6 Cutting-Edge Hotel Technologies That Make Your Stay Better
Robots, keyless entry systems and new mobile apps are just a few game changers.
As hotel companies continue to introduce innovative bells and whistles, from interactive in-room systems to high-tech robots, they continue to elevate customer service.(Getty Images)
When it comes to hotel customer service, a friendly face, complimentary perks and genuine hospitality used to be the standard. But with the evolution of technology, guests no longer expect gracious staff members; instead, they search for the most convenient way to accomplish a task. "Sometimes personalized service is very hands-on, but sometimes it means being completely hands-off," says Scott A. Lee, president and principal at SB Architects, which specializes in hotel and resort design and construction.
Alex Shashou, co-founder and president of ALICE, a mobile-friendly guest experience management platform for the hospitality industry, agrees. "We are finding innovative and tech-enhanced ways to deliver quality customer service that may, in fact, be more effective than relying on one person," he says. And these days, hotels around the world are delivering inventive high-tech services in the form of robots, smart gear and new mobile applications to enhance the guest experience, often by putting more control into the consumers' hands. Here's a primer on the latest innovations from the hospitality industry.
It seems there's virtually nothing you can't do on your smartphone these days – and powering the features in your hotel room is no exception. Hotels and resorts are putting the power in the palm of guests' hands to enable them to control their experience from the moment they check in, with everything from room service to in-room controls.
Many properties, including Hotel Irvine in California, let guests text for just about anything they need, from towels to a late check-out time to room service. The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, Arizona, has a dedicated texting concierge ready to handle its guests' requests. And other properties allow you to use your phone as a remote control to adjust your room temperature, use the TV and more.
ALICE, available at many hotels around the U.S., allows guests to request any service they need from the hotel from their mobile device – whether it's texting, via an app or through the hotel's website. For example, you can text the hotel that you've landed to check if your room is ready, order drinks from your pool chair, put in a room service order or request information like the on-site Wi-Fi password with the platform.
These days, smartphones are replacing keycards to unlock hotel room doors. A growing number of hotels are rolling out such keyless entry options, including Starwood Hotels through the SPG app available to Starwood Preferred Guest members, as well as a variety of Marriott and Hilton properties. For access to keyless entry, guests must be opted in and connected to data with Bluetooth turned on. Then, they can simply open the Starwood app and hold their phone steady in front of the keypad until the light turns green.
Meanwhile, at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, you simply press a virtual unlock button via an app on your smartphone to open the door. And Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa, one of the first Marriott properties to pilot the new keys, allows guests to opt in for keyless entry and open their rooms by using Marriott's mobile app.
At Hotel Irvine, guests can connect many of their gadgets, including laptops, smartphones and tablets, to their room's 42-inch flat-screen TV via the property's new "myAway" interactive in-room system. The platform allows users to stream favorite TV shows and movies, check their flight status, play personal playlists and check in and check out of their room. "Today's travelers expect up-to-the minute, customized technology – just like they have at home," says Jeroen Quint, general manager of Hotel Irvine. "Our new in-room entertainment is versatile, interactive and user friendly – furthering our quest to customize and enhance the guest experience," he adds.
Similarly, guests at The Godfrey Hotel Boston now enjoy "Guest Media Streaming" technology, which allows guests to use their personal mobile devices to stream photos, videos and music to their room's 55-inch HDTV. Guests can also access room service, concierge information, in-room spa services and complimentary Wi-Fi connections with the technology.
ACME Hotel Company, a hip boutique property in downtown Chicago, has made sure that its rooms offer the most cutting-edge technology for guests who like to stay connected. In addition to Internet-ready smart TVs with Apple and PC-compatible hook-ups that let guests to view their own content, rooms are equipped with Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin wireless audio systems for in-room rocking out as well as 100MB bandwidth Internet for speedy connections. The property also offers free use of Google Glass technology to guests who book directly.
You can even play DJ at Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos, which offers guests a controller and laptop that connects them to the room's surround sound system – complete with instructions, if needed – so you can host your very own party.
Would you be surprised to order room service and find a robot at your door instead of an employee? This has become the reality at numerous hotels around the country. For example, at the Residence Inn by Marriott Los Angeles LAX/Century Boulevard, a resident robot not only makes standard room deliveries, it also delivers coffee from the Starbucks outpost in the hotel lobby.
"Guests love that their deliveries come in under half the time (typically in five minutes), they don't have to tip the robot and [they] avoid awkward human interactions when they're getting ready for bed," says Steve Cousins, CEO of Savioke, the company that manufactures robots currently in use at select Hilton, Residence Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza and Aloft properties. According to Cousins, these robots made more than 11,000 guest deliveries in 2015. Interestingly, the most frequently requested item last year was toothpaste. Meanwhile, Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in McLean, Virginia, uses their robot, Ava, in a slightly different fashion. Hotel employees can connect to the robot to virtually interact with guests and even manipulate the robot's movements from wherever they are, allowing for efficient customer service.
The ability to see what a property looks like before booking is becoming an increasingly important part of consumers' decision-making process. Many hotels and resorts offer photo galleries and even virtual tours, but there's an even more advanced technology. Matterport Spaces provides a visual that gives hotel website visitors a more realistic experience of walking through a property.
"Conventional virtual tours are simply 360-degree panorama photographs, slideshows or videos. They do not allow viewers to move freely through a space, and do not replicate the feeling of actually being in the space," says Bill Brown, CEO of Matterport. "Matterport Spaces give virtual visitors a truly immersive experience of a place, because they can explore it as if they were there. They can go anywhere in the space in whatever order they want," he explains.
The technology is currently in use at resorts, such as Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort Aruba and The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort in Punta de Mita, Mexico and Clouds Estate in South Africa. One client reported spending triple the average time on a Web page that included 3-D maps and virtual reality technology.
Stepping into the Future
Set to open in spring 2016, the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel in the Garment District, will offer some truly one-of-kind technologies. When guests enter the property from several entrances, a "living" wall showcasing local artists and neighborhoods will greet them. These are displays projected along a block-long corridor that respond to human motion, using technology not seen in any other New York hotel.
One alcove will act as a virtual concierge, enabling guests and visitors to explore points of interests throughout the local area with the point of a finger and tap of the foot. By stepping up to the screen, guests will be able to choose with their feet the distance you would like to go from the hotel, and then point to the screen to access various suggestions curated in real-time by the hotel's local experts. There will also be a digital clock at the top of the hotel, serving as a beacon across the Manhattan skyline. The clock, which is displayed on four-story LED screens, will change designs every hour of the day.
About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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