There’s been plenty of news about the hospitality sector embracing new innovations in the area of mobile solutions.  From the development of new mobile applications for guests to manage their experience to providing iPads in every guest room, this new horizon will play a major role in allowing hoteliers to offer enhanced services.

One area of advanced mobile solutions recently caught my attention: niche hotels actually replacing their front desk staff with mobile and communications solutions that allow guests to pay in advance, as well as receive correspondence with the security codes to access their rooms.

While this seems like an innovative and cost-saving idea, the reality is that mobile solutions should be used to augment current service offerings.  I don’t believe that larger hoteliers should or ever will fully abandon having staff at the front desk because a guest’s need needs must continually be met and human interaction must always to be an option for a hotelier to assist with unforeseen challenges.  In some cases, a hand-held device could never replace the convenience and personal touch of highly trained front desk staff.

In the past, we have seen similar situations where organizations have tried to supplant people with technology, only to learn the lesson that they instead should have supplemented them.  Some examples that come to mind are automated phone attendants and websites, where some organizations believed they could cut off communication with their customers only to find that they wanted the option of both means to improve their interaction and experience.  The use of mobile technology by hospitality providers will be no different: there will be times when guests will want to do things on their own via the technology and other times when they want to interact with someone.  What hoteliers need to provide is guest-friendly technology that guests want, as well as staff available to assist.

The use of mobile technology to manage a guest’s experience holds great promise, but it brings with it some potential challenges.  For example, does this new frictionless check-in method help these niche hoteliers retain guests?  Without having any measurable goals – or even testing this concept out in one or two properties in advance of a full-scale roll out – hospitality providers can actually run the risk of driving these guests away.  They will need to tread cautiously to ensure they strike the right balance between technology and human interaction that their guests ultimately desire.

The concept of service is the driving differentiator for any hospitality provider.  Many of the largest hoteliers can trace back their overall business success to providing the best services on the market.  And, in today’s competitive landscape, hospitality providers cannot risk losing guests due to service issues.  Information technology should be used to improve the guest experience and the reality is that it will always supplement, and not supplant, the people that ultimately provide service to guests.