Making the Case for Smart, Sustainable Hotels

Guests are looking for hotels that are people-centric by offering technologies that advance sustainability, safety.
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Buildings are at the epicenter of guest wellbeing – they’re where we breathe most of our air and have most interpersonal interactions when we travel. As such, expectations for building services continues to rise among guests.  

People-centricity and subsequently health and wellness are becoming differentiators for hotel operators and their occupants. But yesterday’s buildings weren’t built for today’s needs and challenges. Smart buildings that embrace technology to ensure they’re sustainable, safe and constantly advancing, are the future of the hospitality industry. To better understand how buildings must adapt and why hoteliers should be interested in turning their property into a smart hotel, HT spoke with Tyler Haak, Strategic Account Executive – Hotel Segment, Schneider Electric.

Why and how are people-centricity/ health and wellness becoming differentiators for hotel operators?

While people-centricity has always been at the core of the hotel experience and the primary goal for all hotel operators, as consumers’ expectations and behaviors evolve, the hotel experience needs to as well. Today’s consumers are used to seamless, and most of the time automated, experiences, and want to feel safe and at home even when they are away.  Over the last decade, we have seen a shift in hotels adopting new technologies that provide those sleek and connected experiences that mirror what travelers are accustomed to in their own homes, with everything from contactless check-in to mobile app ordering for room service.

While some hotel experiences are expected, such as mobile check-in and checkout, digital keys or WiFi enabled rooms, the real difference in what we’ve seen over the last year is that the pandemic has created an environment where hotel operators are responding to a loud and clear message from would-be guests, which is to “help us feel safe.”

In a fascinating way, the same trends that help with the connected guest experiences can also provide a healthy and safe experience. This is why we are seeing hospitality brands turn to more technology-controlled amenities through mobile apps such as contactless check-in, check-out, room access, and smart devices like in-room entertainment, temperature control, lighting and blinds. These types of amenities offer a more connected and individualized experience for the guest and ultimately helps to create an environment the guest feels comfortable and safe in.

What are some key components that make up a smart hotel?

When most of us think about smart hotels, we think of what it means as a guest. From app-controlled check-in and check-out, to keyless entry, to in-the-room experiences such as mobile-controlled temperature settings and adjustable lightning. The goal here is to provide guest-centric experiences that make travel easier.

Travelers also have an eye on sustainability these days. Consumers are increasing their loyalty to brands that share their same sustainability and environmental values, and are eager to know what brands are doing to be more energy efficient and green. With this in mind, we must also expect smart hotels to be energy-efficient, sustainable, resilient. This can be enabled with smart, modern electrical distribution infrastructure and building automation systems that offer remote access and control of HVAC and electrical systems to enable smart sequences like demand control or ventilation optimization in large spaces. Software services incorporating analytics can also help facilities managers with proactive and remote maintenance initiation or indoor air quality and occupancy analytics.

How difficult is it for hoteliers to retrofit old hotels to make them smart?

Let’s start by saying: just because you want a smart hotel doesn’t mean you need to build a brand-new hotel. Of course, starting with a clean slate when implementing state-of-the-art designs is always easier, but that does not mean it’s the only way. There are lots of ways to retrofit your current hotel to be more connected, smarter and efficient than before.

Take for example hotel rooms. You can easily make the guest experience more seamless and smarter by simply replacing legacy products with new solutions that allow for more connected designs such as app-controlled lighting systems or smart thermostats.

More central and foundational building systems like HVAC/building automation control, electrical distribution with switchgear, and power metering can also be modernized in much the same way that commercial real estate or other structures can be to promote greener, more efficient, and more sustainable facility performance.

These infrastructural enhancements, though less flashy than making the hotel rooms smart and connected, go a long way in providing the better operational spending, better relationships with ethics-minded guests, and more resiliency against potential outages that are table stakes for a smart hotel.

If hoteliers have a limited budget, where is best use of their money for making their hotel "smart"?

The good news is you don’t have to break the bank to make your hotel smarter. In fact, there are easy features you can implement to begin creating a more connected hotel experience. For example, hotel room optimizations, such as lighting and temperature controls, can be stood up with the least amount of investment and the largest return in guest satisfaction, a critical driver for returning occupants and referrals.

As guests continue to put an emphasis on hospitality brands’ sustainability commitments, hoteliers can look to a new and emerging trend known as Energy as a Service (EaaS), which not only helps support a hotel’s energy efficiency goals but is an affordable path forward to making a more sustainable and resilient hotel. Hotel operators can pursue what would traditionally be large capital outlays for new renewable energy distribution via on-site or off-site microgrids at no initial cost and pay for the investment (owned and operated by a reliable third party to minimize risk) over a long-term contract. This is becoming more and more attractive to hoteliers concerned about rising power outages, customers who want sustainable business partners, and uncertain or variable energy costs.

How could a building owner with a "smart" hotel respond better to a future crisis - similar to COVID-19 - compared to a hotel owner with a traditional building?

During the pandemic, hotel operators faced two major challenges: getting heads back in beds quickly, and sustaining hotel operations with limited and remote staff.  Both of these challenges can be easily addressed with the adoption of technology to create a smart hotel.

By creating more connected and smart hotel experiences, hotel operators have access to real-time data analytics that can report on indoor air quality and large space occupancy which makes it easier for hoteliers to pivot and make decisions to improve the guest experience.

Digital building systems that incorporate smarter services, analytics, and dashboards allow for hoteliers to augment on-site maintenance and perform more tasks remotely while lowering the risk of larger failures with proactive advice for systems repairs based on real, actionable data. This is a great advantage for hoteliers during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic or power outages to keep operations running and assure they are prepared to welcome back guests as soon as possible.

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