Tech trends to watch in 2013

This year was remarkable in many ways: demographics, economics, politics, education, manufacturing — all are changing. Looking to 2013, what I want to emphasize is technology and, chiefly for hoteliers, the maturity and stabilization of the current platforms and devices that have risen from obscurity to rampant popularity.

The prevalence of technology will undoubtedly increase, but for all those not living under rocks, 2013 doesn’t look to be a year where anything truly revolutionary will be introduced. Apply the term “technology satiety.” We have only so much time per day, and thus, only so much we can devote to any one particular device, website or social network. 2013 looks to be a period where hoteliers can get up to speed with what’s out there, and indeed, this is a necessary action to maintain market share. Let’s go piece by piece and get into some specifics.

1. Website

It’s a no-brainer that you need one. But meeting the base requirements is far removed from what a website aspires to be: an extension of the onsite experience. With the top browsers (Chrome, Firefox, IE and Safari) relatively static in their percentages year-over-year, 2013 offers a good chance for you to complete your revamp. Think lots of high-res photography, intuitive navigation and functional content management systems so that minor updates don’t always need to be done by a programmer.

2. Booking engines

Building on the notion of a sleek website, the resident booking engine must be airtight. After all, with the dominance of Internet-borne travel, these modules are destined to be the major locomotive for core revenue. In 2012, one of the trends I piously followed was the mounting opposition to the OTAs and third-party booking sites. Despite whatever fruits of war this bears, I can say with absolute certainty that if your website’s booking engine isn’t flawless, you’ll only be throwing fuel on external providers’ flames.

3. Mobile

Another no-brainer. In fact, it’s now borderline cliché to even mention the expansion of mobile devices. 2013 will unquestionably bring more converts into the smartphone fold, and with this will come a sharp rise in the number of transactions completed entirely through these portable machines, from initial research to credit card confirmation. Much like your booking engine, your website must be adaptable to these screen sizes, both cellular and tablet. Ensure that it maintains a legible, sleek format and that it loads fast to thwart any cognitive drift.

4. Apps

When you sit down to tackle your mobile strategy, one question that will likely be raised is: Do we build our own native app? Apps are definitely cooler than a mobile-ready website, but keep in mind that the coding expenditures can be steeper and, importantly, with hundreds of thousands of new apps published each year vying for consumers’ attention, do you really think yours will stand out? A caveat here would be people downloading your app for use during their stay then deleting it afterwards. With this in mind, one large growth area will be concierge apps. Look into getting one custom-built for your property.

5. Android versus Apple

No discussion of smartphones would be complete without a few words on this worldwide battle for digital supremacy. What’s pertinent to hoteliers to note is that other cellular manufacturers have rapidly aligned against Apple’s iOS under Google’s open-source Android firmware, amounting to more apps and better apps. Given the remarkable push brands like Samsung have made into this space, it would be wise to engineer all your mobile efforts for both Android and iOS.

6. Tablets

The beginning of 2012 was rife with talk about how to use these devices to heighten the hotel experience. And for good reason — tablet sales saw big gains, and these numbers will almost certainly persist. Apple currently dominates this market with the iPad (and now the iPad Mini), but expect more Android-compatible entrants to step in with very competitive prices. Much like the thought process behind custom apps, the vision of in-room tablets has been vehemently debunked in favor of flexible solutions that accommodate guests’ personal hardware. Hence, tablets should be part of the discussion for any concierge app design, but also consider them for convenient and interactive lobby kiosks.

7. Social media

Much like the incessant affirmations of mobile’s validity, social media is also here to stay. As more users sign on and monitoring software improves, the excuses for not treating this as an extension of your brand are rapidly dwindling. 2012 was the year of the visual revolution, namely Instagram and Pinterest. Applying the concept of technology satiety, 2013 will be less about exploring new entrants and more inclined towards refining your strategy for the firmly established leviathans — Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn and Foursquare. The approach you take should be one of informing future guests, facilitating requests from present visitors and sustaining relationships to build loyalty.

8. Free Wi-Fi

The first seven points are all about digital trends, and a consumer’s use of such devices is wholly dependent on Internet connectivity. We live in an electronic world that runs on voltage and bandwidth. People treat the Internet like they do water, heating and a comfy bed — vital. There are strong reasons for charging for this service, but none of them will earn you an iota of respect from consumers. Offering wireless Internet access for free will increase in 2013, and I pity the hotel that still thinks its consumers don’t care about paying extra for this.

9. Further brand segmentation

Moving away from the electronic side of things, though nonetheless influenced by them, this past decade has seen the rise of many boutique brands, mergers and bifurcation within the major chains. One of the side effects of this dilution has been that consumers don’t emotionally identify with any one brand, nor can they readily distinguish among them. Many hoteliers are now wise to this reality, and the apparent solution is further differentiation and niche segmentation within the industry. Brands are less about only their names and more about the special qualities and unique experiences they provide.

10. A fundamental return to quality guest services

Do whatever you deem necessary with your electronic enhancements or brand reforms, but none of that will amount to diddly if your onsite experience doesn’t meet expectations. As witnessed by the ensembles of scathing reviews posted on TripAdvisor and its ilk, bad guest services can seriously derail revenues. Moreover, hoteliers increasingly understand the imperative of adding a human touch to the guest’s experience — warm front desk staff, attentive waitstaff in restaurants and, if need be, personal apologies from managers. Incorporating more positive guest-staff interactions is a surefire way to reaffirm to visitors that you value their patronage and build long-term brand loyalty.