Making hotels smart and resilient in times of crisis

Studie Futurehotel – Das smarte resiliente Hotel
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A new study from the FutureHotel research project shows how digitalization can help the crisis-ridden hotel sector

With their numerous services involving person-to-person contact, the hotel and tourism industries are suffering severely in the current crisis. How can hotels survive the crisis, resume operations, and still enforce social-distancing measures? A new report from Fraunhofer IAO’s FutureHotel research project shows potential ways forward and explains why digitalized hotels promise resilience.

With its many services involving personal contact and human interaction, the hotel sector is what is termed a “high-touch industry.” But now, the measures taken to contain the spread of the coronavirus require the exact opposite. The closure of borders has also stopped the flow of hotel guests, causing the industry enormous economic pain: In March, international hotel bookings dropped by 75 percent. Even though the German government’s restrictions should be loosened in the foreseeable future, the hotel and tourism market will have long-term effects to deal with. Non-contact solutions are needed to help hotels recommence operations and ensure they are better prepared for future crises. In this context, digitalization offers a broad range of possibilities with huge potential. As part of the FutureHotel research project led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, the institute and its partners from industry have been regularly sharing ideas with each other via an eponymous innovation network since 2008. Entitled “FutureHotel – the smart and resilient hotel,” the project group’s report offers hotel owners specific tips for the period during and after the coronavirus pandemic, showing them how they can harness digitalization to resume operations.

Four strategic action areas to make the digital transformation of hotels clear and comprehensible

Treiber der digitalen Transformation im Hotel im Jahr 2020
Quelle: Eigene Darstellung nach HotelTechReport

Treiber der digitalen Transformation im Hotel im Jahr 2020

Prof. Vanessa Borkmann is a scientist at Fraunhofer IAO, head of the FutureHotel innovation network, and the author of the study. In it she explains: “A smart and resilient hotel is one that exhibits a high degree of digitalization and is thus in a position to survive stressful, threatening (life) situations without lasting impairment to their operations.” To support hotel owners in implementing their own digitalization strategies, the study provides specific help in four strategic action areas that allow for physical distancing between guests and hotel staff: smart services, new work, digital business, and smart building.

For example, the study showcases smart services that can help avoid physical contact, such as autonomous check-in and check-out using a smartphone or terminal, digital payment options, and needs-based housekeeping. The other potential solutions described include a website that offers guest 360°-views of the building – this can also reduce the time guests spend looking for things in the hotel and prevent them from encountering other guests on arrival. Among other things, hotel employees should be given the option of performing tasks from home that do not require their presence in the hotel. Service robots, driverless transportation systems, and state-of-the-art audio- and video-conferencing systems are all part of a smart, connected hotel ecosystem, in which direct human contact can be reduced to a minimum without sacrificing the level of service provided to guests.

Non-contact services already in use in a Vienna hotel

Hotel Schani in Vienna began putting the findings from the research project into practice as early as April 2015. Since then, the hotel has deployed smart technologies that allow guests to check in or open the door to their hotel room using a smartphone. Guests can use an app to quickly access their room keys, update their reservation data at any time, or call up a host of useful information for their trip. “These services were developed in collaboration with Fraunhofer IAO and required a lot of time and effort. But now, at the very latest, the advantages they offer are there for all to see. Research pays off,” underscores Benedikt Komarek, CEO and owner of Hotel Schani.