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Tech & Trends

6 Key Technology Trends for Hotels

01 September 2020

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Programming Languages

The first languages that typically appear in a course for beginner developers are HTML and CSS. While these will tide you over from a marketing point of view with regards to newsletters and some basic editing of websites, the increasingly important language of the web is Javascript. In fact over 95% of websites now use Javascript and it has very much taken the limelight as THE front end language.  

Fun Fact: Javascript was created in a 10 day hackathon over 20 years ago!

Not only does Javascript allow developers to create dynamic and interactive digital experiences, but it is also the main area of overlap between the Marketing and Development departments. Tools like Google Tag Manager (GTM) make extensive use of the Data Layer, a Javascript object that sits in the background of websites, passing information up to the analytics and advertising platforms. 

To be an expert in technical marketing these days, we feel a robust understanding of Javascript is essential. It is the fashionable language right now and can add real power behind digital experiences. Javascript is also being used more and more as a backend language as well so has the capability of delivering both front end and back end code.

On the back end, we are seeing languages like Python become popular in the area of AI and Machine Learning – There are also some new languages like Google’s GoLang that are making a strong entrance to the development world as a robust and feature rich tool.

 

Distribution APIs

Connectivity will become a commodity, not a luxury. Gone are the days when inventory and rate were available to a select few and Channel Managers could get away with holding it close to their chest. 

We’re not completely there yet but we’re now seeing the barriers to entry get ripped down, allowing a new generation of light weight, agile distribution tools for hotels and travel. Channel Managers have most often been very cagey about who and how people integrated with their systems. We are now seeing companies like Channex.io and Impala for hotels, Duffle for flights and Experience Bank for tours  begin to disrupt the market. The disruption comes in the form of their approach to ‘connectivity as a service’ and gives anyone access to this data for little to no cost. 

For all those in hospitality and travel this is hugely exciting – For the first time it allows us to have full control of multiple distribution verticals. We can dream and create new tools and solutions without the unenviable task of having to think about all the connectivity and plumbing behind the scenes. My estimate is that it will reduce the barrier to entry into the travel technology space by around 80%.

With availability and all other hotel data available on tap via simple API services, the sky is the limit to what we can build on top of it. Think of it like building Lego; We have just been supplied bricks that easily fit together so we can create whatever we like. Before this, we were making our model with the same bricks but had to both pay and convince each block to click together for about 6 months.

 

Transition of Content Management

Content management is changing and there is a real drive towards a different methodology of CMS called headless. Typically our content management system is one and the same with our website. Examples might be WordPress, Joomla, or Wix for example. One cannot live while the other survives (just wanted to get a Harry Potter quote in there). The fundamental problem with this approach is that businesses are increasingly needing more and more flexibility across multiple digital touchpoints which simply cannot be efficiently managed when the content is directly tied to the digital environment. This ‘linked’ approach is not going to be around forever and the web development community is looking more favourably on the headless approach. There is a separate article around what this means but essentially we’re saying that the content and the design are completely  decoupled from each other. This means we can very easily swap out the front end and have multiple digital touchpoints all drawing from the same content infrastructure.

The extrapolation of this is to think that one day, a central system of truth (or one version of content) could be used to power our check in application, our OTA listings, our reviews, our website and perhaps a native application. All digital touchpoints can access the same content sources yet remain distinct user experiences.

We are seeing a growth in request for this approach and having used tools like Contentful and even the WordPress Rest API to detach content from the front end. At Umi we are now running multiple front ends from the same CMS which allows us to choose the right technology for the right situation while maintaining the content from the same place.

An example of this is using a normal wordpress website for the main hotel (wordpress) website but then using static sites (more on this later), native apps or progressive web apps to deliver high performing experiences for different use cases. We might therefore want to run our restaurant menus and information packs from an app but manage the content within wordpress.  Using the WordPress API it allows us to leverage this headless approach. 

 

Static Websites

Static websites by name seem quite unappealing, surely things should be dynamic and exciting? It’s almost an insult these days… Well yes, but the static part here simply means something very different. ‘Static’ means that the websites don’t have to fetch anything from a live database each time the page is loaded. A Static website is actually just plain front end code that is generated using something called a static site generator as opposed to something like WordPress where a PHP template pulls in content from the database every time that page is rendered. While this is very boring, it does mean that the page actually loads significantly faster and has the ability to feel almost like a native application.

Another benefit is that because there is no back end, there is nothing to hack. From a security standpoint they are fantastic. Static site generators like GatsbyJS are becoming hugely popular as website developers jump at the opportunity to combine exciting Javascript libraries like React and VueJS with the speed and efficiency of plain HTML and CSS. 

For hotels that have content rich websites and have high volumes of inspirational and community-lead content, then this technology will help massively. Content managers can still use whatever CMS they like but because the CMS is decoupled from the website, the website front-end can sit wherever and be hosted however you like (we will get onto CMS in a moment).

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

A progressive web app is loosely defined as a website that behaves like an app within the browser by combining web and mobile technologies. By using service workers, caching and push APIs, you can have websites that work on the home screen of a phone, support push notifications and have significantly improved user experience due to the reduced page reload and refresh.

This is important for hotels as it allows us to move our thinking away from picturing a user experience as a series of freshly loaded screens, but as a continuous journey that is reacting to user behaviour. It also allows certain parts of our websites such as the information sections, menus and more to be downloaded onto a user’s device for them to use as an app throughout their stay. This all comes without the resource intensive process of actually building a native application.

Progressive Web Apps are excellent for interaction heavy sites where we are expecting a lot from our users. If the page reloads each time, we are giving them a chance of dropping out but for sites to take people through the full purchase journey with near-instant load times and enticing micro interactions, then we set ourselves up for the best possible conversion rate.

Web Assembly

Web Assembly really does go under the hood and isn’t for the faint of heart if you’re going to fully understand how it all works. In essence, Web Assembly turns low level languages like C and C# into super fast binary instructions that can run on the web. It is designed to work very nicely with Javascript, being able to write javascript functions that we know and love directly in these low level languages. 

There are a number of great use cases for this but firstly, it will allow the developers of hefty applications like photoshop to actually start shipping products that are consumed through the browser as opposed to requiring big downloads. At the moment the web equivalents are always more simple and never quite as efficient as the native alternative. E.g the online version of Microsoft Word is a light version of what we have on our computers.

For hotels, this means that things like cloud based PMSs could become a lot more powerful than they currently are and we will begin to see the WebOS actually become a feasible next step of the growth of the web. Very powerful digital experiences that take large downloads will become possible on the web which will open doors to lots of creativity.

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