CES 2018: Jolt to Thinking

Dr. Lalia Rach, Partner Rach Enterprises

This is the third consecutive year I have attended and then reflected on the experience of hospitality professionals who participated in a curated tour of the show floor of the 51st Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  Last year my article “CES 2017: Beyond the realm of possibility” and the prior year “CES 2016: Imaging what will be” related the mind-blowing sensory experience that occurs as you walk the floor with more than 3,900 exhibitors stretched across 2.75 million net square feet of space[i].  This year there was “smart” everything from cars, to refrigerators to cities to home devices.  And there were robots upon robots — a serving robot, a porter robot, a shopping cart robot, robots that can wash windows, vacuum the floor, provide home security (inside and out), robotic arms playing table tennis, robots with women’s names LG’s CLOi (pronounced Chloe) and Hanson Robotic’s robo-humanoid Sophia, and Aibo Sony’s revamped robo-dog.

HSMAI’s Executive THINK at CES 2018 was a multi-day event and included private tours of two of the major components of CES – Tech South (home of C-Space at Aria, the CES experience for creative communicators, brand marketers, advertising agencies, digital publishers and social networks) and Tech East (at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the home of the majority of leading technologies with business application).  CES 2018 had 11 official venues with 24 product categories and more than 20 marketplaces.  The group began the first day with a briefing by Denise Medved, Vice President of Sales & Business Development for the Consumer Technology Association (CEA) and Dr. Shawn DuBravac, the President of Astra Insights and former Chief Economist & Director of Research for CEA.  The remainder of the day was a combination of appointments, keynotes, targeted sessions (Google Assistant, In Market, IBM Watson, NextDoor private social network, CMO panel).

The second day was the curated tour was led by Dr. Shawn DuBravac with group appointments at the exhibits of global giants LG, GoPro, Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung, Bosch, and Panasonic.  While traversing the floor from appointment to appointment we stopped by Yamaha Motor to watch a self-balancing motorcycle come when called by the “owner” and at Baidu we were introduced to Little Fish VSI Smart Speaker with face recognition allowing access to video, entertainment, information sharing through natural voice interaction.  The battle for eyeballs was taken to a whole new level with Samsung’s wall (146 inches diagonal TV that was 10 feet wide and almost 6 feet tall) versus LG’s canyon (92-foot OLED display built from 240 flexible TVs).  Imagine the wall of the guest room as the information hub performing as computer, entertainment (music, film), personal assistant, connecting guests to the world, the hotel and their family.  It seemed as if there was a self-driving or autonomous vehicle (think shuttles, cars, vans) at every turn.  We became mindful that such technology will change staffing needs and first interactions as guests are picked up at the airport by a driverless hotel shuttle.  It was a day of aha’s stoking our imagination with the possibilities of improving our businesses.

We met to download and discuss the value of the event, to pick a favorite must have, to wonder how they did it but the majority of our time was spent talking about how the industry and businesses must think differently about emerging technology and how to use technology to solve problems, advance guest loyalty, and build greater financial success.

  • Evolution of 5G. 5th Generation of wireless networks.  This has been a hot topic at CES for the past two years and it is likely five years before the benefits are actually realized by more than a select few.  When it does happen, homes will be ruled by the Internet of Things (IOT), driverless vehicles will become common on all roads, industries will be up-ended from agriculture to healthcare to construction as the speed of information transfer become more reliable and consistent.  Our world will be “sensored” as more and more devices measure outputs, inputs, and conditions, and then update, repair, remind, identify, manage the personal, industrial, social, and environmental aspects of our lives.  The exponential spread of sensors will resemble what happened in a 1967 Star Trek episode when the spaceship Enterprises encountered a species known as the tribble.
    • What will it mean? Consider what 4G has meant to the consumer experience — no need to buy movies through the hotel, no need to go to the bank, no need to drive yourself when out for a night on the town, no need to go to the restaurant or grocery store, no need to carry cash or debit cards, no need to record TV shows.  Our attitudes, behaviors and expectations are being shaped by increased convenience, less time spent on errands, more control, greater personalization.  Whether consumers are mindful of what and how life has been impacted through 4G, there is will be an unstated expectation that businesses utilize technological advancements such as 5G to enhance products, service and experiences.  Now is the time to determine how 5G will impact, drive or alter brand strategy.
  • Raise your Voice. It’s been 7 years since Siri entered our lives and seeded the idea that everyone, everywhere could have a digital assistant.  Then came Alexa in 2014 raising the bar by automatically turning on your air conditioning or telling you a joke.  While so much has been promoted, less has been realized but much is about to change. Apple’s Siri is no longer the commanding voice as Amazon’s Alexa and Dot, Samsung’s Bixby and Google’s Assistant are bringing voice to your shower, toilet, washing machine, refrigerator, TV, mirrors, and cars.  By partnering with manufacturers of trusted household brands, embedding voice technology into daily life.
    • What will it mean? As voice becomes more universal it must also be more practical and useful to society.  Consider voice applications working with household and business equipment to address the expanding needs of an aging population or to monitor and control all usage of natural and renewable resources.  So many household applications are directly transferable to the hotel room and would interface with guest preferences data to create a truly unique situation.
  • Putting a higher price tag on data. Throughout our time at CES one thing was crystal clear – advances in technology require data.  Like Audrey, the killer plant in Little Shop of Horrors “feed me, feed me” is the unspoken refrain with data of a granular nature the choicest cut.
    • What will it mean? Hotels collect relevant, timely, comprehensive, unique, and functional pieces of information with every encounter.  It is a treasure trove with breadth and depth and yet many hotel owners and companies are hesitant to spend to establish the appropriate infrastructure to reap the benefits.  Suppliers understand the importance of data to their success and create applications provided free of charge in return for access to data.  Disruptive competitors (alternative lodging, OTAs) realize data capture as vital to their continued success and dominance.  Situational knowledge (think right marketing at the right time) is becoming the dominant tool for marketing, sales, and revenue management.  Curated services that personalize and enhance the guest experience and fuel the bottom-line demonstrate the optimum relationship between data and insight, between the human connection and information.

Whether the hotel industry, a specific brand or an individual property is prepared to take advantage of technological advances depends on evaluating organizational structure to identify siloes and overreliance on past success, determining cultural values that limit the ability to learn from risk and to innovate, and understanding if leadership is willing to drive change in every area of the organization.

It’s becoming a pattern but the best closer is what I wrote after the tour in 2016: “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!”

[i] CES 2018:  A Quick Recap.  Kelsey Davis. Consumer Technology Association.  01.16.18. www.cta.tech/News/Blog/Articles/2018/January/CES-2018-A-Quick-Recap.aspx, accessed 01.25.18.

Categories: Marketing
Insight Type: Articles