When it comes to the future of hotel guestroom technology, property owners will only be constrained by their own imaginations. As consumer technologies barrel forward, hotels have found themselves at an uneasy crossroads where guests often have more advanced technology in their own homes — or in their hands — than what is offered in a hotel room. This has raised the stakes for brands and some are taking daring leaps forward to battle the competition wielding weapons of mass digitization and personalization.
“Personalization of the guest experience is the next frontier,” Gretchen Hartley, senior director, global design at Marriott International (www.marriott.com), notes. “We are looking at technology in whatever form as a tool that will help enable this idea. Whether that comes through conversation/voice, IoT, or other guest recognition technology, we are always looking at technology as a way to help further enhance the guest experience.”
Personalization is becoming so important because hotel guests now expect hotel rooms to feel like home, Samir Lakhany, vice president, Superhost Hospitality (http://superhostenterprise.com), says. Luckily, with the rise of big data and social media, hotels now are able to gather the data necessary to offer guests a more personalized experience.
For example, guests often change the temperature of a hotel room to their personal preference. Hotels could install next-generation energy management systems that both help hotels save on energy costs while also allowing the guest more control and increasing personalization, says Ted Horner, managing director, E. Horner & Associates Pty Ltd (www.hornertech.com.au). Occupancy sensors would allow the hotel to adjust the temperature when the room is unoccupied and mobile apps tied into that same energy management system could allow guests to set their preferred temperature for the room prior to arrival.
Ajay Paul, director - travel, transportation and hospitality practice lead, Information Services Group (ISG; www.isg-one.com), notes that some hoteliers are considering such hyper-personalized tech offerings as beds that adjust firmness to guest preferences, automatic coffee makers with built-in WiFi to provide weather and news updates or even biometric bathroom tiles that report on a guest’s health. These types of personalized touches could become mainstream in the next few years.
Meanwhile, Hilton (www.hiltonworldwide.com) announced that it will soon allow guests to upload their own artwork and photos to automatically display in their room, as a way of customizing their in-room experience.
Jeremy Grant, LEED AP and project design leader with Carrier Johnson + Culture (www.
carrierjohnson.com), an architectural firm that works closely with hoteliers nationwide, cautions that gadgetry alone isn’t enough to mark a hotel as cutting-edge.
“Customization and personalization, along with streamlining and concealing integrated technology and building engineering, often make a bigger impression on guests,” he says. “Innovations that are convenient yet subtle appeal to more sophisticated hoteliers and their patrons.”
Marriott recently announced its partnership with Samsung (www.samsung.com) and Legrand (www.legrand.com) to power its IoT Guestroom Innovation Lab. The lab explores concepts that have the potential to elevate the guest experience, create more efficient hotel room design and construction, and contribute to Marriott’s global sustainability efforts and goals.
“The technology inside the IoT Guestroom Lab allows a user to ask a virtual assistant for a 6:30 a.m. wake-up alarm, to start a yoga routine on a full-length mirror, request additional housekeeping services and start the shower at the desired temperature stored in their customer profile – all by voice or app,” Hartley explains.
Similarly, the Innovation Gallery at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner offers visitors a peek into what Hilton expects the future of guestroom tech to look like. Products include: Nightingale (www.meetnightingale.com), a smart sleep system that helps drown out common sleep-interfering sounds; Somabar (http://somabar.com/), a personal mixologist that guests can program to make their favorite cocktails (it is currently a startup on Kickstarter still in the design and manufacturing stages); and NuCalm (www.nucalm.com), drug-free relaxation technology designed to help people de-stress and sleep better. The machine interrupts the brain’s stress response and guides the person to a relaxed state.
As smartphones, tablets and mobile apps have become ubiquitous, hotels have increasingly begun to implement mobile strategies, whether through provided devices or enabling the use of guests’ personal devices in-room and property-wide.
“Our guests are accustomed to being able to readily access a variety of media options at home on their personal tablets,” Stephen Johnston, managing director and general manager, of Boston Harbor Hotel (www.bhh.com), notes. “As their home away from home, we feel strongly that our guestroom technology experience should offer the same level of convenience.”
