Definitely Doug 4/5/24: How Hotel Tech Has Evolved, 2019-2024

by Doug Rice

It can be useful to occasionally step back and take a macro view of technology change within our industry. We tend to get caught up in the promise (and hype) of newer technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) based language models. AI is being deployed to improve many solutions that have been around for a while, such as chatbots, review management software, and contact center solutions. AI is not, however, generally purchased as a solution; rather, AI capabilities are used as building blocks by vendors to create solutions.

Today I want to address the question of what entire categories of hotel technology solutions have emerged and taken hold in the past several years?

As a research tool, I maintain a database of several thousand hotel tech vendors. It classifies products into 273 categories, and I add a dozen or two companies that come onto my radar each week. Over time, I find some categories become less important (I’m talking to you, Call Accounting Systems) and can be folded into a larger, existing one (like Call Management Systems). I also find new products that do not fit well into any existing category, and as I start to see trends, I create new categories or redefine existing ones.

Some categories are truly new (like staff panic alert systems that first appeared in the late 2010s), but more often the technologies existed but had not previously found a market in hotels (robotics has been around for decades, but significant hotel applications did not appear until the mid 2010s).

For some time, I have had the sense that in the past five years, hotels were undergoing a more fundamental shift in the technology products they use than in any five-year stretch in recent memory. For many years, the categories in my database were quite stable, requiring only occasional changes. In the past few years, though, it seems like I am adding, merging, or redefining categories on an almost weekly basis.

For this week’s column, I time-traveled back to the categories I used in 2019 and compared them to my current list. This enabled me to answer the question: what are the important new categories that have emerged in the past five years? The database was my guide, but for clarity I have combined some of the specific categories into more general ones.

The eight sectors below summarize the most important changes I found. The narrative provides examples of some of the new applications and relevant product examples. Nothing mentioned here is hypothetical; in every category there are products in use in hotels today. To be sure, some are quite early in their adoption lifecycle and/or may be relevant only in certain niche markets. But the easiest things to miss when you are focused on solving today’s problems (and who isn’t?) are the areas you are NOT paying attention to. If you do not have time to follow all the innovations that might be relevant to your domain, let this be your cheater’s guide.

I have written in depth on many of these subjects in past columns, and provide links in case you missed them or want to refer back to them, since I will provide only summaries today.

To be clear, some of the categories and products mentioned predate my starting point of 2019. I only add categories to my database when I start to see multiple relevant products getting at least modest traction in hotels. The decision as to when to add a category is subjective, so the boundaries of the five-year lookback are fuzzy. But with that caveat, here is my summary of how the hotel tech product landscape has changed since 2019.

Before we start: We tend to think of the proliferation of mobile apps as having been induced by the pandemic, and they certainly gained maturity during the flight to contactless. But you will not find mobile apps listed here, because there were enough of them by 2018 that I had already created several new categories for them by then. There have been lots of changes in mobile capabilities app since then, but no new categories – just more vendors and more features.

Because I list example products below, I should point out that many preexisting products, such as property management systems (PMSs), reservation systems, and booking engines have added some of the capabilities discussed below. But short of consulting current websites and marketing materials for what would be hundreds of companies, it is impossible to provide an up-to-date list of these. In any case, most of them are embedded as modules in systems that have another primary purpose and are usable by (or at least practical for) only those hotels that already use that embedding solution.

While these products may be perfectly fine if you can use them, the companies whose names I have included today have products that are generally usable in conjunction with a wide variety of existing systems. And I am sure that even with that qualification, there are ones I have missed in the rapidly changing landscape.

1.     Quality Management Metrics

Hotel operations have traditionally rested on standard operating procedures (SOPs) that were learned by front line staff, that they executed (somewhat) consistently, and that were measured somewhat haphazardly. Measurement was typically done through a combination of occasional supervisory inspections, guest satisfaction metrics, and feedback from online reviews. But one size does not fit all, and what one guest may want and need for a satisfactory experience may be something that turns another guest completely off.

Checklists and quality audit software not only automate the operating procedures and provide a history of who did what, when, and to whom at a granular level, but also allow them to be personalized. I wrote about some of the solutions and applications in a 2023 article. Other companies in the space, but not mentioned in that article, include CMX1, Flexkeeping, Qualityze, and Rizepoint (recently acquired by FranConnect). Some solutions support personalization, which enables a guest to tell the hotel which labor-intensive services they value, which they dislike, and to which they are indifferent.

