Held once every two years, the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit is a two-day SXSW for hotel geeks, a Comic Con for loyalty program junkies, a General Assembly for industry obsessives, a conference with expert panels, presentations and prognostication about the future of the hotel business.
While much of the chatter is very inside baseball -- sample presentation topic: "Service Experience Management" -- there are some trends that will soon affect the average traveler. HuffPost Travel was there to suss them out.
What's next for the hotel industry? To judge from the experts at CHRS, the future will be more technology-minded, obsessed with social media and focused on service. That's all good news for guests.
Here are five predictions for the industry drawn from two days of hotel hoopla.
Social Media Primacy
The message seems to be: If you aren't already tweeting with your hotel, start. When things go wrong on the road -- and they often can -- guests are having better success getting issues resolved with Twitter than even calling the front desk. Enter the case of Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves player who created huge buzz at the Grand Hyatt New York by publicly griping about his room.
"With transparency and social media today, there are no secrets anymore," Revinate's Michelle Wohl told HuffPost Travel after the conference. "As soon as you disappoint a customer, that's when they are going to take to social media."
While hotel industry insiders at the conference didn't encourage guests to vent on social media, it's become clear that the best way to get satisfaction can sometimes be through 140-character cries for help.
"It raises the game, because now things are magnified," said John Bowen, Dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. "If we do something right, that goes to 1,000 people; if we do something wrong, that goes to thousands."
Guest Reviews Grow Even More Powerful
The online ecosystem of first-hand user reviews has grown so powerful over the past years that hotel companies are now tailoring their capital expenditures to meeting guest demand. Revinate says West Coast hotel operator Greystone decided to upgrade from tube TVs to flat-panel displays based solely on online review guest feedback. Look for more of the same, whether its lobby renovations or paid parking going free, says Revinate's Wohl.
Service Standards Increasing
The biggest competition among hotels, say industry leaders, has become price, thanks to online travel agencies like Orbitz and Expedia that make it easy to shop for cheapest room in a given destination.
"The Internet has provided tremendous price transparency to consumers," said Ted Teng, the CEO and president of Leading Hotels of the World. "And that's a good thing."
But at least one panelist, Adam Wiessenberg, the vice chairman of travel, hospitality and leisure segment at Deloitte, says service could be back on the rise now that the economy is slowly recovering. If hotels don't invest in service now, he said during a panel appearance, it will be a mistake that will "come back to haunt" the industry when the next downturn arrives. Customers flee brands that don't put service first.
New ideas may come from unexpected places, said Kaye Chon, the dean of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management. Chon described a new concept created at his school, a hotel lounge that offers luggage storage, showers and snacks to long-haul visitors who arrive in the morning -- a common thing in Asia, where he's based. Widely copied around the industry these days, Chon says innovations like these are bound to become more common as the travel business continues to grow. Good news for what he called "one of the least innovative industries."
"We're not thinking about where technology is going," said panelist Christopher Muller, describing not just hotels but also the travel industry in general. But while his argument that "the world's largest industry" isn't adapting to technological change, the rest of the conference program suggested otherwise, with firms utilizing Big Data-focused ideas to analyze guest reviews, track preferences, drive mobile bookings and encourage people to travel more. As LivingSocial's Doug Miller pointed out during his presentation: The iPhone changed everything.
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What: Surf Butler
<strong>Where: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/orange-county/hotels/the-st-regis-monarch-beach-resort/" target="_hplink">The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort, Orange County</a></strong> St. Regis hotels are known for their top-notch butler service, which even uses eButlers to receive requests via e-mail. With such attentive service throughout the luxury chain, it’s no wonder that oceanfront St. Regis hotels, like the Monarch Beach Resort in <a href="http://www.oyster.com/orange-county/" target="_hplink">Orange County</a>, offer surf butlers. Before your lesson in hanging ten, the surf butler will take your measurements for your wetsuit and bring all necessary equipment right down to the sand so you won’t have to lift a finger — your focus should be on catching some gnarly waves anyways, dude!
What: Bath Sommelier
<strong>Where: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/chicago/hotels/fairmont-chicago-millennium-park/" target="_hplink">Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park</a></strong> After a long day of shopping on Magnificent Mile or cheering for the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the last thing you want to do is draw your own bath, right? (Bear with us.) Well, guests staying at the Fairmont in <a href="http://www.oyster.com/chicago/" target="_hplink">Chicago</a> will be glad to learn that they don’t have to, thanks to the hotel’s bath sommelier. The Fairmont’s Serenity Bath option includes the service of an expert bath-ologist (yea, we didn’t know those existed either) who comes to your room with aromatherapy oils, special soaps and lotions, and selected music to craft the perfect bathing experience just to your liking.
