Smart Hotel Trends for the Next Decade: From Robots to Digital Detox
Holidays are times of magic and fantasy realized. However, our world today demonstrates that our wildest dreams become real much more often than just on Christmas. What was sci-fi only a few years ago is now part of our daily lives.
We’re getting used to smart technologies. Smart devices, smart homes, smart cities… Today, we can manage so many aspects of our lives using our voice, through connected devices, or from mobile applications (even though sometimes things might go wrong as in a hilarious commercial on how a visit to the dentist can sabotage a smart home’s helpfulness.)
When we travel, we want our trips and stays to be as comfortable as possible. Well, smart technologies are here to help. In this Christmas post, we’ll look into the idea of smart hotels, find out which cutting edge innovations make the smart happen, and sneak a peek at some of the hospitality industry tech pioneers.
What does a smart hotel mean to a guest?
When arriving at a smart hotel, be ready to be greeted by a friendly robot at the front desk, not getting a set of keys, and not filling out any paperwork. Also, don’t be surprised to hear your favorite Spotify playlist softly greeting you from invisible speakers as you step into your room where the temperature and lights are set to your liking.
Oh, and no more calls to the reception desk. Just ask your virtual assistant for another towel or the best vegan restaurant in the area — you’ll get your issue solved immediately.
A frontdesk Pepper robot
Intrigued to know more? Let’s not wait any longer. Prepare to see more tech magic on our dazzling journey to hotels that have already made the future become reality.
Okay, so where should we start? First, you have to book a room and check in. Instead of browsing through websites and waiting in line at the front desk, simply open the hotel app, take a virtual tour around the property, make a reservation, and check in remotely while you’re still on your way. The Hilton Honors app even allows guests to choose the room. Then, the same app will serve as a digital key to open the room door.
Hilton Honors app interface. Source: App Store
So, you got to the room. Hold on, don’t shut down your smartphone. There’s more in store. Do you want to find out what’s going on in the area during your stay? Or maybe book a massage to relax after the flight? Order a drink from the bar? Watch the news?
The hotel app can be your virtual concierge and provide all sorts of assistance. You can learn more about digital concierges in our dedicated post while we’ll be moving on.
How Alexa works in hotels
Since their introduction by Aloft Hotels in 2016, multiple brands including Marriott, Hyatt, and Viceroy have adopted voice-based technologies.
Here’s what Rob Eisenberg, a General Manager of Synergy Hotel in New York, said about Volara: “Google’s hotel solution benefitting from Volara’s voice-based engagement technology offers our guests the power of the world’s fastest search engine along with specific guest service amenities via the convenience of intuitive voice interface.”
Whenever you want to ask for information, request services, or change the in-room setting, just speak out. The voice-activated assistant is connected to sensors and other devices as well as the internet, so it can quickly respond to your request or find the necessary information. So, why don’t you order a snack to your room? Hey, someone’s already knocking, well that was fast! As you open the door, you see…
… a robot?! Well, we warned you. Robots are being implemented more and more to work together with human personnel and relieve their workload by handling the most common tasks. They can work extra hours and don’t ask for tips — sweet, eh?
One of the pioneers in hospitality robotics was Hilton’s robot concierge Connie. It was developed by IBM and named after the owner, Conrad Hilton
Besides high-profile Hilton’s Connie, there are other prominent robotic workers. The Yotel hotel brand implemented the first robotic luggage handlers called Yobots in New York back in 2011. A few years later, they introduced the award-winning twin delivery robots Yoshi and Yolanda in Singapore, followed by a robotic butler YO2D2 in Boston.
Meet Yoshi and Yolanda
Hotel Trio located in the winery region of California has a butler robot Rosé to bring wine to guests’ rooms. And not only that, of course, but anything that fits in the little fellow’s “trunk.”
Hotel Sky Sandton, Johannesburg, was the first on the continent to “employ” the trio of robots named Lexi, Micah, and Ariel in early 2021. Automated staff can deliver things to the rooms, provide wayfinding instructions or travel information, and carry up to 300 kilo (660 pounds) of luggage.
Another type is disinfecting LightStrike, germ-zapping robots that sanitize rooms and public areas in the Westin Houston Medical Center. They support manual cleaning by using intense germicidal ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses.