As a guest, particularly with housekeeping, I would happily tell a hotel that the only things I want them to do are to make the bed, to empty the trash, and to refill the coffee service daily, and to refresh the towels every two days. I would also say that I never want them to straighten up materials on the desk or rearrange my toiletries, and that I do not care if they vacuum or clean the sink daily. Your own list may differ, but either list will likely take the housekeeper less time (potentially a lot less) and will leave us just as happy or even more so. Checklists presented to housekeepers room-by-room on a mobile device can not only ensure that everything that should be done has been done, but also make it much more practical for staff to spend time only on tasks that positively impact guest satisfaction of each guest, ultimately saving money.

Checklists also enable a new housekeeper or engineer to learn SOPs on the job, reminding them what needs to be done and when and providing links to training materials with the how. Housekeeping checklists can quickly adapt to evolving policies, to requirements of specific rooms, or to specific guest requests. Maintenance checklists can ensure that equipment gets inspected or maintained at the right intervals or based on warning signals from devices, extending lifetimes and reducing repair costs. Supervisors can be assigned to inspect the work of front-line workers based on need rather than random chance, so that new staff or ones with poorer quality scores are checked more often. Many apps can be configured to require photographic proof that tasks have been completed, providing an audit trail and reducing the need for physical inspections.

Franchisors can also use tools like FranConnect and Pacer to manage programs, quality metrics, and inspections of franchised hotels, increasing the effectiveness of oversight while reducing inspection costs. They provide similar capabilities but are designed to work across a franchised environment where the underlying systems may differ.

2.     Biometrics

Biometrics were almost unheard of in hospitality in 2019, save very occasional use of non-hospitality-specific solutions for back-of-house access control or for certain casino applications. But with more and more hotels enabling bypass or even complete elimination of the front desk, biometrics – especially facial recognition – have gotten more and more play in the industry. Part of this is cost: the need for expensive equipment has gone away for many use cases, often replaced by biometric capabilities embedded in the guest’s own phone. I wrote in depth about facial recognition in this 2021 article and covered common myths vs. facts in this one from 2022.

Check-in with biometric authentication is now increasingly built into kiosks and mobile apps (in the latter case requiring no hardware). Other use cases include mobile key (energizing the key via face or fingerprint recognition on mobile device), door locks (usually by fingerprint, but still rare) and to recognize visitors who exhibit suspect behaviors or who are banned from the premises, typically as an add-on to video surveillance systems and some robots (notably security robots).

Companies providing biometric solutions or components used in hospitality include ClientScan, HSDTouch, Mobbeel, NEC, Okta, Youverse (formerly YooniK), and Zoox Smart Data.  Xiezhu devices are also widely deployed in hotels in China but are not marketed elsewhere as yet.

3.     Financial Reconciliations

Five years ago, most financial reconciliations were done in spreadsheets, but this has become a hot topic as hotels have discovered both labor savings and “found” revenue from automated reconciliations. Financial accounting packages have added capabilities for automated bank and credit card account reconciliation, and specialty solutions for reconciling specific types of transactions, such as OTA commissions, virtual credit card payments, gratuity allocations, sales and occupancy taxes, and distribution fees, have gained rapid traction. I wrote about this topic in this blog earlier this year, and mentioned several companies active in the space; one more recent addition is SOARR Services.

4.     Safety, Environmental Monitoring, and Well Being

A new category that appeared in hotels in the past few years detects and/or manages environmental and safety issues. Many anomaly detection solutions can sense and report guest-room smoking, loud noise, or excessive crowding; solutions include ones from Alertify, FreshAir Sensor, and WYND Technologies. Others, such as from Coral Smart Pool and Sentag, can alert staff to potential pool drownings.

While products that detect other anomalies like intrusions, smoke, fire, and flooding have been around for many decades, one more recent innovation is gunshot detection, interest in which was heightened by the 2017 mass shooting of concertgoers from a guest room in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. Amberbox offers a solution that has established a small presence in the hotel industry.

Air quality monitoring and filtering technologies are more recent. Some are primarily for monitoring interior air quality generally, while others incorporate multiple wellness components to enable hotels to provide healthier rooms, one aspect of which is cleaner air. Companies selling solutions to hotels include Delos Living, Location Tech, Piera Systems, and WYND Technologies.

