By Tyler Tatum Marketing Strategy Consultant, | February 26, 2019

The hospitality industry is designed to cater to the guest, and technology has only pushed the concept of providing the ultimate guest service further. From robots that deliver luggage to rooms to concierge chatbots that are available 24/7, there is an ever-increasing number of touchpoints between hotel guests and technology. While these offerings are meant to make a guest's stay more convenient, they also leave the hotel vulnerable to cybercrime that could put their guests' safety and privacy in jeopardy.

In this article, we will explore how the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) has been an increasing trend in the hotel industry, and how the shift towards smart devices in hotel rooms is expected to soon become the norm. And while guests appreciate the ease and luxury of these devices, hotels face serious cybersecurity risks if these products are not secure. It is a hotel's responsibility to take the necessary actions to protect its guests' privacy and personal data, and that starts with understanding smart devices. Doing the research on any IoT or AI products for the hotel, talking to IT and cybersecurity experts and making knowledgeable, thoughtful decisions will go a long way in preventing cyberattacks. Unfortunately, it is no longer a matter of "if" an IT network or system will be cyberattacked, but a matter of "when." The hospitality industry is particularly attractive to hackers becauseof the many ways it uses technology to improve the guest experience. Hotels also collect a wealth of personal and private data on their guests, from credit card and passport information to allergies and number of people in a room.

What makes AI and IoT products so difficult to protect against hackers is that they are often seemingly benign products like smart lighting, drapes and thermostats, which do not seem to possess any inherent threat. However, once they are connected to Bluetooth or the Internet, they all become potential gateways for hackers. Hotels, and the broader hospitality industry, must weigh the risks versus rewards of incorporating AI and IoT devices into the guest experience. Perhaps avoiding convenience technology altogether is the answer. But that's not how the hospitality industry works. Just check out any list of 2019 trends for hotels and technology is often at the top spot. Guests expect hotels to take advantage of the latest technology, or the hotels risk being considered antiquated or passe.

Even bed-and-breakfasts and boutique hotels understand that while guests might not stay at their hotels for a high-tech experience, they must at least offer guests complimentary Wi-Fi. This is an example of how guest expectations have shaped what was once a bonus amenity and way to stand-out from competition, into a standard and expected requirement.

Today, major hotel chains are beta-testing high-tech concept rooms built entirely around the IoT. Smart technology is embedded into almost everything, including the mirror, art frames, showers and faucets. Technology that knows when you're out of bed and turns on lights to create a path to the bathroom or sensors that can tell how many people are in the room and adjust the oxygen in the room accordingly are just a sampling of the new technological benefits in hotels.

Of course, there are many instances when technology improves security. One Gallagher client, a major hotel chain, has been rolling out digital keys at various locations. While a digital key does not exactly fall into the AI or IoT categories, it does represent the digitalization of a "traditional" item, the plastic hotel swipe key. The hotel believes digital keys will gain in popularity and even cites security as a benefit over the plastic swipe keys. For example, some magnetic key cards can be copied and read wirelessly. Physical theft is also a risk, as many guests keep their room numbers and keys together for convenience. A smartphone has a phone lock and the digital key app requires a separate login. From that perspective, the hotel doesn't view the digital key as an increased risk.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.