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Hospitality Technology 2020 | By Karthik Namasivayam

The Hospitality Management department at the Rochester Institute of Technology is housed in the College of Applied Science and Technology.

I cannot imagine a more appropriate home for a hospitality program today, given the rapid incursion of technology in a historically tech-shy, high-touch oriented industry.

Technology is everywhere: Josh Bersin notes that business models are being rapidly disrupted and organizations have to respond to the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

Platform technologies and business models are displacing established ways of doing business.

The hospitality industry is not immune to these developments – witness Airbnb, a prime example of the platform revolution and its impact on legacy hospitality (if only at the peripheries at this point).

Other technologies are advancing as well and as Carson Booth, Vice President Global Property Technology at Marriott International, notes, technology such as "AI will become embedded and ubiquitous" in the hospitality industry.

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The purpose of this essay is to understand some technologies that will impact the hospitality industry in the near future – the year 2020 is arbitrary, I had first titled the article as 'Hospitality Technology 2025' but the pace of technological developments shifted the horizon! In a survey of the rapidly growing commentary stream on technology, it appears the following will have a great deal of impact on the hospitality industry: robotics, 3-D printing, internet of things and data, artificial intelligence, and "trust-through-algorithms-and-ratings". Each of these is elaborated in the next paragraphs. Caveat: This is a very quick overview. Each of these technologies is complex and is associated with a number of 'human' and moral questions. For example, who is responsible for a death if the vehicle causing the accident is a self-driving car? Are consumers ready to accept a high-tech, low touch hospitality environment? Is society ready to support displaced employees? And there are, of course, other technologies not covered here.

Hospitality organizations will have to respond as these various technologies are adopted at a higher rate in the general organizational environment. It is important that they adopt a proactive and strategic stance and fundamentally (re)design themselves as technology-centered organizations. Technology-driven transformations will impact the structure of the industry as well: in some organizations, technology will be used visibly front and center (for example, service robots) in guest interfaces and back-of-the house operations with the aim of economizing. In others, technology will be used in back-of-house and support operations but have human guest relations experts at the guest interface to provide the 'high touch' experience that those willing to pay premiums for it will demand. Back of the house operations such as inventory management, room pricing decisions, or human resource management are likely to be equally technology driven. The choices made about technology and human interfaces with guests will distinguish groups of organizations.

Thus, it appears that the industry is on the cusp of a very big transformation driven not only by technology but also demographic and economic changes.