The hotel experience gets high-tech

Guests can check in via phone and even choose their own room as hotels get a digital makeover

October 25, 2019

Hotels have long promised guests they won’t have to lift a finger. Now some are reaching to technology for those light-touch – and even no touch – experiences to keep guests coming back.

All over the world hotels have been racing towards clever devices, robots and voice assistants. For example, the 290-room FlyZoo Hotel in Hangzhou, China, this year launched facial recognition entry to lifts and rooms.

“Hotels are now thinking about technology that can provide connectivity and convenience for their guests as much as they are design and interior styling,” says Huw Montgomery, project manager in hospitality at JLL. “The ability for a guest to set the temperature of their room before they’ve entered, or open their door without dropping their luggage, are quickly becoming the mark of a thoughtful establishment.”

As tourists criss-cross the world in increasing numbers, these services are seen as a way to keep globetrotters coming back for more. Big hotel groups especially are finding state-of-the-art technology provides guests both instant gratification and greater control over their experience.

Here are some ways the hotel stay is becoming a more hands-free experience:

1. Checking in

Hotels, including the Citizen M chain, are increasingly offering self-serve kiosks at check-in, similar to those found in airports. The shift has allowed front-of-house workers to be reprioritised and large reception desks replaced with high-demand communal spaces, as seen across Veriu’s Hotels in Australia.

The Ruby Collection on the Gold Coast has adopted the Dutch-developed ‘Enzosystems’ kiosks, which allow walk-in guests to check room availability and book on the spot.

Hilton and Marriott have gone a step further, offering mobile check-in in its hotels globally. Hilton allows guests to choose their room from a digital floor plan as well as to customise their stay by requesting specific amenities.

“The choose-your-own room option is a way for guests to personalise their experience,” says Marie Colangelo, Senior Project Manager - Hotels, JLL. “This leads to greater loyalty, which is the end goal for hotels.”

2. Entering the room

Leaving FlyZoo’s facial recognition lift and room entry in another category altogether, mobile keys are rapidly overtaking plastic cards as an entry mechanism. Both Hilton and Marriott are taking this approach across their portfolios.

Hotel operator Starwood is pushing further, trialling beacon technology, which opens the door when a guest, with their mobile phone, is close by.

3. Adjusting comfort settings

The tablet has emerged as a must-have for adjusting lights, air conditioning, curtains, TVs and more. Guests can order room service without having to pick up the phone, unlock the door if someone’s knocking, or switch the room to ‘do not disturb’, simply with taps and swipes.

Hotels are also supporting guests’ desires to stream their own entertainment, such as Netflix or podcasts, to devices in the room like the TV or sound system.

“This year we have seen increasingly sophisticated integrated in-room TV systems,” says Duane Loader, Project Director, JLL. “With the larger reliance on streaming, the consideration given to bandwith and WiFi coverage has shot straight up the list for hotel owners.”

4. Information and requests

Moving further towards the cutting edge, hotel operators are adopting voice technology that allows guests to issue commands to get what they want.

In select Marriott properties, guests can ask, “Please ask the hotel for an extra towel,” or “where can I go for a jog?”

5. Receiving hospitality

The world’s first robot hotel, Henn-na, in Japan, may have fired more than half of its 243 droids because they were creating more work than they were achieving, but robots still have a future in the hotel sector.

In venues across Las Vegas, including the Vdara Hotel & Spa, robots are serving welcome nibbles and delivering snacks to guest rooms. At Aloft Cupertino, in California, a robot butler will deliver towels to guests lounging at the pool.

Robots are also saving staff the grunt work of fetching luggage, with both Henn-na and Yotel in New York City, boasting a large mechanical arm that retrieves luggage from storage compartments.

“Technology has changed what guests value in a hotel,” says Montgomery at JLL. “This is a unique time for operators to think more about how comfort, creativity and efficiency can be delivered in this digital age.”