Whether you are scared from the plethora of dystopian science fiction films depicting a dark future or confident you have everything in hand, digital and societal changes are disrupting every business engaged in hospitality.

Guest blog: The Future of Hospitality

The customer service model can now utilise digital doing the heavy lifting with Uber and Airbnb leading this change. For certain businesses this approach gives reach and growth replacing humans on the ground with carefully crafted apps that use the mobile and wifi spectrum to deliver a very popular service to millions of consumers globally. Just like the real world, the way customer service is enabled works incredibly well and is largely preferable to the ‘traditional’ approach of an offshore call centre that doesn’t understand culturally your needs as a customer.

People are changing as well. Much has been written about millennials (a group of individuals who reached adulthood around the year 2000) who are now managing and running many businesses. This group largely grew up with digital technology and are confident users of smart technology and more worried about the WiFi password when they stay in a new hotel rather than the comfort of the bed…. they are also the rental generation consuming as much as they can for a fixed monthly price.

What comes next are the post-millennials – those BORN after 2000. Less research is available about this group but there are more differences with millennials than you’d think. Although this group peaks at age 15 the consumer habits of this group have been shaped by exposure to a smart world of devices and content as they have only known fast WiFi in their short lives. This cohort seem immune to traditional advertising and respond best to things their friends or community recommend. Bad news for the advertising industry. But also more importantly they are much more savvy about personal data and care about what they store online. The popularity of chat apps that auto delete messages such as Snapchat and Wickr are used by 17% of all smartphone users in the US according to the Pew Research Centre. However, looking at post-millennials, the figure goes up to 41%. This group are also likely to be perfectionists and anyone who has a teenage daughter who takes selfies will know the endless hours they often spend to upload a perfect image which is taken down within a few minutes if no friends give positive comments on the social media site they have used.

So how will these post-millennials operate as consumers and workers in the future? The hospitality industry will need to be faultless in the ways it engages with customers – and any business which is ‘ok’ or ‘alright’ won’t survive for long. Digital heavy lifting with apps and engagement will assist with service and businesses will need to know far more about their customers habits than they have ever before. Thankfully with WiFi engagement products this is far easier than it used to be.

Balancing out the marketplace as technology never destroys but only disrupts there will continue to be a need for human intensive hospitality so think Ritz Carlton rather than Travelodge. If you are at the top of your game in the future you will be very successful but the 21st Century will be unforgiving for those businesses that deliver an average or poor service. The cleverest organisations are merging their real world customer service with a neatly dovetailed digital offering. Several airlines including Emirates are pushing the boundaries of this dual approach to excellent effect.

Emerging technology such as beacons (which connect to WiFi and bluetooth on smartphones to deliver custom messages) are creating new linkages with businesses and customers. It is mixing the digital space in exciting new ways hopefully not as invasive as those shown in the 2002 film Minority Report, whose dystopian future view is coming spookily true. We will also see a self service culture and new use for business premises. Here in Manchester, many independent coffee bars have become freelance working spaces and by using the in house WiFi, the bars can start to understand their customer needs in a detailed way. Imagine being able to walk into your regular coffee shop and your favourite brew is waiting for you to drink as the shop was notified of your journey minutes earlier.

We will see a seamless connection of WiFi across many cities as there are real advantages for user and provider if there is one login across a series of networks. Hotspot 2.0 is the technology that will support this advancement in connectivity, and Purple WiFi is already offering seamless login across different venues. This is sorely needed in urban areas where many users use their 4G signal above WiFi as it too much hassle to keep connecting to different networks.

So the future isn’t as scary as we think and by understanding how to weave digital connectivity into the customer service experience many hospitality businesses can punch significantly above their weight. In a world of fierce competition, a business that takes the time to understand their customers values, behaviours and needs will be triumphant.