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06/14/2021

The Next Frontier for Smart Tech: Hotel Lobbies

The same control systems that make guests feel at home can have a beneficial effect on hotel common areas.
a room filled with furniture and a large window

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, global design firm Gensler surveyed 1,200 travelers to create its illuminating Hospitality Experience Index. Although researchers found—not surprisingly—that a comfortable, modern room is important to a great experience, they also learned today’s guests are increasingly eager to spend quality time outside their rooms while still in the hotel environment.

“After getting the room right,” according to the Gensler study, “the way to go beyond is a focus on a unique, engaging approach to hotel common areas and amenities.”

So now, as the hospitality industry gains post-pandemic momentum, hotels are looking at technology to help create the experiences guests seek throughout their properties, from lobbies, to bars, to conference areas. They’re giving people more places to congregate, work, and be entertained, and in many cases that effort has included new technology. Think digital signage and video walls, zoned audio, and interactive display solutions that let guests begin to explore the area outside the hotel. And being able to control, manage, automate, and maintain these new experiences is as important in public spaces as it is in guest rooms.

The Rise of Smart Rooms

In fact, smart room technology has seen considerable uptake in hotel rooms, where properties make a concerted effort to emulate the digital comforts of home. From giving guests the ability to stream their favorite content from their phones, to controlling lights and window coverings from a touch panel, to—in some leading-edge cases—using their voices to manage the room, many hotels have introduced automation technology to enhance the guest experience.

Now, automation is moving beyond the hotel room, in large part because digital experiences have come to permeate common areas, but also because automating building systems, such as lighting and environmental control, helps the hotel run more efficiently.

It starts by extending control of a guest room beyond the room’s four walls. At the luxury Espacio Jewel of Waikiki in Hawaii, the resort’s suites include sophisticated Control4 systems for guests to use, but the hotel has also included a staff-accessible “off” setting in its overall control system for sending suites into an energy-saving state when they’re unoccupied.

An integrated control and automation system also makes the opposite achievable from a hotel’s front desk—turning a room “on” as the guest checks in so that the temperature, entertainment, lights, etc. are ready and welcoming just as the guest walks into their room for the first time. Done well using control technology, the smaller a hotel can make that time window between check-in and walk-in, the more energy it can save and the more streamlined its operations.

Expanding the Guest Experience

Then there’s the lobby itself. Gensler’s research indicates that in terms of guest experience, travelers rate hotel common areas lower than rooms. Yet at the same time, studies indicate visitors actually want to spend more time in well designed, welcoming lobbies and common areas, where they can be around other people or just spread out more to watch TV, read, or work on their laptops.

As a result, it helps to think of lobbies and common spaces as ecosystems of live/work/play areas. Some properties design multiple huddle spaces, with their own zoned lighting, flat panel displays, power, and USB charging ports, where people can collaborate or get work done. Others create multiple areas for watching TV or relaxing with their own devices.

And increasingly, because guests tend to judge hotels based on their cutting-edge use of technology, common areas feature more digital attractions, such as large-scale video walls that create a sense of place, or motion-activated displays, like at New York’s Renaissance Midtown, that allow guests to explore a property’s amenities.

The more hotels introduce digital experiences to their common spaces, the more they need an easy way to ensure those experiences operate effectively. Control system automation gives hotel operators an easy way to manage foundational systems in common areas, such as lights, audio, and HVAC, from a tablet, smartphone, or other touch panel. It can also give staff members touchscreen control over other digital elements, such as the on/off/sleep state of video walls and displays, as well as over the content that’s actually played on all those screens. In a lobby bar, where multiple TVs entertain patrons, the control system makes it easy to send different video sources to different TVs from a simple iPad interface.

Flexible Control Systems

The key is to adopt control technology designed to work with multiple systems. No hospitality brand should be expected to replace existing lighting, room management, or even digital signage systems to enjoy the benefits of automated control in common areas. The right control system works with whatever technology a hotel uses to create the ideal guest experience from door to room. And it’s expandable to support control over other technologies, such as digital locks, occupancy sensors, and virtual concierges.

The pandemic threw a curveball at hotel operators, but many were already heading down a path of digital experiences and automation. Today, with guests’ expectations at an all-time high and enabling control technology ready to deliver results, we’re seeing an important transition from smart hotel rooms to smart hotels.