The hotel industry has lagged behind other sectors in adopting technology to meet customer led demand, according to a new report from Grant Thornton, the global professional services firm.

A summary of the findings of the ‘Hotels 2020: Welcoming Tomorrow’s Guests’ report was presented to a distinguished group of UAE hotel industry leaders at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai on Monday evening (9 March). 
The report found that hotels must put mobile technology at the centre of their customer experience as they race to catch up and compete in the ‘sharing economy’, where services such as AirBnB are challenging the traditional business model. 
The findings are particularly relevant to the UAE, where the hotel industry continues to flourish. Recent figures from Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) show steady year-on-year growth and significant increases in hotel establishment revenues and guest nights. Dubai's hotel establishments alone welcomed 11,629,578 guests in 2014, registering a 5.6 percent increase on 2013's total.
Commenting on the report, Hisham Farouk, CEO of Grant Thornton UAE said: “Over the past decade the UAE has rewritten the rule book and set the standard for innovation in the global hotel and hospitality sector. Hoteliers in the UAE must act now to embrace new technologies and adapt to changing customer demands. They must differentiate themselves by making a reality of mass personalisation - whilst keeping the human touch - to continue to surprise and delight guests along with further standing out from the competition.”   
A key driver of the ‘personalisation’ trend has been the increasing spending power of millennials, digital natives looking for local, authentic experiences when travelling. This demographic group are set to outspend baby boomers in hotels by 2017 and expect increasingly tailored services, such as mobile room customisation and special in-app offers.  With the number of Chinese tourists alone expected to double to over 200 million by 2020, rising numbers of travellers from emerging markets also means hotels need to change their services to cater for new needs and preferences.  
The report highlights that the hotel industry has been lagging behind other industries when it comes to mobile personalisation; from retailers and personal finance providers to travel companies and restaurants, mobile technology – and especially apps – are being developed at a rate of knots to provide accessible, customised customer services. The report urges hotels to consider apps that personalise elements of the entire guest experience, going beyond the simple logistical processes of room booking and check-in to allowing guests to truly tailor their stay through their smartphone.  
Gillian Saunders, Global Leader of Leisure & Hospitality at Grant Thornton, who presented the main findings of the report on Monday evening said: “Hotels need to work to understand their guests’ requirements, making the most of big data to analyse and establish where personalisation through better use of mobile can really add value. It’s all about striking the right balance between apps and technology, as well as human interaction, which is still hugely valued. Get it wrong and you risk alienating your customers. Get it right and you can reap the rewards.” 
Some hotel chains are already looking at technology to personalise the guest experience. For example, Hilton Worldwide are developing a mobile check-in and checkout service, and the Ritz Carlton app, launched last year, provides concierge services including booking reservations, local city guides and special offers.  
However, with recent privacy concerns around the amount of data shared through cloud platforms and mobile devices, the report warns that hotels must be mindful of how much data is likely to be shared by guests, and therefore work closely with consumers to ensure that personalisation is introduced at a level that is comfortable and achievable for both parties.  
Hisham Farouk concluded by saying “hotels must act now, the Grant Thornton Hotels 2020 report, shares some key insights into welcoming tomorrow guest’s. The trends highlighted need to be taken into consideration by UAE hoteliers as the competition increases with the emergence of mid-tier and affordable hotels. Given the Expo is coming to the UAE in 2020, it is already set to be a memorable year but how will this impact hoteliers, pre and post the Expo? The report findings need to be considered in order to ensure they remain competitive once the Expo concludes.” He stated “this will continue to further support the UAE to remain resilient further positioning it as the central hub of the Middle East known internationally for innovation, excellence and as the investors market of choice.”