Convenience and Speed: Smart Technologies, Mobile Devices, and Hospitality Design
The discussion of smart technologies in the hospitality industry has become pervasive. But until recently, consistent applications have been inconsistent and elusive. Good hotel design includes a series of touchpoints that serve as opportunities to create a memorable experience at arrival, check-in, guestroom, food and beverage, meeting spaces, and amenities such as spas and fitness centers. The rollout of 5G connectivity and the advent of high bandwidth Wi-Fi 6 networks will allow for the smoother operation of sophisticated mobile devices and feed upticks in room occupancy, enabling a proliferation of user-friendly mobile technologies and amenities. It’s important for ownership teams to consider these macro trends when they plan and budget for new construction or renovations to existing facilities to best incorporate mobile technology that enhances the overall guest experience.
Smart hotel technology offers customers convenience, and many of these benefits are being implemented throughout the country in business and resort hotel properties alike. The use of these devices also allows properties and their staff to enhance their efficiency. Increasingly, many of the touchpoints are being supplemented and enhanced by user-friendly technology accessed on guest-owned mobile devices. While some properties have added tablets to their check-in areas for wireless access, or for food and beverage ordering, the ongoing trend may lean away from the property providing objects which can be damaged or stolen. The typical guest is familiar and comfortable with their own devices, and catering to individualized wireless access can go a long way towards creating a positive stay for the hotel guest and a streamlined operation for the owner.
The smart technology approach will potentially reduce the number of check-in desks, allowing for a smaller footprint and more flexible lobby space. These trends will be vetted and ultimately decided by ownership and their customer demographic. The space savings can be utilized for additional meeting spaces or food and beverage opportunities, or a consolidation of amenities program to create a more cost-effective and efficient building solution, a smaller footprint that is cheaper and more environmentally responsible to build.
The focus on mobile devices requires designers to establish easily found charging points: additional decorative shelves adjacent to the TV monitor, nightstand charging stations, and electric access at the in-room dining area. Accommodations for voice command-generated devices also need to be considered as the next level of interconnectivity and convenience becomes more affordable and popular. In the future, improvements in touchscreen technology and lower costs will result in an increase in their use and designers need to be savvy about ergonomic access to the in-room monitor; it is no longer something to watch, but a smart device that requires human interaction. The traditional room credenza may no longer be located directly below; in many instances, it can move to the closet to create an integrated dressing area with an integral luggage bench, in proximity to or combined with an open bathroom concept.
The option of checking into a hotel on one’s mobile device and acquiring keyless access in advance of arriving at the property simplifies the guest's arrival experience and helps them avoid long lines and other cumbersome aspects such as ID and credit card review. Guests also no longer have to carry around an easy-to-lose plastic room key when their smartphones can act as room keys. Bluetooth-enabled locks are easy to install and deliver a boost in guest satisfaction, ultimately resulting in a positive return on investment. Additionally, advanced check-in can be augmented by providing wayfinding to the room with digital maps that are available for download on guests’ personal devices. Customers can indicate room preferences in advance, include their personal streaming services on the in-room TV, and indicate in-room lighting scenarios and environmental control preferences. These options add a unique personal touch that guests will notice, especially when visiting other hotels without the same capabilities.
The use of mobile devices also has a variety of applications in terms of the in-room experience. The customer’s device can be used to log into their favorite streaming networks on the in-room TV. Check-out can be easily accomplished, room service can be ordered, food and beverage menus reviewed, and reservations can be made. In gaming-focused hotels, the in-room monitor can be used as a port to the guest's player rewards club. At five diamond properties, more sophisticated wireless connectivity can be used to adjust environmental controls or operate drapery or movable wall panels.
Throughout a resort property, mobile technology continues to enhance the guest experience through its ease of use and by providing information about the events and services available during their stay. One way this is accomplished is with location-based services that can utilize data to issue content to send to a guest. For example, if a guest passes near a restaurant, discounts for meals at that location or a notification about the cuisine can be offered. Guests traveling with children or those traveling for work can receive tailored information to optimize their stay and keep them informed of the amenities or activities available to them. Wayfinding is also made much easier through maps available through hotel apps or websites available on mobile devices, which is especially useful for guests with a language barrier. Staff service and response can also be optimally allocated as guest traffic flow to different areas is determined and information is shared with staff in real time.
The implementation of smart technologies and generational preferences can be the difference between good hotel and resort design, and great design. The overall guest experience can be greatly enhanced through the use of mobile technology that is appropriately and efficiently integrated into the property. Creative and strategic design will incorporate these new tools and conveniences to ensure a modern hotel that provides more opportunities to engage in what the hotel has to offer and create an overall exciting and enjoyable experience.