Bjorn Hanson is a former dean at the New York University School of Professional Studies, Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, and is currently one of its clinical professors. Hanson, who previously worked as a hospitality consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, regularly publishes studies on subjects such as hotel capital expenditures and annual lodging surcharges. He spoke with hotels editor Danny King. Q: From a technological standpoint, how are hotel owners spending their money?
A: The biggest change that's being pursued is what Hilton terms "the connected room." It's some variation on a device or an app -- an app seems to be the most common solution -- that gives the guest as much control over everything as possible, from before reservations to after checkout. From check-in to room assignment to room access to wake-up calls to checkout to guest-satisfaction surveys, the goal is having those activities be distinct from each other but interact commonly. Also, providing a way to have guests comment during the stay instead of having them comment when it's too late to do anything to help them. Those are the biggest, most commonly pursued technology initiatives.
On the opposite end is the money being spent on bandwidth, because what we're seeing is an increasing level of demand on a per-guest basis. The brands are trying to stay head of bandwidth availability so that a lack of it doesn't become a negative. And it can cost a hotel $40,000 to bring bandwidth from one level to the next.
Q: What other near-term advancements do you expect to see out of hotels?
A: The use of third-party concierge-like services and companies like Recharge, which finds occupancy for the hours that a hotel isn't occupied. They may be international travelers who may be going from one city to another and need a place to stay during the day, or maybe it's an executive having an evening activity. It's starting at the high end. People who are younger don't think about this as an inappropriate use of hotels.
Q: Are hotels replacing people with technology in the form of initiatives like self-serve check-in kiosks?
A: It's not about replacing the human touch with technology, it's about offering guests the choice. Maybe a guest has to travel all day and just wants to get to a room, but maybe two days later, he'll stop at the front desk and ask for directions. It's just about providing another choice rather than eliminating traditional hospitality. And it can't be confusing. It has to be presented as additional options as opposed to, "We no longer have a front desk." The challenge is to not force travelers into technological solutions where there's a sense of loss of familiarity.
Q: How is the growth of Airbnb and home-sharing impacting traditional lodging?
A: Airbnb is at 5% to 6% of room supply in some of the most important markets. Something that is 5% to 6% of supply can't be ignored. It's here to stay, and the lodging industry has to come up with a response. For instance, many of the current design choices are becoming more residential, but I think that's more coincidental. Sometimes we do more garish and sometimes we go through more of a residential design phase. It's a response to the national mood. If we go back 10 years, one of a brand's core features was uniformity. Now, that's a negative.
In the mid-'70s, there was the advent of the economy hotel, and people thought, "Who stays there?" Then there was the dismissal of limited-service hotels, and then extended-stay hotels weren't part of the mainstream. Then it was Kimpton and the boutique hotel. Residence Inn was once an independent company, now it's one of Marriott's biggest brands. All of these things eventually reached 5% to 6% of supply, and that seems to be the acceptance threshold.