In mid-2021, as much of the northern hemisphere and parts of the southern hemisphere emerge out of 18 months of extended lockdowns, social distancing, and travel restrictions, one thing is clear: both the travel industry and potential travelers are desperate to re-live the holiday experience. However, hotspots around the globe and the continued spread of variants are showing keenly that it is still very necessary to exercise caution. Therefore, explains Ivo Ivanov, CEO of DE-CIX International, while 2020 was characterized by the sudden need for companies and schools to digitalize and Internet connections to the home environment to be upgraded, the year 2021 will see demands appearing in other areas of life and work, as attempts are made to carefully regain some sense of normality.
Digitalizing hotels – new six-star hospitality in the post-pandemic world
By Ivo Ivanov, CEO of DE-CIX International
Digitalization is the keystone for the future of travel. It will make it possible for hotels and other hospitality establishments to protect their staff and customers and keep both the travel destinations free of further infection and the travelers’ home regions when they return. However, in the long term, it will not only be the benefits of contactless hospitality services that pay dividends for hotels. Guests are becoming increasingly digitally savvy, and focusing digitalization efforts on the customers’ decision-making process and the purchase decision can result in a strong competitive advantage for hotels and travel offers in the future.
Hotels need to offer a great customer experience – also online
Digitalizing the hotel experience may seem like a contradiction in terms – you have to actually be there, on the spot, to make the most of what a hotel has to offer. But in just the same way as the retail industry has blended the online with the offline, hotels can make the best of both worlds to cater to the needs and demands of their guests. Contactless services are an essential precaution in the current climate. These can be achieved, as Michael Leidinger, Senior VP and CIO at Hilton International, explained to me recently, via an all-inclusive app: displaying floor plans and the choice of rooms, enabling bookings and digital check-in and check-out, a digital key, and management of the smart features in the hotel room. We can already imagine the next step: the AI-supported digital butler, attending in real-time to every need of the guest, before, during, and after their stay.
But beyond all of that, the past 18 months have taught us as travelers that we should not need to leave the confines of our living room in order to get the best consultations on our needs and wishes for our dream holiday, to get VR-guided tours of hotel facilities, to really see the view from the balcony of our chosen hotel room, to visit the pool or the children’s play areas, check out the hotel restaurant. Even to (virtually) walk the 50 meters to the beach – all of this in real time and with a live hotel guide who can answer individual questions, not just a FAQ page on the website, and offer an authentic, real-time perspective. In this way, hotels can offer potential guests a true insight into the comforts and amenities – the competitive advantages – of their establishment so that the guests know what they are booking and what to expect. Because the way to a happy and satisfied customer is to meet their expectations.
The hotel experience no longer begins in the lobby but in the data center and the network
All well and good in theory, but how can hotel chains and other hospitality service providers make this a reality? Clearly, the hotel facilities need to be well-connected on-site so guests can enjoy digital services and applications during their stay. But more than that, the global network of the hospitality provider needs to be superbly connected to cloud solutions, business applications, AI, and software services, not to mention to the Internet access networks for potential guests and users. The experience of the hospitality provider’s digital services must be just as seamless, easy, and as high-quality as the physical comfort of the amenities on site. The hotel experience of the guest in the future will begin in the network of the hospitality provider – in the data centers and the interconnection platforms being used – no longer in the lobby of the hotel. Therefore, to ensure the highest level of performance possible, the hospitality provider needs to control the digital journey of their customers, and this requires control of connectivity and interconnection.
Today, state-of-the-art, digitalized hospitality services companies – especially the global ones – need to get their hands on the digital infrastructure transporting their data and to control this infrastructure. There are three main reasons for this: performance, data analysis (to be able to predict the business and private needs of their customers and provide a better experience), and, finally, to grow their digital assets – to grow their corporate value and generate new revenue streams when it comes to digital services. Without this control over the digital infrastructure, these key factors cannot be achieved and fulfilled.
Major hotel chains have properties all around the world, meaning that each of their locations needs to be optimally connected with local and global networks. This will ensure high-performance connectivity for guests on-site and the smooth running of customer apps and on-site IoT setups. It will also enable real-time connections for guests to a range of local digital services, as well as connecting each location optimally to the rest of the world for global corporate initiatives, like marketing. Given that their customers may be arriving from anywhere, hotels need to be able to provide their digital hotel experience close to the user, anywhere. Poor connectivity to the end user researching their next holiday will not inspire a purchasing decision in the hotel’s favor.
Hotels and their corporate networks need distributed infrastructure and great interconnection to make this a reality. They need the shortest and the most direct path possible to their clouds and other digital resources. Gone are the days when a data center on one continent could serve the needs of users on another. The best digital experience for the end user can be achieved by minimizing latency1. This means that hotels need to “glocalize” – they need local interconnection in each of the markets they operate in so that they can connect with their local and global digital value chain as close as possible to the place where their app and their digital services are being consumed. Because every millisecond counts when it comes to the perfect digital experience.
Controlling the infrastructure to provide the best possible digital experience
To achieve the lowest latency, and therefore the best user experience possible, the hotel network needs to interconnect directly with the networks of its many partners (be that airlines, public transport companies, tour companies, tourism services, tourist attractions, local restaurants, payment services, or cleaning and support services, not to mention data analytics companies and marketing agencies), as well as global content and content delivery networks, cloud providers, and the mobile and fixed-line – even LEO satellite – Internet access networks in each region. Interconnecting via a DDoS-free closed user group at a high performance and secure Internet Exchange means that the hotel chain not only improves the latency and performance of its connections, but it can also control the data journey – setting its corporate policies and regional regulations as prerequisites for the exchange of data within the group, and also making the most of their data assets.
Latency is the new currency of our modern, digitalized world. No matter how far travelers journey to their holiday destination, their data should not have to travel far. For hotels to come out on top of the digital race, they need to optimize and protect their data journey to make the virtual hotel experience just as good as the physical one, and the physical one even better.
1) Latency has to do with reaction times: the time it takes data to be sent for processing or analysis and for a reaction to occur or a result to be visible. For data transmission, the speed of light is a natural speed limit, meaning that the further the data needs to travel, the longer the delay will be.