Smart Hotel Concepts: New Tech to Revolutionize the Hotel Experience

Hotels and hospitality businesses count among the first with a need to adopt and adapt to new technologies, but also historically speaking, they count among the last. AR – as in augmented reality – is already here, and its impact could be significant in beefing up ROI for many hotels, yet a substantial number of them stays oblivious to the trend. AI drives most of social media networks, updates, apps, and searches online, but somehow hoteliers still ponder whether there is a need to adopt such tools to serve their businesses. Despite visionaries who develop smart hotel tech, daring early adopters, forward-thinkers who are happy to volunteer to beta test and who trust something innovative, against all skeptics, many hoteliers are resistant to change.

At a closer look, the thing about early adopters is that they tend to get too excited over nothing – basically, they welcome a business model that seems “cool” without adequately looking for duplicate ideas. There’s nothing new under the sun – so, trade with care. Concretely, in its inception, Twitter was just a real-time whiteboard with the ease of SMS functionality over the Internet. It was pretty much a forum with limited text (SMS) capabilities. That was cool. Then, the right name, proper branding, right PR, and some other factors transformed an unlikely winner into one of the top social media channels of the past decade. This example shows just why emerging trends should not be ignored.

Mobile Tech Is Growing Strong

The J.D. Power North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study determined that “hotels that incorporate mobile apps and functionality into a hotel stay have higher guest satisfaction,” and the number of hotel bookings from a mobile device is on the rise.

According to think with Google, 79% of mobile travelers completed a booking after doing research on their smartphone, which is significantly higher than in 2016 (70%) – a statistic that proves why hotels should focus a lot of attention on mobile. Pew Research Center has just released its mobile fact sheet, which shows 34% of American cell phone owners use the Internet only from their mobile phones and the numbers are expected to rise. Interestingly, 95% of Americans are cell phone owners. Because over half of mobile travelers tend to switch to a different site or app if the one they’re using takes too long to load, and Google rolled out its mobile-first index worldwide at the beginning of the year, the imperative focus on mobile becomes apparent.

Google - 79% of mobile travelers completed a booking after doing research on their smartphone

From: thinkwithgoogle.com

In smart hotels, in-room tablets are set up to control all kinds of features, like lights and TV, but also to request housekeeping, order room service, make restaurant reservations, late checkout, browse the web, share on social media, find local attractions and maps, and the list goes on. Different hotels preload these tablets with apps they believe would improve the guest experience.

Another trending feature available at thousands of hotels worldwide is keyless room check-in. Keyless lock technology is nothing new, and there are many hotels around the world using apps to allow their guests hassle-free check-in. Hilton spent more than $100m to develop and install a digital key technology that enables guests to open their rooms with their phones – there’s even a straight to room option for Silver, Gold, and Diamond Hilton Honors members who want to avoid all human contact at all – plus $550m on the infrastructure needed to run its app and hotel management systems.  But not all guests are happy to download additional apps that may slow down smartphone speed and performance.

Some hotels are offering smartphones preloaded with the necessary apps to act as an on-the-go hotel concierge service. Hong Kong-based Tink Labs Ltd. has a widely-popular mobile solution – handy – used in hundreds of hotels with many benefits for guests: free local and international calls, free Internet access, destination-specific content, local maps, and other features. Users can load any social media app, like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and so on during their stays, and upon check-out, all their private information stored on the phones is wiped out.

handy benefits hotels too, as it comes with integrated call-to-action features to drive revenues, guest analytics, and integrated TripAdvisor guest feedback. Since many mobile phone users are “glued” to their phones, it only makes sense for hoteliers to embrace this trend and to develop similar apps.

The Ritz-Carlton® Mobile App offers guests a tailored experience with all kinds of enhanced features, like check-in prior to arrival, curated dining and spa recommendations, local attractions, request for concierge services with just one touch, send requests or call the hotel directly from the app’s home screen, native maps, mobile checkout, reserve at the Ritz-Carlton or other brands within the Marriott portfolio, connect with The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, save all personal information and booking details for faster and easier rebooking, and much more.

Virgin Hotels has Lucy, an app dubbed as “Your Personal Comfort Assistant.” The app enables guests to quickly reserve a room, adjust booking, check in, and check out. It also offers access to the Virgin Hotels chat board, where guests can chat, get recommendations, or arrange a get-together. And finally, Lucy can recommend dining and local attractions with ease.

At the James Hotels, the mobile app and in-room tablet are powered by KEYPR and offer access to exclusive offers through push notifications such as upgrades and amenities, mobile check in and check out, order room service, request housekeeping, access curated city guides and hotel information, and even stream your favorite movies.

The list of hotels worldwide offering branded apps that make the stay interesting and exciting for their guests is probably endless. The question is, what’s the next big thing? Ecole hôteliere de Lausanne believes in virtual reality or VR.

VR May Be the Next Big Thing in Hospitality

According to Ecole hôteliere de Lausanne assistant professor in revenue management Cindy Heo, since flat-screen TVs and free WiFi are industry standards, “hotels must try to differentiate themselves by focusing on outstanding service and unique amenities. Gesture-controlled interactive walls, the internet of things (IoT), and virtual reality are only a few examples.” She goes on encouraging hoteliers to embrace the future by designing rooms that will surprise and delight the guests.

And it’s already happening, with major hotel brands already incorporating some VR aspects into the guest experience. In 2015, Marriott’s VRoom Service was an industry-first. Built in collaboration with Samsung, Relevent and Framestore’s Virtual Reality Studio the VRoom Service basically allowed guests to use Samsung Gear VR headset and headphones to enjoy immersive travel stories in 360° 3D via a virtual reality headset. According to the official news bulletin at the time:

“Each story follows a real traveler on a journey to a unique destination; viewers are immersed in the destination and hear the travelers’ personal stories about why travel is important to them. The first three VR Postcards were shot in the Andes Mountains in Chile, an ice cream shop in Rwanda and in the bustling streets of Beijing.”

At the time, the project received extensive media coverage, but the buzz stopped. Yet, this doesn’t mean that VR doesn’t have a place in hospitality. It just means the public was not ready for it.

At IHIF 2018 in Berlin, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts used virtual reality to allow potential guests, investors, and peer to experience and interact with the “Plaza WorkSpace” and “WorkLife Room.”

Between 2017 and 2021 shipments of VR devices are expected to grow by over 400%, Eye for Travel reported. Kayak is eyeing VR as a tool to book hotels, while at the Dubai Mall, a VR park is a reality now, and Japanese-based First Airlines is the world’s first virtual reality airline.

VR is still too costly to be embraced on a large scale, but Augmented reality (AR) is already catching on. Radisson Blu’s BluPrint augmented reality app “provides the foundation for the new design scheme for our guest rooms, social and public spaces, and meetings and event areas. BluPrint creates an experience that is emotionally engaging and individual. It demonstrates a perfect fusion of form and function and envisions a lifestyle to aspire to.”

Airbnb is already developing AR and VR tools to provide immersive travel experiences. Many other hospitality businesses are working on similar solutions, and you can Facebook Oculus is already a hit.

But before you embrace the future, remember that your guests want to be satisfied now. Build your future brick by brick whenever possible. Whatever you do in the present can shape how your hotel is perceived tomorrow. Meet customer demands and avoid reputation fails. Poor customer service may result in poor guest reviews with long-term impact on ROI and trust. Because no matter what technology they use, the guests of tomorrow are still people with an eye for human values. 

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