By Dr. Lalia Rach, Partner, Rach Enterprises
In early January, HSMAI hosted 10 hotel professionals at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas as part of its Executive THINK (Travel, Hospitality, Innovation, Networking, and Knowledge) program. CES continues to get bigger — this year’s show featured 4,500 exhibitors, including developers, suppliers, and manufacturers of hardware, software, and content, spread over 2.9 million net square feet of space, showcasing double the number of startups at 1,200 and providing 300 conference sessions. The show attracted 188,000 attendees, 34 percent from outside the United States, and has grown to 11 official venues in three primary sites: Tech West at the Sands Expo & Convention Center and The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, Tech South at the ARIA Resort & Casino, and Tech East at the Las Vegas Convention & World Trade Center, the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, and the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel.
Based on recommendations we received after last year’s tour, we spread our visit over two days, with the morning of day one spent at the Sands Expo and day two at the Las Vegas Convention Center. This left time each day to visit CES’s C Space area at the ARIA, where we heard from CEOs such as IBM’s Ginni Rometty and attended meetings with Google, Pandora, and Pluto TV.
HSMAI also arranged a curated tour of the show on Tuesday and Wednesday morning led by Ben Arnold, senior director of innovation and trends for the Consumer Technology Association, which produces CES. We visited 12 companies during the two-day tour, all selected based on their direct relevance to the hospitality industry or to expand attendees’ thinking about technology that may change the hotel business: 3M, Procter & Gamble, Kohler, Honeywell, ShadeCraft Robotics, Devvio, GoPro, LG, Bell, BrainCo, Amazon Alexa Automotive, and Mantis Vision.
Wow’s were found everywhere. There were flying cars — seriously, with one company, PAL-V, taking orders for a gas-powered three-wheeler with fold-out rotary blades on its roof and a propeller at its rear. There was perennial favorite LG, whose pavilion featured a curved-screen ceiling and walls displaying the beauty of OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology, which is a gamechanger for hotel lobbies and event space. And, unexpectedly, I discovered a childhood dream come true in a programmable wall-drawing device called Scribit, which can turn a wall in your lobby — or anywhere, for that matter — into an experience.
For me, there was one exhibit that was a whoa: Kohler. On one hand, the home-products manufacturer’s pavilion offered an over-the-top display of luxury in every area of the bathroom. Veil mirrors with a touchscreen interface provide lighting to improve your mood and help you sleep better, while an imbedded Alexa app can program your shower temperature, flow, and lighting, or fill your tub just as you like it.
But, call me old-fashioned, out of step, or simply a prude, but every now and then I encounter an ordinary item that has been accessorized with smart technology and I think, Really, seriously, someone was paid to come up with this? This happened to me when I saw Kohler’s line of intelligent toilets. At $7,000, the most expensive of these toilets has built-in surround-sound speakers, ambient mood lighting, and Amazon Alexa voice controls. Having music and great lighting in your bathroom is not a new desire, but for me it’s a bit of a headscratcher for those features to be incorporated into your toilet. To be fair, the intelligent toilet has a seat warmer, a sanitation wand, and variable flush modes. But I am uncertain why I would want to talk to my toilet — or worse, have my toilet talk to me! In the end, the Kohler exhibit highlighted our growing desire to have technology everywhere, even where you never imagined you needed it. For the hotel industry, it is a clear demonstration that high-end consumers will expect accommodations to match what they have in their homes, which is a challenge at every level.
Regardless of my struggles with the intelligent toilet, I came away with three insights from our Executive THINK program at CES:
1. Game-changing technology takes more time than originally anticipated to actually create a difference.
It’s been more than five years since 4K TV was introduced at CES, starting the more-pixels craze. Content for 4K has been slow to develop and is not yet the standard, but that hasn’t stopped TV manufacturers from touting 8K TVs at this year’s show. It was surprising that both LG and Samsung readily admitted there is not much viewing to be done in 8K — but they were plugging it just the same! In other words, it’s here, but it will be some time before you can appreciate the benefits of the advanced technology. Also, be aware that it requires a very sophisticated and discerning eye — and a mega-screen, 85 inches or more — to perceive the difference between 8K and 4K.
