CES 2017: Beyond the realm of possibility

Dr. Lalia Rach, Partner Rach Enterprises, Member, HSMAI Americas Board of Directors

What just keeps getting bigger, creates electronic envy on an unfathomable scale, and overwhelms your senses 5 seconds after you walk on the floor?  The answer is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) featuring 3,800 exhibitors (developers, suppliers, and manufacturers of hardware, software, and content), spread over 2.6 million net square feet of space, showcasing 600 startups and providing 300 conference sessions.  As reported by various sources, it was another record year for CES held in Las Vegas from January 5-8 at the Sands and Las Vegas Convention Centers, not to mention additional events at Aria, Venetian, Encore, Renaissance, and many other hotels.  2017 was the show’s 50th anniversary and more than 165,000 attendees traveled from 150 countries to learn, look and be enthralled with available and future technology. 

In 1967, the highlight of the first show held in New York City at the Loews Americana (now Sheraton New York Times Square) and the New York Hilton Midtown featured 117 exhibitors showcasing the advanced technology of the day, transistor radios, stereos and black and white televisions.  17,000 attendees were witness to an audio and stereo extravagance featuring companies such as Panasonic, Westinghouse, RCA, Motorola, and Sharp showing off their latest and greatest equipment.[i] 

This year at CES the hot products and the ‘just around the corner’ OMG’s included artificial intelligence (AI), self-driving vehicles, augmented and virtual reality (AR & VR), wearables, enabling technologies (5G), robotics with multi-purpose designs, and tech that addresses the 3 pillars of health (nutrition, exercise, and sleep).  The exhibiting companies now represent automobile manufacturers (BMW, Ford), health and biotech (Fitbit, L‘Oreal), smart home (FirstAlert, Carrier) and more.

For a second year, HSMAI arranged a curated tour of the show for  members who are industry sales, marketing and revenue management executives.  The tour included a pre-event conference call lead by Steve Koenig, Director of Market Research for the host organization Consumer Technology Association.  The call provided logistical information and insight about digital advances since the beginning of the century that has forever changed the customer experience.  Steve also narrated the on-site tour, which created an immersive and intimate experience.  Based on recommendations received after last year’s tour, the visit was spread over two days with the morning of day 1 spent at the Sands Expo Center and day 2 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  This left time each day to visit C-Space at the Aria, to hear from CEO’s such as Nick Goodman, founder of GoPro, or to return to Eureka Park, the designated area for start-ups.  C-Space is the place for interaction and learning directed at creative types, marketers, advertising agencies, and digital publishers.  It provided an opportunity to explore different thinking and ideas based on technology, content and creativity.  The twelve companies visited on the 2-day tour were selected based on the direct relevancy to the hospitality industry and to expand thinking about technology that may change the hotel business.  Among the companies that provided a personalized executive overview of their products were Carnival Corporation, GoPro, IBM, LG, Qualcomm and Wiidii.  

So what did we learn this year?  Four concepts surfaced and were repeated at different points during the tour:  1. company names don’t tell you anything about their products, 2. ordinary and not-so-ordinary products could be useful to the hotel industry, 3. remember to keep your wallet in your purse or pocket ( or no you cannot have an $8,000 TV), and 4. there are sooo many acronyms (Bill Marriott was right) and far too many realities. 