5.     Sustainability Solutions

Several new solutions have emerged in the sustainability arena. Most of these companies are based in Europe, where regulatory requirements are more stringent. Some, like FuturePlus, Greenview, and Weeva provide management and reporting platforms to measure and report on various sustainability metrics. Kitro and Leanpath focus on measuring and reducing food waste in restaurants, with Kitro’s solution using AI-powered cameras to identify and measure unconsumed food even from diners’ used plates. Also in the kitchen, Quintex offers intelligent management of variable-speed kitchen fans through real-time monitoring of temperature, smoke, and steam, and claims it can reduce energy costs by as much as 80%.

For sustainable purchasing, Mindclick provides sustainability ratings for 120,000 products from over 300 suppliers of interior furnishings and building materials, enabling hotels to design facilities that provide a healthier environment and lighter sustainability footprint.

Finally, with more and more corporate travel managers and consumers considering sustainability practices when selecting lodging establishments, Because provides a single platform from which hotels can publish sustainability data to travel management companies and travel agencies, managing the mapping of the many different question sets and criteria used around the world.

6.     Reservation Tools

A now-large category that was only in its infancy a few years ago encompasses products that improve the conversion rate, average revenue, staff productivity, and flexibility of reservations operations. Some of these have been built into proprietary web booking engines or reservation systems, while others are designed as best-of-breed solutions for use with multiple hosts.

Not new, but vastly matured over the past five years, are website chatbots. In the early days they could mostly just answer basic questions, but the emergence of natural language capabilities now enables some of them to handle quite complex transactions, including in a few cases bookings. There are too many of these to mention, but also a significant variation in their ability to handle more complex inquiries. In my view it is still an emerging technology, but one that if properly configured and deployed for a specific hotel or brand (and that is a big IF), can offload many simple requests without generating negative guest experiences.

A few earlier upselling tools focused on room upgrades, such as Oracle’s Nor1 and UpsellGuru, have been around for some time. But upselling has become a much larger category in recent years. It has expanded far beyond its original scope, into presale of resort facilities and amenities, spa services, culinary experiences, childrens’ camps, water parks, retail, local experiences supplied by partners, and other services used by hotel guests during their stay.

While some major reservations platforms like Amadeus, Oracle, and Sabre are incorporating certain upsell capabilities natively, a significant number of independent software providers have developed bolt-on tools that work in multiple environments to generate incremental revenue through booking engines, emails, text messages, and mobile apps. Some of the ones worth looking at are BookBeachClub, DigitalGuest, Oaky, RIMS, and UpsellGuru. Some hotel guest mobile apps can also support post-booking upsells of certain services via a push notification via email or text message, although these are typically not integrated into the primary booking engine.

The ability of hotels to sell local experiences during or after the booking process has proven financially profitable. Hotels earn commissions while creating a better experience for guests, which can encourage direct booking for future stays. I wrote about this in some depth in a two-part series last year (links here and here), mentioning numerous companies with interesting products. Some hotel guest mobile apps partner with various companies to enable this as well.

Capabilities for upselling rooms are also evolving. While earlier systems limited upselling to higher room categories, add-on solutions like Expect Me, GauVendi and Roomdex (as well as the new Amadeus central reservation system) can sell specific rooms, room features, or popular combinations of features, rather than only traditional room types.

For example, if a guest wants a room on a high floor with a west-facing balcony and king bed, there may be multiple room types that meet the requirements, and forcing the selection of a room type can both lead to a bad guest experience and hurt revenue optimization by hard-blocking a room that another guest may want. Depending on implementation, these attributes can be requested at the time of the initial booking search or as an upsell in a follow-up email or text message or at check-in (or a combination). I wrote in depth on this emerging capability last year in a two-part series here and here.

More recently, I wrote about products designed to improve conversion and/or reduce the cost of handling reservations (link), including tools for automating the handling of email and text message reservation requests (Hotel Res Bot), immersive visual tools that enable guests to visualize the location of their room as well as the interior (Hotelverse), tools that keep booking site visitors from consulting third-party sites to compare rates or read reviews (for example or The Hotels Network), and shopping cart recovery tools such as from Cartstack and others.

