Intelligent buildings are not a new concept, but the level of advancement is gathering pace and the increasing adoption of smart technology is spreading across multiple sectors. While these core drivers impact every sector, the influence of technology and shifting demands is particularly significant within the hospitality sector, as it shows a marked shift towards integrating these technologies into the latest developments. This boils down to a few key factors, as discussed below.
One of the most fundamental drivers behind the trend for smarter hotels comes in the form of the rise of experience consumption, which is a key catalyst in a sector wherein consumer needs are front and centre. As noted by Alex Witkoff, Executive Vice President of Witkoff Development, at Bisnow’s Hospitality Investment, Development and Management Summit in New York earlier this year,
“Spending on the experience economy is expected to reach $8 trillion by 2028”.
The experience is becoming even more important to the guest and optimising this can make all the difference against an increasingly competitive landscape. Recent reports actually suggest that 2020 will be the year that customer experience overtakes price and product as the key brand differentiator.
There is a plethora of ways in which intelligent technologies can be leveraged in order to optimise the guest experience, but the crucial aspect is its ability to tailor and personalise their stay. Indeed, 86% of consumers say personalisation plays a role in their purchase decisions, according to a recent Kahuna survey, and brands that incorporate personalisation by integrating data and advanced technologies report revenue increases of 6-10% (Qubit). Ultimately, Millennials or Generation Y form a very significant proportion of the target market, influencing the design of new hotels, from incorporating new technologies to the inclusion of co-working areas.
Customer expectations are evolving in line with their adoption of technology in their day-to-day lives. Guests are using technologies, from streaming services and smart assistants to remote climate control in their homes, so the expectation that hotels will have the infrastructure to support and match these technologies is taking hold. They expect the ability to tailor their experience to some extent, and to have the autonomy to control their space and hotel experience, including:
- Climate and temperature control
- Temperature for showers
- Entertainment systems
- Hands-free, voice-control smart assistants
- SmartBed(TM) technology
- Smart self-check-in/checkout kiosks
Needless to say, it is now the norm to interact with multiple devices at any given time.
Furthermore, hotels are now in a position to collect and analyse insightful data, and to anticipate, manage and understand guest preferences, in order to enhance the guest experience. Data-driven insights will help to personalise the experience and guide service provision.
The second key driver lies in operational efficiency. Integrating smart technologies, from the simple occupancy detection systems to the more complex smart phones operating the lights and electricity within a room, keyless access and mobile check-in — these measures are proving to offer tangible benefits to the running costs of a hotel. We are moving towards the concept of a truly connected hotel, by leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) technology to ensure systems work together and communicate to deliver efficiencies in all areas. This extends from robot butlers delivering your room service to digital door signage functionality, to allow housekeeping staff to remotely see the rooms to be cleaned and devise an efficient workplan around that live data.
Yotel, Citizen M, Best Western and Wynn Resorts are just some of the names adopting and promoting these new technologies. Marriott International is often perceived to be leading the charge in this regard across its 30 brands in 126 countries, from integrating keyless access on a widespread basis, to continuing to work on its connectivity and adoption of smart technologies via its IoT Guestroom Lab within its Innovation Lab. An example of how it is implementing this technology in practical terms lies in the Aloft Hotel chain, which sits under the Marriott umbrella. Linesight was a part of the team that delivered its Dublin City branch last year, with some interesting and forward-thinking technologies delivered as part of the project:
- Mobile check-in
- Keyless access via an app
- Wireless printing facility in reception
- Large video walls to reception and bar area
- USB charging sockets
- Integrated international adaptors in guestrooms
- A fully-integrated VRF AC system, controlling the room temperature and power supply to the room
- An integrated door sensor for room access. Once the room is activated by the guest's smartphone, the power is automatically supplied to the guestroom and the VRF system comes online and goes offline automatically when the room is unoccupied for any length of time
- An automated minibar system - once an item is removed, if it is not returned within a certain time period (can be set by the operator), a charge will be applied to the room for that item
- 43” smart TVs in all bedrooms with a casting system for the whole hotel, to allow guests to watch content from their own devices
- A room service robot named ‘Lofty’ or ‘Botlr’. Once an order is made and placed, the robot travels to the lift, which it calls wirelessly on its way to the room. Once it arrives, the room phone will ring and inform the guest that the order has arrived
There are reasonably significant costs associated with upfront investment in these technologies and systems, including high-speed WiFi everywhere and boosters for the latest 5G mobile coverage, but the pace of demand for smart hotels and the latest technology is on the increase.
In summary, the hyperconnected guest, and their needs, evolving habits and expectations are driving the shift towards smart hotels. In their ‘home away from home’, they expect an integrated experience that aligns with the technology that they have become accustomed to in their day-to-day lives. Hotels should leverage the data that they can now readily collect to glean meaningful guest insights, and to anticipate and better manage guest preferences. Room presets based on loyalty scheme guest accounts can have the room set-up for guest preferences, including temperature, lighting and even minibar contents.
From an operational perspective, there are a multitude of benefits that arise from integrating smart technologies, from streamlining running costs and optimising operational efficiency, to reducing power consumption, and playing its part in making the hotel a more sustainable facility.