New technology is improving the hotel experience while cutting costs and promoting sustainability – and there’s much more to come, says Michael Frenkel.

Technology can be harmful, but it can also be used to create better lives. As a board member of the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at Cornell University in the US, I have the pleasure of helping to judge the annual student business plan competition each year.

Among the new ideas presented, it’s heartening to see that many of the future leaders of the hotel industry are taking seriously the idea that they should “do well by doing good”. And when it comes to technology, they are using innovation not only to help hotels save money but also to promote socially beneficial and sustainable practices that advance guest comfort at the same time.


Here’s one example. One group of students outlined a proposal for a new app that would connect young hotel professionals with senior citizens living on their own, allowing them to share dinners and life experiences, in a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s a connection that would promote learning for young workers and wellbeing for older people, all enabled by technology.

In another example, the competition’s winner a few years ago started a robotics company that produced a Roomba-like device to clean hotel rooms. This hotel-cleaning robot, called Maidbot, is currently in place at dozens of properties in the US, and is gaining traction quickly – providing cost savings for hoteliers as well as cleaner and more comfortable rooms for travellers, while using fewer cleaning chemicals.

For those in the technology business, the aim is to position themselves at the intersection between generating profits and implementing processes that benefit travellers. In fact, the innovations often make an impact in areas a guest cannot see.

In one case, a Dallas hotel owner has licensed technology for forecasting demand for food and other supplies in more than 40 restaurants across his properties. Guests at these restaurants consume, on average, more than 400 pounds of bacon in total per week. But if in a given week the guest count is anticipated to be down – say, if several large groups cancelled their bookings at the last minute – the need for bacon would be far less.

By measuring forecasted guest count and anticipated meetings and restaurant traffic across the estate, the software can alert the purchasing department that 400 pounds of bacon will not be necessary next week; 250 should suffice. The result is substantial cost savings for the property, and reduced food waste.

Of course, some new technologies focus not on issues such as these but purely on the comfort and pleasure of guests. Travellers may have noted the increasing prevalence of iPads and other tablets in upmarket hotels around the world. These allow guests to control their entire experience in the room – the temperature, opening and shutting the blinds, ordering room service and even booking show tickets from the comfort of one’s bed. Housekeeping service is now also just a touch away, with the tablet connecting hotel departments to the guest.


Putting the infrastructure in place to make this possible is not as simple as it might appear – it requires connecting multiple touch points within a hotel, and for this a new kind of technology backbone behind the scenes is required. Nor is the solution always inexpensive – think of the cost of purchasing tablets for hundreds of rooms at a large hotel.

The bigger point is that, as in so many aspects of life in the 21st century, the advent of new technologies is changing the way we experience travel – and, with it, the way that travel providers run their businesses. The potential is endless, as cloud technologies, sophisticated robotics and artificial intelligence break the boundaries of what was thought possible.

From robots greeting hotel guests at check-in to new ways of preserving the environment while providing superior service, the innovators of today are paving the way for even more amazing guest experiences tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy that freshly-made bacon sandwich.

Michael Frenkel is an investor and adviser in the hotel and travel technology industries.