Using technology to remove common friction points and emulate modern conveniences found in consumers’ homes drives in-room innovation trends
Today’s consumers are used to having technology at their fingertips and using it to make their daily lives easier. Guests accustomed to a certain level of digital creature comforts in their own homes may find a guestroom without Alexa, a Nest thermostat or smart lighting inhibiting. Technology has ushered in an era of hyper-convenience and automation that is impacting guestroom design. Customizable technologies that allow guests to truly feel at home while on property are becoming table stakes for the on-demand generation.
In this roundtable, IT leaders from a variety of hospitality brands ranging from small boutiques to large corporate properties weigh in on how their properties are implementing technology to improve guest stays with convenience and customization.
• Darren Clark, Vice President, Global Technology, Viceroy Hotels
• Brian Cornell, Chief Information Officer of Concord Hospitality
• John Edwards, CIO of RLH Corporation
• Shannon Gu, General Manager, Hotel BLU Vancouver
• Nathan Leitner, Co-Owner, The Beverly Hotel
• Antoine Naoum, General Manager, Le Mount Stephen Hotel
• John Padgett, Chief Experience and Innovation Officer, Carnival Corporation & plc
• Rupesh Patel, President, Zenique Hotels
• Bill Vanderpool, General Manager, Kinseth Hospitality
• Rami Zeidan, Founder and CEO, Life House Hotel
HT How can smart hotel rooms remove friction and improve a guest’s stay?
JOHN PADGETT: A high-tech, guest-centric ecosystem delivers enormous operational efficiencies like streamlining in-room cleaning, overall labor, eliminating paper, and many other benefits. Because Carnival’s OceanMedallion wearable IoT device connects to Carnival’s Guest Experience Ecosystem, many of the guest’s needs, wants and desires can be anticipated. Most guests get OceanReady before departing, including providing their security photo, so the crew is able to recognize a guest upon arrival and greet them by name upon first interaction. Smart technology provides the crew with relevant information to enhance service delivery and enable all aspects of a vacation. This approach works because it’s focused on the human dynamic — how crew interacts with guests, how guests interact with each other and how every experience takes place.
RAMI ZEIDAN: We use technology to create more fulfilling experiences for our guests and our staff. Our hotel rooms are intended to foster a place for travelers to continue their routines uninterrupted. We use technology to automate operations on the backend to cut costs and fuel efficiency on the front end. As a result, our staff can improve processes like reducing setup time in the rooms to even knowing what the incoming guest prefers in their mini bar. We also give guests the luxury of using the Life House app to make modifications to their room, control the entertainment system, and chat with staff. We find that our app fosters a seamless experience for guests. Our mobile app even features keyless entry and a social network for guests to meet each other and locals. Plus you can order room service, select your room and purchase an early check-in or late check-out in advance.
SHANNON GU: Smart hotel rooms help empower guests by removing friction between a guest’s desire and satisfaction of that desire. Additionally, many guests today expect things on-demand. With the right combination of technology and people, we’re able to provide instant fulfillment to guests for a huge array of potential requests. For example, the Roxy (www.roxydevice.com) virtual concierge devices we have in all of our rooms enable guests to instantly access information and services. By removing this friction we are able to satisfy more desires for more guests, resulting in an improved overall stay.
HT What role does personalization play in the smart hotel room?
ANTOINE NAOUM: Personalized technology in a smart hotel room is a crucial factor in creating as comfortable a stay as possible for tired travelers. Creating a hotel room that feels like home is becoming an expectation for guests. With easy-to-use, personalizable technology, guests feel as if they are in control of their experience with the touch of a button.
BRIAN CORNELL: Loyalty programs present an excellent opportunity for hotel brands to track guest preferences and provide a customizable experience based upon their profile. Hotel room location such as end of hallway, upper floor, thermostat setting and turning the welcome light on are all capabilities with this integration and smart room technology. Integrating the traveler’s loyalty program on the smart television provides opportunity to book future travel, check on points or status and even integrate TV applications and possibly log them in automatically. Food and beverage or room service preferences can be suggested based upon prior purchase history or time of day.
JOHN EDWARDS: Personalization is an important factor of hospitality, as each traveler expects something different. Offering personalized suggestions for restaurants, activities and entertainment through technology adds another level of guest comfort to each stay.