  • Company names don’t tell you anything about their products!
    • Radiomize It’s an Israeli company that developed a gesture-controlled steering wheel cover.  It is cool, affordable and useful.  The cover allows the driver to connect with the car, customize music and news, listen to any written message, stay awake, and monitor speed.
    • Wiidii A French company that offers the first hybrid assistant.  It is an application that combines artificial intelligence and a concierge service with human personal assistants.  It will assist you in every aspect of your life, answering questions, fulfilling requests from ordering a car, suggesting a great restaurant to finding an out-of-print book. 
    • Zmodo A Chinese company providing smart home security technology indoors and out.  From doorbells to light bulbs, curtain controls, thermostats, garage openers, and more with each item serving as a hub on its own.
  • Ordinary and not-so-ordinary products could be useful to the hotel industry!
    • Solar-powered smart umbrellas by ShadeCraft. No need for human intervention to reposition umbrellas by the pool, beach or outdoor restaurant as the sun moves across the sky.  Powered by the sun, the umbrella moves in concert ensuring no matter the time of day, your guests are covered. 
    • Provide clients ability to experience your guest rooms, meeting space, retail outlets in an immersive sense from anywhere on the planet. Dassault Systems provides mixed reality 3D software, which mimics actual tours in every way.   
    • The idea the bathroom mirror could be a multifunctional experience device is nothing new but the Panasonic digital mirror presents content and media to guests and offers concierge services (room service ordering, secures reservations, informs you of the weather). Using IBM Watson cognitive technology, the looking glass evolves into far more than a gimmick.
    • A smart digital concierge offered to loyal guests. Wiidii as described in the previous section can contribute to your guest demands for instant answers and advice regardless of the time of day.  No lines! 
    • It’s drones, drones, drones for security around the resort, for amazing aerial views to display your property, or for guests to use to expand their underwater experience (an underwater drone with a fishing line). Expect unmanned systems to go from gadget to tool rather quickly. 
    • Self-driving cars, connected cars, electric cars. Everywhere you looked (more than 20% of the exhibit space) there were cars with technology, some which is available now, some next year and some in 5 years plus.  While many of the cars were in the luxury segment (Mercedes, BMW), just as many were not (Toyota, Ford, Nissan). Imagine a hotel shuttle that doesn’t require a driver!
    • Chips still matter as Qualcomm demonstrated with the new Snapdragon 835 processor. This little gem will upgrade the mobile VR experience enhancing sight and sound, allow longer battery life on any device, and boost streaming into the gigabit realm meaning buffering will become a thing of the past.   Will this device along with 5G solve the Internet usage conundrum universally faced by the industry?
  • Keep your wallet in your purse or pocket ( or no you cannot have an $8,000 TV)!
    • TV’s as thin as your house key with a picture that is so close to realistic and at 65 inches it only weighs 18 pounds! LG introduced the star of the entire show – the OLED TV W 4K HDR Smart TV.  The W stands for wallpaper (thin and a bit flexible) and this device delivers what seemed like a billion colors and has 8 million pixels.  It is like looking out a window – except sharper and clearer!
    • Going on a sea cruise? Well you will no longer need to carry your wallet, key, id, or phone around the ship as Carnival Corporation has developed a 1.8 ounce wearable medallion that contains guest’s personal and payment information.  The medallion will track activities, send invitations (offers), provide keyless entry to cabin, assist in navigating the ship and in finding friends and family.  Carnival hopes to bring greater individuality to service delivery, recording the experience to provide a timeline of memories and ideas for future bookings.     
  • There are sooooo many acronyms (or Bill Marriott, I’m with you![ii]) and far too many realities!
    • AI Artificial Intelligence. We are not there yet but there was a glimpse of the future with the introduction of some cute robots called Kuri, Egg by Panasonic, and LG’s Airport Guide Robot, Airport Cleaning Robot, Lawn Mowing Robot and Hub Robot for the home. AI is in the infancy stage so it bears watching because in the next decade there are certain to be major leaps redefining technology as a tool in every day life.   
    • OLED Organic light-emitting diode. OLED technology enables TVs that are extremely thin and remarkably flexible.  See LG OLED TV W 4K HDR Smart TV
    • AR Augmented Reality, MR Mixed Reality, and VR Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality (VR) arrived last year but this year less is more. The goggles are smaller, lighter, more affordable, and partnering with augmented reality (AR) to advance the experience. Mixed Reality (MR) is the wave of today and tomorrow.  Rather than transporting you to new worlds MR will enhance actuality.  Moving from hype to “reality” 2017 will bring new meaning to
    • IoT Internet of Things. Taking everyday items, installing sensors and chips to turn “dumb” devices into “smart” connected devices. It is estimated by the end of the decade there will be 8 billion devices in the IoT.
    • 5G 5th Generation of wireless networks. Last year 5G was around the corner and this year it is real primarily because of the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), Practically this means better streaming and delivery of information insuring the advancement of smart home technology and the adoption of gizmos we didn’t know we couldn’t do without such as Ultra HD and 3-D video.  The soon to be realized convergence means data will move so much faster (40 times current speed) but the infrastructure issue is yet unsolved like who will pay for the necessary upgrades?

