By Dr. Lalia Rach, Partner, Rach Enterprises
Every January, right after the New Year, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world descend on Las Vegas for a week of technology OMGs. And HSMAI is part of it, offering curated tours of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at part of its Executive THINK (Travel, Hospitality, Innovation, Networking and Knowledge) program.
On Jan. 6–8, HSMAI hosted a group of hotel sales, marketing, and revenue optimization leaders at CES 2020, which featured more than 4,400 exhibitors — manufacturers, developers, and suppliers of consumer technology hardware, content, delivery systems, and more — spread over 2.9 million square feet of space and spanning 36 product categories and 22 marketplaces. Our group joined more than 175,000 attendees from 160 countries who bonded over the unique, Times Square–like experience that is CES, a nonstop parade of lights, signs, music, chatter, movement, and amazement.
Our tour took place over two days, with the morning of Day 1 spent at Tech West in the Sands Expo Convention Center and Day 2 at Tech East in the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). This left time each day to also check out the C Space brand storytelling area at ARIA Resort & Casino; attend keynote sessions featuring Hyun-Suk Kim, president and CEO of Samsung’s consumer electronics division, and Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines; and make a private visit to Google’s purpose-built two-story installation outside the LVCC. The 12 companies we visited during Executive THINK were selected based not just on their direct relevancy to the hospitality industry but on their potential to expand our thinking about technology that may change the hotel business. Among the companies that offered us a personalized executive overview of their products were Sleep Number, ASICS, Procter & Gamble, Kohler, LG Electronics, Bell, Google, Delta, Moen, and Royole Corporation.
Each time I attend CES, my perspective shifts as I am inundated with possibilities ranging from fantastic to really, who cares. At CES 2020, I found myself disillusioned, skeptical, and amazed at the offerings, leading me to organize what I learned into three buckets:
1. NEW TECHNOLOGY IN SEARCH OF A SOLUTION:
8K TV — Until this century, TV sets had considerable lifespans, but today there are new bells and whistles to entice the buyer, and this year at CES was no different, with all the big brands, including Samsung, LG, and Sony, hawking the benefits of 8K technology. 8K refers to the quality of the image projected on the screen — the more pixels, the better the image, and 8K has 33 million pixels bringing picture detail and clarity to a whole new level. Now, mind you, there is very little content available for the 8K TV as of yet, but the message was, “So what? Look at that picture quality!”
This made me think back to the stereo systems that I would listen to at the store, and while it was a lovely experience, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how it was different since most of us don’t have highly trained ears, or rooms built exclusively for sound quality. That was my reaction to 8K’s 33-megapixel image, offering four times the resolution of 4K sets, with detail and clarity far beyond anything you have seen before: Who can see the difference, and does it really matter? I mean, how much more clearly do you really want to see Chainsaw Massacre? How about your hotel guests, many of whom stream entertainment on their own devices anyway? These days, the TV may be the one item in the average guest room that must be modern — but not the latest model.
Robots — You know the saying “Now I’ve seen everything”? Well, I have, and it’s left me weeping for humanity. At the Procter & Gamble booth, the consumer-goods company introduced the Charmin Rollbot, a small two-wheeled robot that connects to your phone and will deliver a roll of toilet paper to you. There you have it, the ultimate solution to something that in the scheme of things doesn’t move the needle and thankfully isn’t for sale. The lesson for the hotel industry: Don’t assume because clients have a challenge that your solution addresses the real problem. Ask yourself, are we asking the right questions about the issue, or do we believe we know the right answer without client’s input? That’s what the rollbot represents for me — a solution that doesn’t matter to what the real issue is.
2. THE AGE OF EXPERIENCE:
Personalized for people — In his keynote speech, Samsung’s Hyun-Suk Kim proclaimed that we are entering the “age of experience,” meaning the prioritization of experiences over products, with people “looking to buy convenience, peace of mind, and enjoyment.” Samsung’s vision of the age is to “delight … redefine … and bring us closer together,” according to Kim, with ever-increasing innovation driving seamless experiences and memorable moments.
