Friction is fundamental to great hospitality. 

It sounds like a strange thing for a founder of a technology company to say, but hear me out. Friction is where the magic happens. If every step on the guest journey is totally automated and seamless, it leaves no room for spontaneity or for true moments of hospitality. 

So how can hoteliers get this right? The trick is using technology to help you provide the right kind of friction at the right time. 

Bad friction 

In simple terms, friction is when two opposing forces encounter each other. But, of course, the world isn’t simple – especially the world of hospitality – and so it’s important to make the distinction between good friction and bad friction. 

When Mews talks about frictionless guest experiences, we’re talking about removing the bad friction. Moments throughout their stay that rub guests the wrong way and add no value. Think waiting in line while a receptionist types in your passport details, or having to dig out your credit card for every onsite purchase. 

We need automation to help banish the bad friction. The right technology will transform any hotel operations, making for faster, leaner experiences. The key, though, is limiting this technology to the administrative side of hospitality. If automation becomes too pervasive, it can encroach on that beautiful thing that makes our industry unique: the art of hospitality. 

There’s a quote from Sander Ejlenberg, Co-Founder of Cabiner, that I really love. Cabiner is a unique wilderness brand with immersive stays in bespoke cabins in national parks – guests have to hike to reach their accommodation, and they rely heavily on technology for key touchpoints like check-in, check-out and housekeeping. 

Speaking of their operations, Sander said: “We use humans to do human tasks because it's good to talk to people and to help them, but the repetitive stuff we get out of the way through automation.” 

In other words, they eliminate the bad friction so they can focus on engaging guests in more meaningful ways.

Good friction 

There are only so many aspects of a person you can understand through technology. Hospitality is also about the people who deliver it, who have the empathy to understand whether someone is stressed, curious or anything in between. This is good friction.  

Meeting somebody in a lobby is friction. Having a conversation is friction. Being challenged to try out something new, to think another way, is friction. And for me, hospitality is all about this kind of friction.   

Without friction, we don't learn. We don't experiment. We don't become creative. We don't screw up. I am very wary of a future where our lives are so automated that they become bland and flattened out. The technology you employ should allow you to lower anxiety and deliver very carefully chosen points of good friction. By eliminating stress, you allow people the chance to be creative.   

Friction and stress 

What’s great about hospitality is that it's the one industry where the overarching ambition is to remove stress. And the best way to lower that stress and anxiety is to know more about the guest – what they like and what they want out of their stay. If they are looking for a specific experience, chances will be that you are equipped to facilitate that. AI promises to take this personalization to new heights. 

That doesn’t mean we should automate everything, far from it. A fully automated hotel runs the risk of being soulless and flat, rather than memorable. The hotelier’s skill will lie in using technology to ensure the better orchestration of operations to make experiences more spontaneous, by adding personalized details the guest had not anticipated. 

This is where I find technology (and AI specifically) so fascinating. As it becomes more and more complex, I think we will also see it become more human. Because if it doesn’t help us achieve our goals of a more personal, engaging and creative version of hospitality, what is it really for?