Tech Trends to Watch with Sue Graves, CEO, Experience Alive
Former hotel general manager and convention center executive, Sue Graves had her "a-ha moment" during the pandemic and has pivoted into tech utilizing her decades in operations to understand what technology makes the most sense for hotels. In her quest to help hoteliers, she created her own consulting company, Experience Alive, and since has spent countless hours learning various technologies and deep diving into the tech sector and its applications for hotels, interviewing some 300 companies, and building commercial agreements with about 25-30 companies that are revolutionizing the industry.
Determined to help the broader industry capitalize on the efficiencies offered by technology, Sue also created and is the founding chair of the Innovation & Technology Committee for the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association, where she also serves on the Board of Directors. In this role, Sue built Call For Solutions, a shout-out to tech providers to showcase the latest offerings, which received interest from hundreds of start-ups and more established companies. Submissions from more than 60 were whittled down by a panel of judges, offering the top three winners a stage to speak about their respective solutions at the Ohio hotel conference. Plans are in the works to now help these three tech companies scale up in the rest of the US.
Sue says, "Thanks to COVID, we have moved to a digital world about seven years faster than pre-pandemic. It was always on the horizon, but it has come much faster. I don't know if some of these are predictions only because the digital world is growing faster than ever and some of these ideas already exist. Most hoteliers are not aware of the digital efforts that solution providers have created to ease repetitive tasks for associates and make their lives better running hotels."
Here are Sue's top five predictions for the future of tech in hotels:
1. Labor. You will begin seeing robots in hotels supporting the staff in the delivery of items guests need, vacuuming, delivering linen to floors, and patrolling dark, dangerous areas of the exterior of a hotel. Excitingly, this also creates a new guest experience.
A recent story of an autonomous delivery robot––a guest checking in with her 10-year-old son celebrating his birthday at the hotel noticed the robot mingling in the lobby. She asked the front desk if the robot could deliver her son's favorite candy and if balloons could be affixed to the robot for the delivery. The answer was "Yes of course we can do that". When mom received a text on her phone stating "Oliver" was at the door she asked her son to go to meet "Oliver", which turned out to be a robot, that lit up, the top opened, and inside were his favorite candy and balloons adorned the robot. The 10-year-old was ecstatic with joy, mom took pictures, and posted them on social media. The hotel received so much positive feedback from social media, now everyone wants to stay at the "robot hotel". This is just one example of how experiences in hotels will be changing in the future to not only accommodate the labor scarcity but to engage guests in a new and different and frankly fun way.
2. Inventory management. RFID technology––Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is revolutionizing inventory. If you don't know RFID, it is already being used in other areas. For example, Walt Disney world uses RFID technology in its magic bands to allow guests to get into their hotel rooms and make purchases at select locations showing on their folio automatically. RFID is now being added to terry and linen to track linen providing a clear dashboard for how many washes a sheet has been through, etc. making inventory and ordering more predictive while saving the arduous task of hand counting linen, which takes days sometimes depending on the size of the property. When RFID is instituted in linen/terry can actually track the usage of the terry, and identify how much linen has left the facility and has returned, automating linen inventory. The small tags are carefully sewn into the hems of the linen/terry. As a customer, you would never know they are there.
3. Communication is changing rapidly. There are companies focused on improving the transparency of communication in many ways. Digital hiring assistants to engage prospective employees in new fun ways, providing scheduling tools autonomously for interviewing, and sending onboarding documentation for new hires that can be digitally signed ensuring appropriate labor regulations and paperwork is being filled out both timely and without human error.
Communication is key to preserving the culture of a hotel and now tech can help. No more bulletin boards where posters are past the deadline, can't be read in multiple languages, and are passed by. Now there are companies focused on employee recognition that can happen immediately and are sent company-wide supporting a culture of caring and service by offering recognition instantly.
Communication is key to preserving the culture of a hotel and tech can help. No more bulletin boards where posters are past the deadline, can't be read in multiple languages, and are passed by. Now there are companies focused on employee recognition that can happen immediately and are sent company-wide supporting a culture of caring and service by offering recognition instantly. We used to have bi-annual employee surveys to look at the sentiment. Now you can provide micro surveys monthly to a department, or an entire hotel to track employee engagement and sentiment and receive feedback instantly from the staff. These are just a couple of ways the digital world is helping to change communication for the better in the industry.
4. Property management systems will continue to be more predictive in nature. You'll know when a customer is arriving, you'll be able to engage with the customer throughout their hotel journey allowing the guest to interact directly in a digital way with the hotel staff to support the needs they have throughout the stay. Marketing will look differently as well to accommodate the personalization of the guest stay while connecting them with what they want or need individually.
5. Elevated guest experiences with Blockchain technology. Blockchain––unique codes that can be used to create experiences or tokens––will offer a tremendous opportunity for hoteliers to customize or sell hotel stays and experiences that can even combine real and virtual. Imagine if instead of purchasing a room for the night, you purchased an experience based on your individual needs? Imagine the future of a brand loyalty program where guests could further engage in the hotel experience with play-to-earn gaming (P2E)? Imagine utilizing NFTs as not only art or music but adding utility to the NFT creating magical experiences and even offering donations for a charity of choice sponsored by the hotel? Just Imagine how the industry can be revolutionized while keeping the personal touches.
Wow, you've given us much to think about! Now tell us how you use tech:
What is your favorite piece of tech? - So many really. They are all amazing. I do love the autonomous delivery robot and autonomous security robot. Both have ways to engage with customers while protecting guests and associates. It's fun technology!
What is your favorite app for business? LinkedIn is a great way to make connections and stay up on how professional friends are moving around so you can show gratitude. Two other apps I love are Clubhouse and Cryptonews. Clubhouse allows you to engage with a variety of audiences learning new things and contribute to the conversation, building a network in many ways. Cryptonews always keeps me up to date on the newest blockchain technology trends. This industry segment is growing and I am highly engaged. I am in the process of completing a book that will be published helping NFT artists navigate the various networks to launch their collections, and helping democratize wealth for artists. I am very excited. Stay tuned!
My 92-year-old Mom has an Apple Watch ⌚️ and often remarks that it’s funny she can talk into it like Maxwell Smart from the old TV show “Get Smart.” What tech innovations from movies or TV do you think will be a reality soon? The Jetsons was one of my favorite shows growing up. Flying cars will be here before we know it. There is intense training going on in Cincinnati right now with flying cars.
Tell us about pivoting to entrepreneurship, what has been the hardest thing? I suppose navigating everything at once as a solo entrepreneur. When you work for a large enterprise organization as I have done for years, things are already set up. You are essentially creating the building blocks of your organization as a founder and entrepreneur, which is super fun but it seems like there are so many things that have to get done to get started it was difficult for me to find my pathway at first, just navigating the business side of set up. The laws/regulations certainly don't make it easy.
What’s been the best thing about being an entrepreneur? Creating my own pathway and helping the hospitality industry that I am so passionate about. When I find amazing solution providers I am so excited to be able to share with my fellow hotel friends that there really are people working on solutions that can save time, are affordable, and improve the work/life experience for associates and guest experience––all while making new revenue streams. I just can't connect with 700,000 hotels fast enough. That is the biggest obstacle that I have right now.
Thanks, Sue! If you have more questions on tech or some of the innovative companies Experience Alive is working with, email Sue Graves. Sue also has a book coming out soon on Amazon, “The Quick and Easy NFT Launch."