While Covid steered a major push towards digitisation and sustainability in hospitality sector, the trend continues and will define the future of hotels, as per industry majors. “During the pandemic, many of us created a different kind of business empire beyond the regular hospitality world that already existed,” said Prabhat Verma, executive vice-president – operations, south India, International Hotels & Expressions, IHCL (Indian Hotels Company Limited).
Speaking at the recent HVS ANAROCK’s HOPE (Hospitality Overview Presentation & Exchange) Conference in Goa, Verma said, “If you look at the example of our company’s Qmin digital app, it was born during the pandemic, but it is something that we are keeping an eye on in the future too. I think we all got to understand the technological leap and how to accelerate it in line with the guests of tomorrow.”
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With the phenomenal impact of ChatGPT, there is an increased focus on artificial intelligence. “We are starting some of it already,” said Sudeep Jain, managing director, South West Asia, IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), on if he sees hotels using AI to anticipate guests’ needs. “Essentially, it is a combination of AI and Big Data. So you take guests’ history, how they have acted in business and leisure to predict what they might want, which eventually leads to a suggestion from the guest service agent to the guest to make it a bit easier for them to choose. They also feel special that we understood how they acted in the past, hence made the prediction,” he said, adding, “To me, it is still more on Big Data and analysis than AI.”
At the same time, Navjit Ahluwalia, senior vice-president and country head – India, Hilton, stressed upon the use of technology to free up the team from unnecessary tasks for them to have ample time to interact with the guests. “For that, our journey began a few years ago, just like several other hospitality companies, and we have digitised most of it through our Hilton Honors App. It becomes your one-stop shop for selecting rooms, making bookings, etc,” he said, explaining that the time and energy saved with this help the team to make connections and be there for the guests.
Tech giant Meta, which has taken a major stride towards Web3.0, takes it a step further. At the conference, Meta executives spoke on how apart from providing an immersive virtual travel experience, this technology can also be used by hospitality players, such as for staff training. They also spoke about virtual tour guides and how Metaverse could be used for trying before buying, such as first seeing what an ocean view room or an upgraded business class seat might look like before going ahead with them. “At Meta, we are also trying to move forward to explore what more we can do with respect to the travel and hospitality sector because we think it is going to be a big one for metaverse as well as AR (artificial reality) and VR (virtual reality),” said Shalaka Ramesh Pawar, client partner – travel and professional services, Meta. “One of the things we are trying is enabling immersive experiences connected to global heritage, so that from your home you can witness the global heritage sites,” she said at the conference.
However, Rajesh Magow, co-founder and CEO of e-hospitality partner MakeMyTrip sees a limited use. “Metaverse, I believe, has a limited value for travel because travel is an experience,” he told FE. “But, it can be used to showcase and inspire newer ideas for travel from a marketing experience,” he added.
At the same time, Vijay Dewan, MD, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, believes it is the millennials and GenZs who “are going to bring about a digital transformation in the hospitality sector. This generation is more about having access than possession. Moving forward, we could also see travelling with zero baggage. This is something I feel should happen in the future. It can happen due to technology and change in consumer behaviour.”
Another change in consumer behaviour he highlighted at the conference is the increased focus on sustainability. “So what is going to come forward strongly is sustainability and localisation. The change it will bring about is that every hotel will have to focus on sustainability,” he said.
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Speaking to FE, KB Kachru, chairman emeritus and principal advisor south Asia, Radisson Hotel Group, said “sustainability is no longer a buzzword” and that a sizeable number of clients now want to book only in hotels that are sensitive to the environment. Highlighting the practices of reusing water and switching to sustainable energy sources, he said, electricity bills do come down by switching to renewable energy sources, which addresses concerns over the cost. As the vice-president of Hotel Association of India, he said, hotel chains “are collaborating and using each other’s best practices. If Mariott is doing something good, we follow them, and if Radisson does something good, someone else follows. So we are not keeping sustainability-focused best practices to ourselves but sharing among us for things to improve.”
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“If you take hospitality as the mother entity, sustainability, immersiveness and personalisation are three important components. All three are mandatory and necessary,” said Sunjae Sharma, MD – India & Southwest Asia, Hyatt Hotels Corporation.