Powered by rapidly emerging and converging technologies, the world today is changing faster than ever. These changes are being felt worldwide, and the hospitality industry is certainly not immune. Often emerging technologies and trends first present opportunities to those who are paying attention and anticipating the possibilities they might create. If ignored long enough however, some of the same opportunities turn into challenges – even existential challenges – to those that were too stuck in business-as-usual behavior. What new technologies should forward-looking leaders in the hospitality industry be thinking about today to better position their companies for continued success in the future? Here are five ideas:

Autonomous Vehicles: A Ticket to Ride–and Stay

New technologies can impact the world in some unexpected ways. For example, the introduction of power steering into vehicles in the 50’s and early 60’s led to less driver fatigue which, in turn, resulted in fewer motel visits. The net impact: many roadside motels disappeared.

Today’s equivalent of power-steering technology is the fully autonomous vehicle. If near-future car design is fully-focused on accommodating passengers who will never be asked to take the wheel, how long will it be before people decide that an eight-hour drive might not be so bad if they’re able to comfortably relax, work, or otherwise entertain themselves along the way? If they need to arrive by the next morning, could some choose to simply sleep in the vehicles and make the trip overnight? Most vehicles likely won’t have showers or bathroom facilities and we may see a whole new category of travel lodging emerge just to serve the needs of autonomous vehicle passengers. And, as large numbers of Boomers retire and some eventually lose the ability to drive, autonomous vehicles could restore their option to travel by car, and allow them the freedom to explore on their own.

Blockchain Technology: Disrupting the Disruptors

Last week it was announced that IBM’s new blockchain, Digital Trade Chain, will be used by seven of Europe’s largest banks, including Deutsche Bank and HSBC. Just a few years ago, the announcement of major global financial institutions integrating a blockchain service into their core operations would have been almost unthinkable. Today, every business needs to be considering how blockchain technology might impact their future. 

Blockchain tech provides “trustless transactions” smart contracts, ultra-low transaction costs, less processing costs, and is not centrally controlled. The applications and opportunities are almost endless. What if your guests could pay from anywhere in the world, with no third party processors and virtually no transaction costs? What if hotels could track every guest interaction and even every hotel product from materials sourcing to manufacturing to delivery?

The platform is so transformative that it could disrupt “sharing economy” platforms such as AirBnB by allowing peer-to-peer transactions. In short, it could disrupt the disruptors. The time is now to familiarize yourself with this new opportunity. (If you’re not yet familiar with blockchain tech, here’s a good explainer to get started.)

AR/VR/4K: Entertaining Opportunities

Will new entertainment options reduce the demand for leisure travel? Given today’s ever-expanding list of engaging entertainment options, that’s certainly a possibility. Ultra-high-definition 4K televisions have reached consumer affordability, even in larger sizes, and it seems new virtual reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) devices are announced almost weekly. What happens when compelling travel experiences can happen right at home, at a fraction of the cost and commitment of physical travel? Of course, technologies such as high-definition virtual reality devices create new opportunities as well. What if the low barrier to entry serves to inspire potential travelers to seek out in the real world the places and experiences they only had a taste of in their living rooms? How could hotel chains integrate new entertainment opportunities within their properties to inspire travel to other locations?   

5G: Going Fast and Low

The foundations of the next generation of wireless technology are being laid today and point to a future of ultra-fast connectivity and ultra-low latency (a delay in a network connection). What does this mean for hotels? Telepresence devices and platforms have in the past suffered from slow speeds and high latency. This is especially problematic with VR, where a bad connection can mean a trip to the bathroom when your brain can’t reconcile your physical movements and what you’re seeing and hearing. Could 5G networks usher in a new era of virtual conferences, except with experiences so real that remote attendees truly feel like they are part of the activities? We haven’t yet had the networks or the devices to give us that answer, but with true 5G networks just around the corner, it won’t be long before a host of startups and brands endeavor to “disrupt the conference.” Could hotel chains use their powerful brands and name recognition in the conference industry and create their own platforms for the next generation of remote engagement?

Mobile Concierge: When Your Personal Travel Agent is a Chatbot

The emergence of Artificial Intelligence-powered chatbots, capable of persistent context and with access to incredible amounts of data, presents a valuable opportunity for hotel brands. Marriott, for example, could create a branded “bot” that stays with the guest. The Marriott bot (each guest’s bot could have its own name) would have access to all of that person’s travel preferences and travel history and could make meaningful recommendations to best accommodate their interests and travel needs. In addition to recommendations and travel help, the bot could make booking a room as easy as a simple voice command. For a generation coming of age in world where Uber and Lyft set their payment expectations, the less friction there is in your booking process, the more likely they will be to do business with you. Taken a step further, the more value they find in a hotel brand travel bot, the more loyal they will be to your brand book more travel. After all, their bot will “know” them and anticipate their needs. Why wouldn’t they follow its suggestions?

The world is moving quickly now and once powerful brands – even industries – have experienced what happens when emerging opportunities are ignored. Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental are currently top hospitality brands and are globally respected and at the forefront in many industry metrics. But at one time, so was Blockbuster. And Borders. And Blackberry. And Sears. And Kodak. And Wal-Mart. Only forward-thinking and adaptive leaders will spot these opportunities before they become challenges, and take action to be more future-resilient.  

Jack Uldrich is a global futurist, keynote speaker and the author of 11 books. Simon J. Anderson is a futurist keynote speaker and founder Venture Foresight, a company that helps leaders be more future-resilient. They are co-authors of the award-winning book, Foresight 2020: A Futurist Explores the Trends Transforming Tomorrow.