GU: Personalization is a double-edged sword in the smart hotel room. On one hand every guest would like to have every aspect of their stay tailored specifically for them. On the other hand, guests have a right to privacy, and we respect that first and foremost. When implementing smart hotel room technologies, we make sure that we are striking the right balance between providing personalized service and maintaining a certain level of guest privacy.
HT What smart technology do you think possesses the most potential for guestrooms?
DARREN CLARK: Since we implemented Volara (https://volara.io) at Viceroy Los Cabos, we are seeing impressive statistics for guest usage. Our guests are engaging with the service to request information on the hotel such as restaurant information, late checkout requests as well as to request room service and amenities such as more towels etc. We interface Volara to ALICE (www.aliceplatform.com) which tracks all guest requests and notifies the hotel team on their mobile device to set action in motion. This has drastically reduced the time it takes to respond to guest requests, which in turn enhances their experience. Another integration we set up is the ability for the guest to control the TV via voice commands, which is one of the most popular features. The guests can turn on/off the TV, change volume, change channel, open Netflix, YouTube, etc., as well as order room service via voice. We will also be adding features such as controlling temperature, lighting and drapes in the next phase.
EDWARDS: At RLHC we are focused on smart hotel room solutions that enhance the guest experience throughout their stay at one of our properties. Partnering with Jamf (www.jamf.com) and Monscierge (www.monscierge.com), we’ve started implementing Apple TVs in guests’ rooms at Hotel RL Baltimore that allow guests to order room service, interact with concierge services, enjoy live and on-demand entertainment, and access details of their reservation. Allowing guests to browse through all of the amenities that the hotel has to offer, at the touch of a button, ensures that they can take advantage of the services that will elevate their experience.
NATHAN LEITNER: We implemented Volo’s (www.getvolo.com) in-room tablets that run on either Apple iPad or iPad Pro tablets with software that Volo built specifically for hotels and improving the guest experience through technology. We use the Volo tablets to provide all of the standard information you would typically find in a room that is either in a welcome folder, card or notebook and found it as a good opportunity to reduce the amount of paper and clutter in our rooms and really think about what information was important for guests. The Volo tablets are a digital directory of the property cataloging check-in/out times, hours of operation, amenities at the hotel, and other pertinent information to their stay. Additionally, we have curated city guides with restaurants, entertainment, and things to do/see in the city. We have worked with business owners and our partners in the city to bring a comprehensive guide organized by section in the tablet. Lastly, the Volo tablet acts as an added touch-point between our front desk and guests by allowing two-way messaging and communication for guests to send inquiries to the desk, request items, or communicate any issues they are having during their stay. The next area we are exploring with the Volo team is room and food service and the ability to purchase retail products that we see in our gift and variety shop.
BILL VANDERPOOL: Our guests love when we demonstrate to them that we are proactive in ensuring that they are comfortable during their visit. We have been operating the Verdant (www.verdant.co) system for smart control of our thermostats and PTAC units for some time now and we have found that there are many benefits for our guests. Savvy guests and frequent travelers recognize that we have an energy management system in place and can request that we adjust settings for their stay which we have trained front-line staff to do. We can then note their profile to ensure that we adjust these settings each time the guest arrives with us. This gives the guest an added level of service and shows them VIP status. The web portal for the system also allows our engineering team to detect and correct problems with both the thermostat itself as well as the PTAC unit before the guest’s arrival and also throughout their stay. Our guests are pleasantly surprised when we have an engineering team member arrive at their room to correct a problem that the guest has not yet reported and perhaps not yet noticed. This demonstrates to the guest that we are always on top of making sure their stay goes as flawlessly as possible.
RUPESH PATEL: Often guests want to adjust their room temperature in the middle of the night. In our rooms guests can simply ask Alexa to change the e7 Thermostat settings without having to get out of bed. We picked Honeywell (www.honeywellhome.com) for its robust integration capabilities with other software, its energy savings, and because the e7 Thermostat looks great. The e7 communicates with our property’s Alexa voice activated room controls powered by Volara. Honeywell’s e7 Thermostats also accept commands from AavGo (https://aavgo.com) guest room tablets. The tablets allow guests to control lighting and temperature through AavGo’s integration with Honeywell’s system.