It’s easy to get swept up in the promise of technology. It gives us something to fall back on. However much of a mess humanity makes, we can rest easy. Surely efficiency and innovation will save the day in the end, right? On their own, no. I believe in technology, but it is only as a force for good insofar as we choose to make it so.
I recently took part in a panel discussion during the 2021 Arabian Travel Market, chaired by Professor Harold Goodwin. I want to unpack my main points from that day. I want to explain why for technology’s positive potential to be unleashed we in hospitality must recognise human behaviour for the game-changer it is.
Tech is neither good nor bad
Technology tends to enjoy favourable associations. It means innovation, forward-thinking, modernity, progress. Where humans fall short, technology will pick up the slack. This is what we tell ourselves. It can be a fantasy.
To bring this into the realm of hospitality, let’s look at things we all care deeply about: energy consumption, water consumption, and waste. Be it for reasons of cost or conscience, we all want to be using less. To this end we might invest in solar panels and LED light bulbs, or build management systems, or a new cooling tower. All too often such efforts lead to complacency. At ease, guests and staff alike use as much energy as before (this is called rebound) or even more (backfire).
Buildings don’t waste energy. People waste energy. Technological improvements are all well and good, but without informed, motivated people making use of them we’re doomed to fall short of sustainability.
Behaviour is the game changer
One of my fellow panelists, Dina Storey of Expo 2020 Dubai, shared an excellent example of behaviour being given its proper place beside tech. With 4,912 solar panels and a greywater recycling system, the expo’s Sustainability Pavilion is a marvel of sustainable architecture. And yet its real impact will come through its post-expo life as a museum. It will show visitors how human behaviour impacts the natural world, inspiring them to take action. Rather than hide problems, the pavilion will share solutions.
Similarly, the My Green Butler system puts human behaviour first. Rather than pretending tech will solve problems on its own, our AI assistants use persuasive communication to ensure people conserve together.
Responsible technology does not absolve its users of personal responsibility. Responsible technology makes the invisible visible. It empowers people to embrace positive behaviour and transform their surroundings. My Green Butler does this by monitoring energy use, spotting opportunities to save, and giving both guests and staff the knowledge they need to take positive action. That’s it. And it works.
We’re often afraid to rely on people to affect change. We dismiss the masses as cynical and indifferent. This in itself is a cynical view. The problem is not that guests and staff don’t care; it is that they don’t have the information and encouragement needed to act. Behaviour can transform hospitality if only we have the courage to believe in it.
Transforming the learning process
It is unreasonable to expect anyone to behave differently because they’ve been lectured or preached to. That’s a tall enough order at the best of times, let alone when they’re on holiday. Behavioural change comes when concern is given an outlet. We all vaguely want to protect the environment. What My Green Butler does is size up the situation and say, ‘Ok, here’s how.’
Another fellow panelist, Andrea Nicholas of Green Tourism, has seen the demand for this first hand. Andrea has been helping businesses become more sustainable for 25 years. Advances in real-time energy monitoring technology have led to hugely increased engagement. Progress that once took six years now takes six months. Hospitality businesses want to work with tech – it just has to be accessible and actionable. That’s what hospitality businesses, suppliers, and customers need to cross-pollinate ideas and knowledge.
The approach is not without its challenges. Turnover – both of guests and staff – is a big one. Everyone brings their own cultural behaviours to the table, and each needs to be met with nuance and respect. But boy is the effort worth it. Contrary to what you might think, behavioural change is absolutely compatible with luxurious, enjoyable hospitality experiences. In fact, positive, gamified technology actually improves your offering. Getaways that are both relaxing and fulfilling are hard to beat.
By allowing people to own the issue, you empower them to make a difference. This is the symbiotic relationship of truly responsible technology. It can only happen when users learn the issues and how to address them. Guests may even start taking some of those changes home with them.
By Dr. Christopher Warren | @ChrisWarrenRT