructure, but be founded on sound business principles enabled by the industry’s best tech tools.