And the Pengheng Space Capsules Hotel is almost completely operated by robots. It’s more of a hostel, so not much staff is needed anyway, but still, robots help at the front desk, deliver stuff, and provide information.
Delivery robots in Novotel, Korea. Source: Hospitality Technology
If you plan to attend an event held in the hotel, facial recognition technology will make registration fast and simple. By scanning your face and matching it with provided credentials, it verifies your right to enter. The same technology is used to support check-in, detect VIP guests and provide them with special service, or identify troublesome or trespassing visitors.
In 2019, Alibaba opened the FlyZoo Hotel in Hangzhou, China, stuffed with tech novelties, including facial recognition. It basically replaced guest IDs and room keys, identifying visitors and allowing them access to their rooms and property amenities.
Later that year, other hotels in China, Vietnam, and Singapore started piloting the same E-Visitor Authentication (EVA) system to speed up check-in. It also enhances security by verifying legal presence in the country.
The elevator camera recognizes guests and takes them to their floor. Source: Alizila
Cryptocurrency as a payment method
Cryptocurrency, or digital money, is on the rise, gaining wide popularity worldwide. As a response, more and more companies have started accepting crypto payments, including e-Commerce stores, airlines, travel agencies — and hotels. In July 2021, The Pavilions Hotels & Resorts became the pioneer of crypto in hospitality. Now, travelers can pay for their stay with more than 40 cryptocurrencies.
Today, being smart is not only about speed, convenience, and control. It’s also about consciousness and mindful attitude.
Eco-friendliness is a huge global trend so hotels adopt various green practices and implement resource-saving technologies to minimize the impact on the environment. Some of the ways hotels can support the planet are
- separating and recycling garbage,
- installing low-watt bulbs and motion-activated faucets,
- replacing plastic with alternative materials,
- serving organic food,
- using local resources, etc.
A tropical garden in the atrium of the completely self-sustainable Hotel Jakarta in Amsterdam, the “greenest hotel in the Netherlands”
For example, such hotels as Radisson, Hyatt, and Waldorf Astoria implemented motion sensors to notice if the guest is out of the room and decrease AC and light usage, as well as water leakage detectors to control the water level. Other brands go even further.
Proximity Hotel in California is one of the “greenest” hotels in the US and is a shining example of sustainability. It has 100 solar panels on the roof to generate electricity, the elevator’s energy is captured and reused, numerous sensors control the ventilation and water systems, 75 percent of waste is recycled, and much of its construction materials are also made from post-consumer content.
And the Svart Hotel that is about to open in Norway is going to be the world’s first energy-positive hotel that produces more energy than it consumes!
At the foot of the glacier, just above the Arctic Circle – a breathtaking location for an incredible Svart Hotel
Digital detox to get back to real life
Talking about consciousness… Today, technology is such a huge part of our lives that sometimes we forget about what’s important. This holiday season, how about putting away our smartphones and truly reconnecting with our family and friends? There are hotels that support tech-free travel and even run special programs to incentivize such stays.
For example, Wyndham was one of the pioneers of the movement, offering discounts, free snacks, and other perks in exchange for locking away guests’ devices. And now, in December 2021, Wyndham Grand is giving away multiple Reconnected Travel Keepsake Boxes that include a Fujifilm camera with film ready to capture memorable family moments of a tech-free experience.
The Swedish Hotel Bellora used a special lamp that turned red after a guest uses their device for 30 minutes
Other smart devices
You can plan your digital detox for next time. But meanwhile, let’s keep wandering around the smart hotel and exploring other fascinating innovations it implements to please guests and perk up their stay.
The room sensors know when you’re out of the room, so even if you don’t turn off the lights, TV, or A/C, they’ll do it for you. They also make sure that the room features are set to your liking and kept this way.
In the lobby, you might find temperature scanners that perform a health check to help limit virus circulation. A lot of brands including Wyndham Hotels and Wynn Resorts implemented such thermal cameras in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Well, better safe than sorry, so just go through it to make sure you’re ok.
Self-service kiosks operate as digital concierges and help with managing your stay or obtaining information. For the same purpose, rooms are getting equipped with tablets so that you don’t need to download an app, look for a TV remote control, or get up to call the front desk. Such establishments as the boutique Eccleston Square Hotel in central London and Nomi Resort in the County of Haliburton, Ontario, Canada offer this state-of-the-art service to their guests.
