In today’s digital world, the modern consumer considers interconnectivity and personalization to be absolute requirements. This is well-recognized within the hospitality industry, which has gone through enormous technological changes in the last few years.
Key to this technological shift has been the increasing integration of Internet-of-Things (IoT) systems, allowing hoteliers to provide guests with a more pleasant environment, more control over their experience, and, for the hotel itself, greater efficiency and control over its daily operations.
Even so, many hoteliers still struggle to understand what IoT is and how best they can leverage it to their benefit. Such concerns are common when it comes to integrating any new technology, especially in an industry sector as old and traditional as hospitality. Fortunately, the benefits and ease of integrating IoT in a hotel setting become readily apparent with just a bit of study.
An Intro to IoT
We’re all familiar with how Wi-Fi and Bluetooth allow many devices such as smartphones and laptops to connect with one another and share information. IoT takes this capability and applies it to a range of everyday appliances such as thermostats, energy meters, lighting fixtures, HVAC, and just about anything else you can think of. Essentially, IoT turns these appliances into smart objects that can both send and receive information across a shared network and be controlled through a single centralized device such as a smartphone.
When applied at scale, IoT can benefit hotels in two key areas. First, it allows guests to enjoy a hyper-personalized experience in which they can control a room’s features through their smartphone or a hotel-provided tablet. Second, it allows hoteliers to optimize their operations through data collection and automation for a more streamlined and cost-effective business model.
Five potential uses for IoT in hospitality
1. Hyper-personalized guest experiences
With an IoT system, rather than having guests line up and wait to be checked in at the front desk, they can walk straight to their room and automatically check in through a digital key sent to their phone shortly before arrival. They can also use their phone to enjoy a more comfortable stay by accessing customized room functions and hotel services such as adjustable lighting, digitized food menus, smart TV controls, and easier restaurant booking.
As a bonus, these IoT features allow hoteliers to gather guest data and better understand their preferences. Hotels can then use all this information to provide an even more customized guest experience for future reservations.
2. Predictive maintenance
To prolong equipment life and mitigate guest complaints, hotels must carry out regular maintenance checks on room appliances and hotel equipment. IoT makes this task a lot easier by providing real-time information on the operating status of appliances and equipment. For example, sensors could identify a room with an unusually high level of water usage, suggesting that there may be a leaky faucet. A deviation in electrical usage could pinpoint a refrigerator or HVAC unit that is close to breaking down.
Whatever the problem is, IoT sensors can help pinpoint the location so that repairs can occur in a timely manner. Not only does this save money for the hotel but it also saves time for staff members who can focus on other responsibilities rather than having to do manual maintenance checks every few days.
3. Asset, inventory, and staff management
The average hotel has to constantly keep track of a vast number of things, such as inventory of various supplies and room accoutrements, as well as the location of equipment and staff. These tasks can be made a lot easier by implementing an IoT-compatible tracking tag system. Such a system can send out alerts when inventory reaches a certain level, when guests have placed a food tray outside their door for pickup, or when a piece of equipment has been misplaced.
For managers, having the ability to track everything in the hotel opens up huge potential for improved efficiency and streamlined work routines in both the front and back office.
4. Energy savings
Utility costs represent a significant proportion of hotel expenditures. IoT can help reduce these costs by monitoring large energy users such as HVAC systems, water heating, lighting systems, and large pieces of equipment such as industrial freezers. Over time, enough data can be gathered to allow for an AI analysis of historic energy use trends and pinpoint areas for improved conservation.
In addition, energy savings can also come from smart thermostats, which can adjust the temperature in a room based on historic habits and occupancy levels. Smart lighting can also help be set up to turn lights on or off based on scheduling times, motion, or sound, providing even more energy savings.
5. Safety and security
Due to the high foot traffic from guest turnover, and the need for greater sanitation standards in the wake of the pandemic, hotels need to place safety and security high on their list of priorities. Fortunately, there are many IoT technologies that can make it far easier to achieve these goals.
For example, keyless check-ins can allow guests to enter their rooms with one swipe on their smartphones, meaning they are at less risk of cross-contamination through germs. As for guest security, this can be improved through luggage-tracking tags, which are provided to guests when they check-in, allowing guests to easily monitor where their luggage is at any time through their smartphones. Room security can also be upgraded through IoT door mechanisms that alert staff whenever a guest has left a door unlocked.
Another prime concern for hotels is staff safety, which can be improved through security alerts sent out by staff when there is, say, an altercation with violent guests or intruders. This allows management to pinpoint the exact location of any endangered staff member and send out a response team.
The risks of IoT in hospitality
While there are numerous benefits to implementing IoT devices in a hotel, there are also some risks that hoteliers need to understand. Data security is one major risk, as having a large number of interconnected devices creates more vulnerabilities for cyberattacks. Just one device with poor protection can provide an entry point for a wider system infiltration that compromises sensitive guest and staff data.
As such, when implementing an IoT infrastructure, hoteliers need to consider how they can protect the system against attacks by bad actors. Effective cybersecurity protocols can provide real-time monitoring for unprotected devices and security alerts when a breach is detected. This will be an ongoing process that will require a dedicated cybersecurity team – whether onsite or offsite – and annual budget allocations to meet emerging threats.
None of this should cause hoteliers to second guess whether IoT adoption is the way to go, but it should prompt some in-depth conversations on how hotels can enjoy the advantages of IoT while still mitigating the security risks.
As IoT becomes standardized in hospitality, hotels will likely discover even more uses of IoT. With its ability to provide hoteliers with unparalleled control of their hotel’s daily operations, IoT has the power to truly transform the industry through optimized processes, energy waste reduction, and a more personalized guest experience.
In time, the day-to-day tasks of running a hotel will become increasingly automated, leaving staff free to focus on providing better customer support and engagement.