Following lunch on the second day participants engaged in a facilitated discussion about technology and the hospitality industry.  The universal points of agreement included: 

  • All members of the C-Suite or executive committee would benefit from attending CES
  • Being exposed to the unimagined, the unusual, the amazing underscores how quickly technology moves from the extraordinary to the expected
  • The way we do business is changing whether we want it to or not.

As is often the case incredible possibility generates uncertainty and participants voiced concerns about the adoption and acceptance rate of technology like self-driving vehicles and wearables that track the guest during their stay, maintaining the humanization of the travel experience by using technology as a tool to enable better service and as smart homes become more commonplace will guests expect the same conveniences in their rooms?

Experiencing the show is mind-altering and demands the identification of practical ideas for utilizing the information in the workplace.  The members of this year’s tour had many thoughts on how they could transfer what they learned into their organizations.  Among the ideas were:

  • The concept of augmented operations or how technology will be used to fill on-property gaps and deficiencies (e.g., employ drones to deliver towels at a limited-staff economy property) and how to embed technology into rote tasks, regardless of class of hotel, to create efficiencies.
  • Establish a group of owners and properties willing to take on the risks of early adoption and share lessons learned. This will include finding the right balance of human contact versus technology based on guest perspective and understanding how technology is best embedded in the guest experience. 
  • Create a sense of urgency that we must become a learning organization. The threat of not embracing change is so great that a concerted effort must filter throughout the organization if we are to transform our business.  The implications of technology on business models is creating a cadre of progressive owners who are demanding growth while seeking the assurance of continued commercial viability.

Honing in on an HSMAI foundational discipline, participants were asked to discuss the implications expanding connectivity has for hospitality marketers.  Three responses resonated with the group: 

  1. rising complexity of marketing dominated the discussion with the challenge of cutting through the clutter of numerous communication channels (messaging via Spotify)
  2. the need to fulfill the promise of one-to-one marketing by creating messaging for and to the individual rather than based on the device being used
  3. never forget, every marketing choice has expected and unexpected revenue implications.

A conversation ensued on the impact of technology on the evolution of the hotel industry and produced responses, strategic and tactical.  A number of thoughts centered on the intersection of intermediation into all stages of the traveler journey and all parts of the organization.  As well, the increase in intermediation will put greater pressure on the owner value proposition requiring management to generate greater efficiencies in demand generation, operations, pricing, and loyalty.  On the tactical side, participants emphatically embraced the need to be more aggressive about owning and protecting content.

What I wrote after last year’s tour bears repeating:  “this was a singular experience, a rare opportunity to think differently about change, technology and the hospitality industry.  Perhaps the greatest benefit for those who participated will be the ongoing moments of “connectivity” they will experience in meetings and conversations when traditional thinking dominates.  They will be able to present ideas and knowledge based on their exposure to future reality![iii]

Attending CES in 2018 will reconnect you to that feeling of wonder and awe and possibility in ways you may have forgotten.  The experience will impact your thinking about every facet of the hospitality industry.  I hope to see you there. 

HSMAI tour participants included senior executives from AccorHotels (formerly FHR),Hilton, IHG, KSL Resorts, Red Roof Inn, and Windsor Capitol Group.  HSMAI thanks our Gold Partner for the event, TravelClick.

[i] Who exhibited at the very first CES?  Kelsey Davis. 11.11.16.  www.cta.tech/News/Blog/Articles/2016/November/Who-Exhibited-at-the-Very-First-CES-in-1967.aspx, accessed 01.16.17

[ii] T.M.A. Too Many Acronyms! Bill Marriott.  www.blogs.marriott.com/marriott-on-the-move/2013/03/tma-too-many-acronyms.html, accessed 01.18.17

[iii] Reflections on CES 2016: Imagining what will be.  Dr. Lalia Rach.  www.hsmai.org/knowledge/article.cfm?ItemNumber=23413, accessed 01.20.17.

Categories: Marketing, Sales
Insight Type: Articles