We explore the travel hospitality market, examining its sectors, value and opportunities open to tech start-ups involved in this area…

The hospitality industry is, and has been, going through profound changes associated with the vortex of digital transformation that is impacting every industry. In this fast changing marketplace, the opportunities for start-ups to create new business models are almost without limits.

From offshore oil mining to beauty and healthcare, no single business operation is immune from the force of digitisation and the newly connected service streams that the web has enabled.

As a micro-vertical (tourism being the parent vertical), the hospitality industry has, by varying degrees, embraced the need to innovate and bring new products and services to market. But there is still much to create.

In-hotel guest experience

If we look at the in-hotel experience, almost every aspect of a guest’s visit has been changed by digital innovation over the last couple of decades. Only the lavatory and the bed remain basically the same, and in some cases even these elements have provided new functionality enhancements. Who wouldn’t want their toilet seat temperature set as per their recorded preferences via Internet of Things (IoT) devices?

But data intelligence, feeding Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and IoT sensors designed to track which guest is in the room, can do more than just warm the seat in the bathroom. We’re all used to hotel television screens displaying our name to welcome us on arrival, but the hospitality experience is about to get even more personal.

People don’t want to watch special offer, on-demand films or listen to local radio stations any more. Instead, they want to watch and listen to their home collections and favourites. Web-centric, new media start-ups are feeding this kind of demand. You know about Spotify, YouTube and perhaps, even, Shazam, because they have become a commercial success, but the next media start-up is waiting to happen.

Booking processes

Hospitality booking systems are another area ready for innovation and positive disruption. Although we can’t pinpoint where they are right now, all it takes is some bright-spark database professional or other software engineering specialist with a burning idea to form their own start-up, and the back-end systems that form the backbone of the industry get reinvented.

If you don’t believe this assertion, think about the way online loyalty points are managed today. In everything from airline travel to supermarket shopping, we are used to commercial vendors of all kinds “knowing who we are” when we shop with them.

What’s coming next? The hospitality industry could reward customers in new ways depending on how much they socially promote their purchases. This system could then be “gamified” so that customers end up competing with other customers. There’s your next hospitality booking start-up idea right there… and you can have that one for free.

Deeper and wider, but always connected

The bed and the toilet seat may remain largely as they are for now, but traditional hospitality elements are in no way protected from disruptive innovation from start-ups. The concierge is likely to stay, for the time-being at least, as a human employee, but this role has a lot of potential for reinvention.

Virtual concierge services, delivered to guests’ smartphones, is just one possibility. Why bother picking up a hotel map from the lobby when you can get a personally crafted city map delivered to your mobile device? Even better, what if that map highlighted the user’s favourite types of activities, tourist locations, restaurants and bars based on their logged preferences and approved search history?

The hospitality industry holds a wealth of start-up innovation possibilities that we have barely begun to develop. The next product innovation could be big or could be small, but, when brought to market, it could be as fundamentally accepted as pressing zero on the phone to talk to the front desk reception.

It’s time to get dialling, hospitality transformation awaits.