A Crave Interactive digital solution for hotels
When coming to the restaurant for a farewell dinner, you can see a digital menu that allows you to order and pay for the food without contacting staff. Or, just enjoy your meal and don’t bother about the bill. The system will add your charge to the final folio that you pay at checkout.
Well, what a journey it was! And next time you come, your preferences will be considered. Smart hotels always remember their guests and try to improve their stay by providing a most personalized service.
A way to success or failure?
Now that we head back to reality: It’s not totally idyllic, to be honest. As fabulous as it sounds, innovations don’t always lead to absolute success. Sometimes there’s a fly in the ointment no one thinks about but that still causes multimillion dollar projects to fail.
Just think of self-cleaning rooms introduced by Danish hotels in 2019, self-driving slippers made by Nissan in 2018, or smart shower doors in Marriott rooms that allowed guests to write or draw on the steam and then send the result to their email address. Sounds cool, but somehow it just didn’t work out. Let’s look at some other examples.
Self-parking slippers as a predecessor of self-driving cars. Source: The Verge
Robots are still not smart enough
The Henn Na Hotel (meaning strange hotel) in Japan was recognized by Guinness World Records as “the first robot-staffed hotel” in the world for having 243 robotic employees. It was stuffed with other near-sci-fi technologies, starting from in-room voice assistants to robotic porters and concierges to smart TVs, curtains, ACs, and even wardrobe stylers!
The front desk “staff” in Henn Na Hotel. Source: Independent
However, the hotel soon had to “fire” more than half of its robotic workforce since it proved inefficient, especially in customer-facing situations. Robots were unable to understand and answer even basic questions and annoyed the guests by recognizing snoring sounds as commands and suddenly getting active in the middle of the night. Besides, they were breaking down way too much, demanding constant human interaction and repairs.
Not everyone is comfortable with voice assistants
In 2017, Best Western Hotel, inspired by Marriott and Wynn Resorts, installed Amazon’s Echo device and its AI-enabled virtual assistant, Alexa, in guest rooms of some of their properties. At the Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS) in January 2019, Best Western’s president and CEO David Kong admitted that the pilot program hadn’t gone well.
The technology itself worked fine. But it turned out that visitors didn’t feel comfortable with a smart device always listening to them so they preferred to unplug their voice assistant (other studies demonstrate it too). Sometimes it was about privacy, while other guests just needed an extra power outlet to charge their smartphone. Whatever the reason, implementing the listening device didn’t result in higher guest satisfaction overall.
People don’t want to install hotel apps
The same ambiguity exists with hotel apps. Even though brand apps such as Hilton and Marriott show high guest engagement, HotelTechReport claims that independent hotels rarely manage to have visitors download their app, and Hotel Technology News estimates that only around 7 percent of guests will use the brand app. Travelers don’t want to clutter their smartphones and already have dedicated tools for ordering a taxi or finding their way; so for in-stay purposes, a room tablet might be more preferable.
Technology is here to stay: what innovations should we expect?
A digital revolution is happening all over, and hotels can’t stand aside. A shining example, the hospitality robots market was valued at almost $300 million and is estimated to surpass $3 billion by 2030. If you travel a lot, you probably have an app of your preferred hotel brand, and you’ve probably stayed in those sensor-stuffed rooms, enjoyed the contactless entry, and maybe even took a selfie with a butler robot. What else can be done?
Well, a lot. 5G and WiFi 6 are almost here to speed up all the connections, Hyatt has just announced the introduction of room keys in Apple Wallet, and guess what? The opening of the first space hotel Voyager Station is scheduled for 2027. Isn’t it crazy?
What was planned to be a cruise ship-style hotel in 2019 became a real project of a luxurious (who would’ve doubted?) lodging with cozy suites, chic restaurants… and stunning cosmic views. They plan to offer special space food and play around with gravity to offer unique experiences. We’re sure they have more surprises in store, so all we can do is wait and see.
Learn more about the project at voyagerstation.com
Knowing today’s travel trends, we can expect an increased focus on sustainability, personalization, unique experiences, and a healthy lifestyle. Hotels are aware of what travelers want so they get smarter every year, adding functionality to their apps, providing a contactless experience, implementing robots for various tasks, and digitizing both internal operations and their guests’ journeys in any possible way. So, let’s just sit back and watch how technology is changing our world.
This holiday season, why not have a drink made by a robot bartender?