Categorizing the evolution of technology-driven personalized interaction this way is a distinct marketing ploy, but it does provide a different take on customer engagement. What Samsung is doing is redefining the role of specific products in everyday life, creating expectations for and acceptance of tech devices as companions —robots — that improve how people experiences the mundane aspects of life, from managing smart devices, to recording and storing special moments, to moving through a workout. The home will be the axis of personalized experiences as every space is enhanced by technology. Kitchen appliances will become partners in creating meals designed for health and happiness, with the refrigerator automatically ordering ingredients online and developing an “intelligent food playlist” based on what you have available. A self-contained growing station will provide garden-fresh, organic produce, while the Bot Chef — a pair of AI-powered robot arms — will help us up our culinary game.
If Samsung and other companies deliver on the promise of technology to actualize the age of experience, then the hotel industry must up its game. Clients will expect these in-home personalized experiences to be available everywhere, anytime. Whether that means replicating the home in the hotel or even going beyond that remains to be seen, but the time to begin this discussion in the C-suite is now.
Smart avatars — Neon, which is a part of Samsung Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Labs, demonstrated its latest work in producing an artificial human or avatar. The goal is for the artificial human to be able to interact with customers in real time. As you approach the check-in counter and talk to a life-sized screen, you see and hear what at first seems to be a person serving you through a Facetime-like experience but actually is an avatar with real-time expressions, voice, and body movement to provide a natural interaction. Neon’s “virtual beings” are still early in the development process, and from my perspective are realistic looking but sound like a program. But if the technology can evolve and produce a realistic, human-like manifestation, that could be a game changer; think concierge, front-desk agent, and really any front-of-house position.
In addition to the technology advancing, people would need to adapt and refine the social construct of the human exchange. Even if Neon or another company can make the technological leap over the next five years, it may well be that adoption lags by another five years before we begin to see artificial humans introduced in hotels, airports, banks, etc. That means the time for C-suites to explore the possibility is now, so when this technology is ready for the marketplace, hotels will already have considered where and how to integrate it into the traveler’s journey.
3. TRAVEL LEADING CHANGE:
Your own private airport — Delta introduced a useful technology that could deliver on the long-held promise of individualized, unique travel experiences. The airline has partnered with Misapplied Science to develop Parallel Reality, which is designed to enhance your airport experience — but actually may end up advancing outdoor advertising, theme-park entertainment, and every kind of signage. As part of a pilot test at Detroit Metropolitan Airport beginning in June, traditional Delta arrival/departure boards will be replaced with Parallel Reality signage that will display personalized, useful travel information to 100 travelers simultaneously.
How will this work? Once your boarding pass is scanned at security, it will be linked in real-time to the display boards, so when you stop to recheck your gate assignment, your scanned pass will connect with the technology and provide locational, flight, and retail information in your native tongue. As you approach the board, you — okay, I — will see: “Lalia, you depart out of Gate C3 with boarding scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m. The weather in London is rainy, so check out Rainy Days retail shop, found at Gate C1.” The person standing next to you sees their own personalized flight details. You can’t see theirs and they can’t see yours. The technology can provide unique flight information to 10,000 people simultaneously with the goal of 100,000 already in sight, according to the Misapplied Sciences guides at CES. It is possible this technology will rapidly change our expectation of personalization.
Products and services — For the first time in CES history, “Travel and Tourism” was a product category, with 168 companies registered to exhibit. Looking through the list and then walking through the area, I realized I knew very few of them, because it was a mixed group of products and services that stretched far beyond the traditional travel and tourism concept. Many companies were promoting things peripheral to the industry, such as blockchain, fragrances, computer hardware, and coffee systems, while others had somewhat pedestrian offerings such as tour and locational apps, smart suitcases, and mapping apps. Of those companies with direct ties to travel, Andyamo, a French firm, featured a travel-itinerary generator to help mobility-reduced visitors — a person in a wheelchair, a family with a stroller, a senior citizen — to discover a destination.
Regardless of the relevance of the companies, the inclusion of a Travel and Tourism area at CES is something of a seminal moment for our industry. It underscores the progression of the idea that travel is a right, not a benefit. This was my fourth visit to CES, and each time I am overwhelmed by the density of people and products, the noise and color. It is a unique experience that shifts perspective, forces reconsideration of status quo thinking, and underscores how important it is that decisions about the consumer experience incorporate the expertise of hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals.
If you have never experienced CES, consider joining us for HSMAI’s Executive THINK tour in January 2021. Learn more here.
HSMAI would like to thank IDeaS, Google, and TravelClick for helping make this Executive THINK program possible.