Although we can still look at the rear-view mirror and recall our experience, with this piece we would like to look ahead and describe some of the features that you might encounter the next time you’ll take a holiday trip away from home.
Pretty much like the majority of the industries out there, the hotel industry is undergoing a major transformation due to the prominent emergence of new technologies.
The primary driver behind such changes is the overly used term the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). For the few hermits who haven’t yet been introduced to it, the IoT describes a world where objects and people are interconnected and communicate to each other over the internet. The technologies supporting the IoT are various, and include iBeacons, smartphones, RFID…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, yet.
For hotels and resorts alike, this is a great opportunity to make the most of what technology has to offer to enhance the delivery of their customer experience, because let’s face it – when it comes to being on holiday (and many other aspects) us human beings like very much to follow the (in)famous ‘path of least resistance’.
The IoT and the path of least resistance go hand-in-hand
At the premise of all this, there’s the following statistic: according to a recent report prepared by Ericsson, in 2014 there were 2.6 billion smartphone users, and the number is predicted to grow up to 6.1 billion by 2020.
These numbers are important because smartphones have one interesting peculiarity: they turn human beings into ‘connected’ human beings. In other words, through smartphones we are enabled to interact with objects around us – and this, especially for the hotel industry, contributes a lot to the creation of a smoother customer experience for their customers.
Well, we’ve all been there. We’ve all got to a hotel after several hours of exhausting travelling only to queue to check-in. The reality is that a comfy bed is already waiting for us somewhere in the building, but we still need to go through the hassle of registering ourselves in the hotel’s management system at reception.
To alleviate this problem, some technology companies are working on automatic check-in systems involving iBeacons and – you guessed it – smartphones. When in proximity of the hotel’s iBeacon, the smartphone would get to work by recognising that the customer has entered the hotel and by automatically checking-in for him or her.
One implication is that the world of iBeacons is still in its infancy and there doesn’t seem to be a standard technology with which to operate. For these reasons, projects involving iBeacons are quite good if a company is looking to claim on R&D tax credit. Examples of qualifying activity in such projects would typically see the development team resolving technological challenges linked with defining the smartphone behaviour around the iBeacon and the reliability of the system as a whole.
Once you’ve checked-in automatically, one question arises, ‘How do I get my keys?’
Use your smartphone as a room key
Of course, the answer is in the smartphone. And more specifically in its Bluetooth or NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. Similar to the case of iBeacons, the phone would dialogue with the door’s lock through a unique reference code that will allow the lock to open for you, and for you only.
Back in 2014, the hotel groups Starwood and Hilton began implementing this technology in an upgrade that involved over 650,000 hotel rooms in total.
Despite Bluetooth or NFC currently being more established technologies than the iBeacon, significant development work is often required to implement such systems securely. In other words, significant efforts in the encryption side of things need to be undertaken.
Software security is indeed another area that tends to be quite R&D-heavy. Writing complex encryption codes never seems to be a straightforward process and it typically requires developers to go through countless iterative phases through which the security of the system is tried, tested and refined. This is something that fits quite nicely with the R&D activity definition as set out by the BIS guidelines.
I’m in the room, can I put my phone away now?
Yes, you can. Or you could use it to dim the room’s lights a little bit; maybe raise that electric curtain…I think you get the point.
Such technology has been around for a few years now, perhaps its most popular incarnation is in the Google Nest product family, which allows people to communicate with their home lighting or heating system remotely. As a result you can instruct your oven to heat up so that the stuffed chicken is cooked by the time you get home, or you can switch the heating system off if you’ve forgotten to do it before leaving the house.
And there’s more
Another emerging trend is the use of smartphones as an all-encompassing tool to consume customer service. Much like banking apps or mobile carrier apps, hotel mobile applications can offer a similar facility, and several businesses are developing customer service mobile solutions geared specifically towards the hotel sector.
Enhanced customer service
When it comes to app-based customer experience, there’s two upsides that stand out from a hotel management perspective.
The first one is that the delivery of customer service is enhanced significantly. For example, through the app hotel guests can issue a customer service enquiry directly to reception or to the most relevant department. This removes the need to call or speak with reception and it enables the customer to route the enquiry to the appropriate department instead of leaving the onus of this operation to the reception staff. The result is a more efficient and quicker customer service that keeps the customer satisfied.
The other element is reporting and analysis. That is to say, through such apps it is possible to track and monitor the entire customer service flow. In turn, this makes it a lot easier to assess the quality of the customer service offered and to identify potential improving areas.
Increased upselling opportunities
Of course, when browsing your hotel app to order room service, you might find it difficult to resist to the special meal deal that goes with the food you’ve ordered. Or when you’re using the app to extend your stay you’d be delighted to be informed that for a minimum extra cost you can upgrade to the full ‘deluxe room’ experience.
If you catch the drift, hotel apps also offer great upselling opportunities. By mapping the customer journey and the customer interests as expressed through the app, hotel managers can find new and effective ways to propose tailored and relevant upselling offers.
R&D is all around us
While the mobile customer service technology is a bit more mature than its iBeacon or RFID counterpart, all of the examples provided above hold elements of R&D in their development.
The creation of such facilities typically imply projects characterised by the presence of various technological uncertainties whose resolution is not straightforward or clear from the outset.
Such projects, despite challenging and demanding, are exactly what HMRC deems as ‘qualifying’ from an R&D tax credit perspective, and eligible companies can recoup up to 33.35% of the development expenditure.
Not sure if you’re eligible?
Whether your projects are heavily involved in the complex world of the Internet of Things, or you’re developing a custom application to accommodate a bespoke requirement, chances are that you might be eligible for R&D tax credits.
ForrestBrown are an award-winning tax consultancy firm which specialises in providing advice to companies in relation to R&D tax credits. If you are uncertain whether your business qualifies for R&D tax credits or if you are simply curious to learn more, please feel free to get in touch with one of our tax specialists – we’re happy to help.