What: Pet Psychic
<strong>Where: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/washington-dc/hotels/the-liaison-capitol-hill-an-affinia-hotel/" target="_hplink">Liaison Capitol Hill, An Affinia Hotel, Washington, D.C.</a></strong> Kimpton and Affinia hotels offer tons of amenities particularly geared towards your furry little friends, with special pet programs that pamper your non-human crew at no extra cost. But for a little something extra — and luckily for pet-owners hoping to decipher their pup’s every bark, some of these hotels even offer pet psychic services upon request. Affinia’s Liaison Capitol Hill in <a href="http://www.oyster.com/washington-dc/" target="_hplink">Washington D.C.</a> and Kimpton’s<a href="http://www.oyster.com/portland/hotels/hotel-monaco-portland-a-kimpton-hotel/" target="_hplink"> Hotel Monaco</a> in <a href="http://www.oyster.com/portland-oregon/" target="_hplink">Portland</a> can both arrange sessions with a certified pet psychic, just in case you were wondering what Foofers and Mittens really think about your belly rubs.
What: Sleep Concierge
<strong>Where: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/new-york-city/hotels/the-benjamin/" target="_hplink">The Benjamin, New York City</a></strong> Staffers at the The Benjamin in <a href="http://www.oyster.com/new-york-city/" target="_hplink">New York City</a> take sleep seriously. Very seriously. We’ve heard of pillow menus before, but this hotel boasts its own sleep concierge. In addition to assessing your sleep habits, the concierge can arrange bedtime snacks, “executive naps,” or sleep-inducing massages, among many other sleeptime services. And The Benjamin wants to make sure that every member of your family gets a good night’s sleep: The hotel not only offers a “Kidzzz” sleep club for the little ones, but also a Dream Dog program for pets.
What: Preloaded cell phone
<strong>Where: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/geejam/" target="_hplink">Geejam, Jamaica</a></strong> The Geejam’s infamous state-of-the-art recording studio may seem modest when considering some of the other in-room amenities guests receive at this <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/" target="_hplink">Jamaica</a> hotel. The high-tech hotel loans guests cell phones upon arrival and here’s the kicker: They’ve been preloaded with the phone numbers of all the staff and the hotel’s owner, music producer-turned-hotelier Jon Baker, so that someone will always be at guests’ beck and call during their stay. Although you can’t really expect any less when accommodations at the Geejam can cost upwards of $1000 per night.
What: Spiritual menu (for you and for Foofers!)
<strong>Where: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/portland/hotels/hotel-deluxe/" target="_hplink">Hotel deLuxe, Portland</a></strong> Instead of finding the requisite bible in your hotel nightstand, these days many hotels allow guests to request any religious text they want through a room service “spiritual menu,” and the Hotel deLuxe in <a href="http://www.oyster.com/portland-oregon/" target="_hplink">Portland</a> has hopped on the band wagon — and taken it a step further. Because this is Portland we’re talking about, the politically-correct Stumptown hotel even offers a spiritual menu for your pup. The menu includes books on dog psychology, holistic animal care, and even the correct way to pet your pet.
What: Bikini Vending Machines
<strong>Where: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/miami/hotels/the-standard-miami/" target="_hplink">The Standard, Miami</a></strong> If you’ve ever been to a Standard hotel, you know the brand is all about the party scene. And the pool at the Standard Miami rivals just about any other party in <a href="http://www.oyster.com/miami/areas/south-beach/" target="_hplink">South Beach</a> – which is why a bikini vending machine seems fitting. In 2010, several properties (including the Standard) started offering Quicksilver poolside vending machines stocked with bikinis, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Just be aware that the convenience will cost you: Sunscreen bottles are available from $28 to $32, and bikini bottoms alone can set you back $85. And thankfully it's Miami, so you may not need the top!
What: Chef-sculpted cheese bowl and truffle feast
<strong>Where: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/st-barts/hotels/hotel-le-toiny/" target="_hplink">Hotel Le Toiny, St. Barts</a></strong> Okay, we admit this is one of the most over-indulgent amenities on the list, but we’re hands-down on board with it regardless. The room service menu at Hotel Le Toiny in <a href="http://www.oyster.com/st-barts/" target="_hplink">St. Barts</a> includes a 35-kg (so roughly 77-lb) wheel of Parmigianino Reggiano cheese sculpted into a serving bowl for your spaghetti and black truffle entrée. If you had any doubts about St. Barts being paradise on earth, this will surely put that to rest. You may not need a sleep concierge or a bath sommelier, but you definitely need this truffle-cheese bowl combo.
What: In-house tattoo artist
<strong>Where: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/los-angeles/hotels/hotel-erwin/" target="_hplink">Hotel Erwin, Los Angeles</a></strong> Billed as the hotel package for “free-spirited <a href="http://www.oyster.com/los-angeles/" target="_hplink">Venice Beach</a> visitors with high pain tolerances,” the Ink and Stay special at Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach offers a seven-night stay at the hippie-chic hotel, as well as a $100 credit towards your body ink from the hotel’s personal tattoo artist, Norm. The best part is that even those on the sensitive side can indulge: The package includes healing lotion and a bottle of tequila “to numb the pain.”