In a time of rapidly advancing technology, concerns are vocalised about how the familiarity of human connection is threatened in many industries. The warmth of craftsmanship and the privilege of customer service is deemed threatened by the metallic touch of robotics and the blue haze of digital screens. The innovators in our society, however, understand the need to adapt and recognise that technology and science does not herald in the redundancy of mankind.
The hospitality industry is one which has found ways to embrace this innovation and use science to enhance the client experience, rather than wipe it of any authenticity. One example is the success of molecular gastronomy and mixology, an umbrella term used to describe the experimental preparations of food using advanced modes of modern skills. Originally conceived as a sub discipline of food science, contemporary chefs adopted the concept to create avant-garde haute cuisine, with unique textures and shapes framing the taste of the food. Approaches include the foaming of food where natural flavours are combined with stabilising agents, such as protein, before being whipped into a gaseous texture. Spherification, the process of shaping flavoured liquid into gelatine-like balls, has also proven to be popular because of its resemble to caviar.
These methods of cuisine are not new – having emerged in the 1990s, the term ‘molecular gastronomy’ has remained controversial amongst some chefs. Spanish chef Ferran Adrià, for example, shuns the label, preferring to describe his signature style as ‘deconstructivist’. He quotes that his experimental flair “takes a dish that is well known and transforms all its ingredients, or part of them; then modifies the dish’s texture, form and/or its temperature. Deconstructed, such a dish will preserve its essence… but its appearance will be radically different from the originals.” His stated goal is to “provide unexpected contrasts of flavour, temperature and texture. The idea is to provoke, surprise and delight the diner.”
Whilst the partnership between science and food is not a recent phenomenon, the hotel industry has seen rapid development in digitalisation in the past few years. One key group of influencers in this are experience-driven millennials who seek innovation and exclusiveness in their purchasing habits. It is of no wonder why industry leaders target their preferences; the millennial traveller makes up a third of hotel guests, and by 2020 they will be accountable for half.
Artificial Intelligence is expected to increase in notoriety when it comes to the guest experience. Already used by digitally savvy clients to research and book rooms, AI has its uses in companies such as HiJiffy, a hospitality-orientated chatbot which answers queries and directly connects users to human agent. The balance between artificial and real is respected in this example – although the AI tracks the information and taste, it will eventually be the human who offers a personalised service.
The main use of technology, however, will be within the walls of the hotel. The smart room, whose popularity is rapidly increasing, allow guests to control their room’s lighting and temperature in accordance to their preferences. Some hotels even have high-tech double beds which feature cooling or heating systems on either half. Expect wi-fi to become a universal commodity – evolution of the hotel lobby’s use means that business and pleasure are integrated. The hotel lobby is no longer a guest-exclusive area; local businessmen and freelancers are an emerging market when it comes to the design of future hotel spaces. The integration of mobile devices will also see further expansion – much like how travel check-ins can be done via smartphone technology, self-service features will be seen in more hotels. For example, keys can be downloaded on a phone during check-ins and room service will be available to order via in-room devices for streamlined use.
Whilst the evolution of science and technology is no doubt fascinating, industry leaders remain under pressure. The rapid development of these novelties means that innovations risk being outdated within a few years. One can only compare to what smartphones offer now compared to half a decade ago. The uncertainty of technology’s future means more strain on hospitality experts searching for new ways to develop the client experience. Some hotels even actively discourage the presence of modern technology as a way to enhance escapism and detachment – Wyndham Hotels have previously offered guests discounts in exchange for giving up their mobile devices during their stay.
For now, balance remains an integral part of tech in hospitality. Currently, no amount of AI and robots can match the warmth and attention to detail that only experienced luxury staff can provide. Luxury hotels and restaurants, therefore, have to remain cautious as to how much they open their doors to this quick-fire, buzzword-heavy trend of modernisation. Perfecting the recruitment of client-oriented staff members who are skilled in bringing to life the guest experience, as well as allocating resources to innovative training programmes are essentials needed for hospitality brands to build more complex and digitally advanced interactions.