To address this, Boston Harbor Hotel replaced print compendiums and alarm-clock radios with in-room tablets run on the Intelity (http://intelitycorp.com) platform. Guests can access hotel information, receive digital wake-up calls, view a variety of newspapers, and stream international radio stations. The iPads also allow guests to make requests, place room service orders and manage their stay with features such as maps, menus and transportation information.
The role of in-room televisions has also experienced a fundamental change. Guests used to require high-definition channel selection. However, it is not only common but also expected that guests will bring their own content to cast onto an in-room television, states Brian Cornell, chief information officer at Concord Hospitality Enterprises (www.concordhotels.com). Concord Hospitality offers streaming services to its in-room televisions and entertainment systems. Ancillary benefits to this technology include: greeting guests with a welcome video and interactive program guide, displaying guest services, room service menus, hotel amenities, folio review and even offering a video check out. DVR capability and guest rewards integration are soon to follow.
Jennifer Jones, president, J2 Hospitality Solutions (www.j2hospitalitysolutions.com), has also seen an uptick in hotels requesting television streaming upgrades. In particular she has been involved with many implementations of Chromecast, Google’s digital media player. Chromecast brings a familiar user interface to guests and allows them to stream their content from popular mobile apps such as Hulu and Netflix. It also provides a convenient way for guests to broadcast their music through the TV speakers.
And in the very near future, it could be that hotels will no longer offer content on televisions, Lakhany says. Instead, televisions will become large in-room screens that guests use exclusively for casting content from their own personal
Smart glass is having a moment.
• Marriott unveiled its Shower Door Shareable Canvas technology. The touch-sensitive technology, built into the shower door, allows guests to “screenshot” what they’ve written or drawn within the steam and email it to themselves for future reference.
• The AC Hotel Atlanta, a Marriott property, has deployed IoT-powered smart glass windows that transition through multiple tint states automatically to provide the right amount of natural light, while increasing building sustainability and maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature. View Dynamic Glass (https://viewglass.com) is one such provider of this technology. Hotel staff members manually control the tint state from an app on an iOS device to optimize comfort levels.
Back to Bandwidth: Powering the Guestroom of the Future Requires a Robust Network
Hoteliers must ensure that their property has sufficient bandwidth. In fact, Jennifer Jones, president, J2 Hospitality Solutions, says it should be their number-one priority.
“A guest could be connecting up to five devices at a time in their room,” she says, “and that’s on top of the technology the hotel is implementing itself such as an energy management system, VOIP phone, IPTV, and key locking.”
Hotel VIA (www.hotelviasf.com) installed highly secure Ethernet Internet with 5 Gbps service from Comcast Business (https://business.comcast.com) and a FiberLAN solution from DASAN Zhone Solutions (http://dasanzhone.com) that leverages GPON (gigabyte passive optical network) to offer guests unlimited devices and 100% connectivity across the property.
“It brings fiber directly to the door of the room but not inside the room yet because the TVs and phones are not ready yet to be connected,” says Barbara Perzigian, general manager, Hotel VIA. “At the point where devices can hook directly to fiber, we’ll be ready.” The system can scale to at least 10 GBs.
Ricardo Mendivelso Pinzón, IT project manager, GHL Hoteles (http://en.ghlhoteles.com), says hoteliers should also consider wired data access points that deliver high-speed connections to the network. They are the gateway to the guest experience and without them, guests are more likely to have a “less than stellar” experience. GHL Hoteles uses Alcatel Lucent Enterprise’s OmniAccess Stellar Access Points (www.al-enterprise.com) at its properties.
Another factor to keep in mind is low voltage power and Power over Ethernet (PoE), says Gretchen Hartley, senior director, global design at Marriott International. Marriott believes these two advances in power will play a much larger role in hotels in the near future. “Nearly everything in a guest room can be powered and managed using PoE, including the TVs and minibars,” she says. “It also has the added benefit of having additional safety measures against shocking and shorting out.”