​Time was in the not too distant past that the only items a hotel room needed to be considered high tech was a house phone and a television. However those days are long gone now, as travelers have come to rely on their smartphones as the essential tool for delivering their travel experience.

In fact, according to the most recent survey from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, more guests than ever are using apps to access hotel services. The study, which was done in partnership with STR, showed the use of mobile apps to access hotel services is up from 35 percent in 2016 to 40 percent in 2018. It also found that hotels’ use of mobile devices as room keys jumped from 6 percent in 2016 to 17 percent in 2018; and mobile device check-in is now available at more than 80 percent of mid-priced or higher-priced hotels.

Another poll of more than 3,600 travelers commissioned by Edinburgh-based hospitality firm Criton, found nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents said if their favorite hotel has its own app they would use this digital channel. In contrast, only 10 percent favored an in-room device such as a hotel's smartphone or tablet.

"Respondents to the survey were people who travel regularly,” according to Julie Grieve, founder and CEO of Criton, a company which developed an intuitive app builder for the hotels. “It is increasingly clear that adopting technology has to be seen as an imperative for all hospitality providers. It is not something purely for the major franchises."

What that means for hoteliers, according to the research findings, is that since their guests are using their own devices, and are more comfortable with the functionality, they are relying less and less on hotel-provided in-room devices. Instead the focus has shifted to the quality of the property’s WiFi connectivity and the technologies they have in place to support their guests’ mobile experience.

Can They Deliver?
Another study from Oracle found near-universal agreement among hotel executives affirming the importance of mobile technologies, with 91 percent saying it is critical both to improving guest experience and cultivating loyalty. But only 69 percent were confident that their organization had the ability to adopt and deliver the technology.

The study, entitled 2019 Hospitality Benchmark - Mobile Maturity Analysis, focused on three key areas of mobility:
• The ability to offer WiFi to guests throughout the property
• Guest-facing apps to enhance the customer experience
• Staff-facing mobile to improve the hotel team's daily operational workflow

The Oracle research found while most executives gave themselves good marks for their current technology initiatives, fully half (50 percent) of nearly 200 respondents were concerned their organization was vulnerable to disruption by more mobile-friendly competitors. And 90 percent also added that guest experience could be improved by the ability to use smartphones to manage basic services such as booking a room and managing the check-in and check-out processes.

"It's clear that hotels need to provide mobile innovations to meet the requirements of today's savvy consumers, yet some haven't started their mobile journey," said Greg Webb, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Hospitality. “Customers want to be able to engage with brands wherever they are. The properties that can't deliver these kinds of mobile experiences will quickly lose to those that can make the engagement simple and seamless for their customers.”

Versatility is the main reason smartphone technology is the traveler’s preferred tool to create an enhanced hotel stay. Criton’s poll found over half of travelers they surveyed (58 percent) are likely to use the capability to check-in via an app and access their hotel room via a digital door key.

Managing loyalty programs within the hotel’s app was ranked as the top priority by more than half of respondents (53 percent) in the survey. In a competitive landscape, having such features as loyalty program management, self-check-in/out, live chat and in-room ordering integrated in the hotel app are primary requirements for tech-savvy guests.

"Today's travelers are downloading apps that help them get around and stay connected with their hotel,” Grieve says. “That level of tech awareness or even dependency also raises expectations for information, guest services – such as check-in and digital key – and offers and incentives to reward their loyalty.”