By Aaron Housman Partner, Elevate Research | February 05, 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.


Mr. Housman Aaron Houseman brings over twenty years of executive experience working in high touch industries. He joined Elevate as a partner in the company in 2013, where he oversees new client acquisition, survey program implementation and strategic partnerships. Previously, Mr. Houseman was Founder/CEO of Med Legal, where he grew the company from one employee to 125 employees before selling the company in 2007. The company had offices and employees spread across the United States. Med Legal was considered the gold standard for customer service. Mr. Houseman is also President of the Board of Directors for the Bluewater Theater Group. Aaron Housman can be contacted at 952-456-1714 or aaron@elevateresearch.net Extended Biography

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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.