Several other new capabilities fall within this category as well. Through their acquisition of IDEM Hospitality, Groups360 offers simplified processing of group rooming lists by essentially creating a shared database that can be accessed securely by the hotel, the event planner, and individual guests, enabling automation of previously manual rooming list processes. Katanox offers the ability to extend private discounts to preferred partners while utilizing real-time inventory and base rates. Rezylist automates the processing of waitlist requests. Buk Protocol provides a secure and controlled capability to resell cancelled, nonrefundable room bookings, enabling the hotel to capture additional revenue from a room that was sold but will not be occupied.

Optimizing the revenue and efficiency of the entire distribution network used by a hotel is complex. There are a lot of different booking paths, locations, communication methods, and constraints imposed by the existing solution set. These tools can play an important and often low-cost role in achieving significant improvements on top of legacy systems that typically focused on just a few of the more common use cases.

7.     Electric Vehicle Charging

Public electric vehicle (EV) charging started around 2009, but a decade later it was still offered at only a handful of hotels. Today that number has grown rapidly; I wrote about the technology early last year in this article.

While good statistics are hard to come by, I estimate today that at least 10% of hotel guests now have access to on-site charging, and there is strong evidence that will continue to grow. For EV owners on longer trips, EV charging at the hotel has become a critical filter in hotel selection. Hotels that offer EV charging are still experimenting with different business models; I have seen metered use, free to guest as an amenity, free to VIP/elite guests, free Level 2 charging but paid fast charging, and others. In some cases, the hotel buys or leases the equipment and earns all the revenue, while in others a third party bears the costs and pays the hotel for electricity consumed as well as a share of the profit.

I currently track 14 national companies offering EV charging solutions for hotels, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Many EV chargers are installed by local electrical contractors, who deploy chargers from one of a few manufacturers and who may support connections to known national charging networks. Local contractors are often better placed to deal with any necessary electrical upgrades, permitting, installation, and post-sale service. They can also help to navigate the many available federal, state, and even local tax incentives.

Hotels generally need charging units, a billing and payment solution, network membership, an electrical contractor for installation, and support. These components are often provided by different companies and you may or may not find one company that can support your preferred components. But it is worth looking at preferred solutions in each area and then deciding whether a single contractor can handle several or all aspects with solutions that meet your needs. The best charging hardware or billing solution for your hotel may or may not be supported by the best electrical contractor, so tradeoffs or management of multiple vendors may be necessary.

8.     Video Monitoring Systems

Video monitoring technologies themselves are not new, but have been largely reinvented in recent years, so much so that they are really a new category, with a different set of players and much more functionality. Many older (often analog) Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) systems are still in use in hotels, but the latest generation of products is far more sophisticated and often less expensive to deploy. Image resolution is much higher, motion activation works better, recordings can be saved as long as needed at minimal cost, and deployment can be via Ethernet or Wi-Fi rather than dedicated cabling. Monitoring capabilities are also much better, with all images combinable on a single large screen and the ability of the user or the system to zoom in on suspicious activities on request or even autonomously.

Many vendors also offer AI enhancements such as facial recognition, age estimation, and the ability to search historical videos based on content, as in “find anyone who entered the building between 2pm and 5pm wearing a black baseball cap.” While some use cases have debatable privacy implications (such as alerting staff to the name of a guest approaching the front desk), more common uses focus on identifying potential threats, securing staff entrances and back-of-house areas from unauthorized visitors, and supporting incident and law enforcement investigations.

I have run across 45 companies in this category and will not list them all here; chances are you already work with several of them for other building controls and life safety systems. Suffice it to say, if you have not reviewed the capabilities, benefits, and costs of the newer digital solutions, a lot has changed and it should be on your to-do list.


The last five years have seen significant changes in the hotel technology landscape, more than I have seen in any comparable period in my 35 years in the industry. More and more problems are being addressed, often with AI-powered solutions that we could barely dream about ten years ago.

One unfortunate side effect is that with many of these companies still early stage, the task of integrating them into existing technology stacks often falls on the hotel; each new vendor is one more relationship and often several new interfaces to manage, and there are business risks associated with dealing with small, often underfinanced vendors. Over time, I expect many of the products will be acquired, or similar capabilities deployed by vendors who provide core systems, and we will return to more of an equilibrium state with less disruptive change.

What new categories do you think will emerge in the next five years? Follow me on LinkedIn and join the conversation – I post links to each article soon after publication, and you can add your comments or questions there.

Douglas Rice

Discover Return On Experience

Three ecosystems — Hospitality & Leisure, Food & Beverage, and Inventory & Procurement — operate independently and together depending on your needs.


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