In Hospitality Technology’s 2011 Lodging Technology Study, hotel operators revealed that flat screen televisions, high-def content, increasing bandwidth and wireless Internet access are the most important in-room technologies by investment priority to their hotel companies. But as any IT executive will tell you, in-room technology priorities and trends can change at the speed-of-light. What is important now, may not be so in five or ten years as new solutions are released and reach a higher level of saturation in the consumer market. This begs to ask the question: what will our hotel guestrooms look like in five or ten years? To answer this question Hospitality Technology interviewed a number of executives to learn about the innovations that they expect to find in the guestroom of the future.
A computer that talks back
The progression of the user/computer interaction looks something like this: typing, touching and now swiping. Now image that the next phase of the user/computer interaction is vocal recognition. How will that apply to the guestroom?
“I think that speech recognition is something that will take off,” says Gustaaf Schrils, vice president of global technology, Americas, InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG). “Eventually you went from typing on a computer to now touching a screen. It won’t be too long before touching a screen is converted into talking to the screen. We believe that the next evolution is with what we call small glass, which is all of these mobility devices from iPads to iTouches to iPhones to Androids. We believe that it won’t be long until you can essentially talk to them, and then have them talk back to you.”
Schrils notes that there are multiple applications for this type of technology in the guestroom. “Think about your guest directory. When you need to search a guest directory to find out what the telephone number is of the concierge, or what the closest Italian restaurant is, or what is the best entertainment in the area – think about just asking those questions while you are doing something and getting a response. Obviously this is not coming tomorrow, but you could be putting on your clothes or eating breakfast and just talking to the computer. It can essentially respond to you while you are doing other stuff.”
Personal device interaction
Market research firm Nielsen predicts that smartphone penetration will overtake feature phones by the end of this year; and by 2014, 142.1 million consumers, approximately 53.9% of American mobile phone users, will be accessing the Internet via mobile browsers and applications.
“In five years, I think the notion of anything, anywhere, anytime is going to take hold,” says Schrils. “Meaning essentially you will be able to get access to information, both public and private, anywhere, anytime. It is going to be the reality of the world and we are going to need to adapt to it.”
As for how this growing trend will impact guestroom technology, the answer may be in device interaction.
“I certainly think that the Internet and connectivity certainly becomes to be more important not only in terms of the types of devices that are supported, but the amount of bandwidth that is available,” says John executive director of program management, guest technologies, MGM Resorts International. “I think that interacting your device with the room as opposed to the hotel’s device — i.e. the remote control, the phone, those sorts of things — will start to become more and more personalized with your particular device. In the same way that you look at technology that they have implemented in automobiles where you get in the car and your device becomes part of the vehicle, I think you will see the same types of expectations in the technology in the guestrooms.
RFID will continue to grow
When most people think of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, applications like guestroom key cards quickly come to mind. Currently, that is how New York City’s The Plaza Hotel is utilizing RFID technology, but management expects its application in the guestroom to grow within the next few year.
“There are many legs and applications that can happen on that side from a hotel management perspective, like tagging linens so that when it goes downstairs and then goes to the outside linen place, you know that you had 2,000 sheets and you will get 2,000 sheets back,” says Shane Krige, general manager for The Plaza Hotel.