There is no doubt we have become a screen universe. Whether it’s a phone, tablet, or monitor, we are spending hours each day staring at them. But with this extreme use comes issues — primarily bandwidth and download time. Speed is the name of the game. We are currently a 4G world, and while 5G was touted as a done deal by the likes of AT&T and Verizon during CES, it is likely that we are at 4.5G, with true 5G capabilities not being realized until 2020 at the earliest. The infrastructure and equipment needed to utilize 5G technology is just beginning to be produced, with 5G smartphones coming to market later this year, according to companies like Samsung, which highlighted its 5G prototype.
2. Technology with more immediate usability can become dominant almost overnight.
Last year, CES was awash in the promise of self-driving technology. There were prototypes of self-driving cars and trucks, motorcycles that could be programmed to awaken and follow you in anticipation of a fast getaway, and a suitcase that followed you through the airport, freeing you from manual labor and giving you more time to tweet! I remember thinking, Okay, interesting, but…. This year, it was all about putting voice and touchscreen technology into vehicles to provide increased usability to the driver and enhance the experience of passengers. The Chinese startup Byton introduced a 48-inch dashboard display that replaces knobs and buttons with touch controls and offering media, maps, phone, and vehicle settings. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are going head to head to be integrated into the operating system of every car and truck on the road. These companies are determined to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to providing every possible voice-activated control, connection, and need for drivers and passengers.
Bell introduced Nexus, a vertical takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) air taxi. While it is a prototype, this revolutionary product is expected to address many of our current transportation challenges — including inefficient infrastructure, overused roadways, and limited railways — and improve overall short-haul mobility. The Nexus is projected to be in use by 2025 and has the potential to truly disrupt our transportation system in a positive way.
3. Old dogs can learn new tricks.
We’ve seen rollup screens in movies for a decade, and now the home-electronics industry — specifically, LG — is introducing a rollup OLED TV. Available later this year, the TV is just three credit cards thick and can be stored in box the size of a sound bar, out of sight, until you want to watch. To say it is cool is an understatement, as it will quickly be the thing to have. This is a space-design changer for living rooms, lobbies, and hotel rooms.
Ranked 42 on the Fortune 500, 182-year-old Proctor & Gamble chose to exhibit at CES for the first time this year, which demonstrates that every company must be service- and experience-oriented, not simply product-driven. P&G is looking to regain its innovative spirit and bring its iconic brands to the cutting edge of technology, and chose to highlight skincare and makeup. Its exhibit underscored the generational changes that are upending many of our traditional strategies. P&G highlighted personal care for everyone — and while the company understood women may be a larger segment for skincare, its booth and products were designed to appeal to men as well.
With technology that can evaluate the age of your skin and provide guidance on how to best maintain it, the absolute showstopper was P&G’s Opté Precision Skincare System, a handheld device that scans, detects and corrects facial blemishes, and reduces age spots. I did not expect to discover the advances that technology has brought to skincare at CES but left convinced that it was not a flash in the pan. While there were amazing products on display, the true purpose was for companies to demonstrate how they could help you use them more effectively — and also define the experience of using the them.
For the third year running, I will close with a repeat of what I wrote about CES 2016: “This was a singular experience, a rare opportunity to think differently about change, technology, and the hospitality industry. Perhaps the greatest benefit for those who participated will be the ongoing moments of ‘connectivity’ they will experience in meetings and conversations when traditional thinking dominates. They will be able to present ideas and knowledge based on their exposure to future reality!”
If you have never experienced CES, think about joining HSMAI’s Executive THINK program at CES 2020. It will cause your brain to overload and your feet to ache, but the experience will influence your thinking about every facet of the hospitality industry.