The Fu­ture Is Now

From ro­bots to talk­ing rooms, ho­tel tech is trend­ing world­wide

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENT - By Cle­ment Huang

It wasn’t so long ago that ho­tel guests mar­veled at be­ing able to use pocket-sized plas­tic cards to ac­cess their rooms. To­day, such tech­nol­ogy is so com­mon­place, it’s more likely to raise eye­brows when one is handed a“nov­elty”nor­mal key. Driven for­ward by the ad­vent of Mil­len­nial trav­el­ers and the con­tin­ual bat­tle to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion, ho­tels are rapidly adopt­ing in­no­va­tive new tech­nolo­gies that help im­prove the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, from ex­pe­dit­ing the check-in process to adding char­ac­ter to an oth­er­wise cookie-cut­ter ex­pe­ri­ence.

Smart Com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Mod­ern trav­el­ers live in a fast-paced world with a need to have ev­ery­thing at their fin­ger­tips. Ho­tels have re­sponded to this, lit­er­ally, with the grow­ing pres­ence of in-room tablets. Th­ese one-stop com­mand cen­ters al­low guests to per­form a range of func­tions, from or­der­ing in-room din­ing to sched­ul­ing a pick-up or hav­ing their suit pressed – all at the touch of a but­ton.

Not only does this ap­peal to Mil­len­ni­als’tech-savvy pref­er­ences, a stream­lined or­der­ing sys­tem can help trav­el­ers stay or­ga­nized, elim­i­nate lan­guage bar­ri­ers and re­duce mis­takes. Such tech­nol­ogy has al­ready been adopted by ma­jor chains such as Hy­att Ho­tels and even smaller in­de­pen­dent ho­tels like the White Swan Ho­tel in Guangzhou.

Ar­guably one of the big­gest game chang­ers in the in­dus­try is the smart­phone. And one unique ap­proach to this tech­nol­ogy that’s rapidly be­ing adopted through­out Asia and Europe is the Handy smart­phone. Launched in Hong Kong, the nifty ser­vice pro­vides for­eign trav­el­ers with a ready-to-use mo­bile phone dur­ing their visit at no ex­tra cost.

Handy of­fers ho­tel guests un­lim­ited lo­cal calls, com­pli­men­tary roam­ing ser­vice to a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional coun­tries (in­clud­ing the US, UK and China) and full 3G/4G data con­nec­tiv­ity through­out their stay. The de­vice is also loaded with valu­able city guides – great for those new to a city – plus in­ter­ac­tive apps such as Press Reader that de­liv­ers ac­cess to over 2,000 news­pa­pers and magazines. Handy ex­pects to have 18.1 mil­lion users in Sin­ga­pore and Hong Kong alone by the end of this year.

Green Growth

Grow­ing aware­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues has seen a num­ber of ho­tels switch their at­ten­tion to green prac­tices. In Hong Kong, where pol­lu­tion is a no­to­ri­ous is­sue, it came as a breath of fresh air when Is­land Shangri-La, Hong Kong be­came Asia’s first ho­tel to in­tro­duce elec­tric cars back in 2011 for a green shut­tle ser­vice.

Grand Hy­att Hong Kong and Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong fol­lowed suit in 2012 and 2014 re­spec­tively, us­ing their grow­ing fleet of Nis­san- and Mercedes-branded elec­tric cars to of­fer guests com­pli­men­tary air­port trans­fer ser­vices, and Ho­tel Icon made its full fleet elec­tric ear­lier this year, in­clud­ing Hong Kong’s first elec­tric shut­tle bus.

The prac­tice of in­stalling elec­tric car charg­ing points in park­ing lots has also be­come in­creas­ingly com­mon­place; Mar­riott has listed 238 elec­tric charg­ing sta­tions across its prop­er­ties so far.

Many ho­tels are also mov­ing to­ward pa­per­less sys­tems in a bid to be­come more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly and more ef­fi­cient. Pa­per­less check-in has been a com­mon ben­e­fit touted at high-end prop­er­ties for years, with self­ser­vice kiosks, tablets and now mo­bile check-in sys­tems re­plac­ing tra­di­tional forms and re­ceipts. The trend is par­tic­u­larly preva­lent at Mil­len­nial-tar­geted brands such as Aloft, Moxy and Ci­ti­zenM ho­tels, where guests can skip the front desk, pick up their key and sweep up to their room – no queues, no fuss.

Hu­manoid ma­chines serv­ing you break­fast might sound like some­thing out of a Steven Spiel­berg sci-fi flick, but an­droid helpers are cross­ing over into real life at a hand­ful of fu­tur­is­tic ho­tels. At Aloft in Cu­per­tino, CA, charm­ing bow tie-clad ro­bots roam the halls de­liv­er­ing ameni­ties to guests. Need an ex­tra towel? Just call for your me­chan­i­cal but­ler and it will whiz its way to you in un­der three min­utes.

The Henn-na Ho­tel in Na­gasaki, Ja­pan takes ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to the next level, from fe­male au­toma­ton re­cep­tion­ists to mul­ti­lin­gual porter ro­bots that help carry lug­gage to your room. Th­ese cy­ber as­so­ci­ates not only add a quirky level of ex­cite­ment but are able to make guests’stays even more ef­fi­cient.

The quest to de­liver more per­son­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ences to guests has seen ho­tels in­vest in en­ter­tain­ment tech­nol­ogy. Some­thing that has be­come a reg­u­lar fea­ture in gue­strooms is the iPod dock­ing sta­tion. Al­low­ing guests to sync and play their own en­ter­tain­ment con­tent dur­ing their stay helps ho­tels to cre­ate a“home-away-from-home” ex­pe­ri­ence. Then there’s the emerg­ing trend of in-built TVs in bath­room mir­rors – avail­able in newer prop­er­ties like the Lang­ham Place Fifth Av­enue. Th­ese hid­den en­ter­tain­ment units en­able guests to en­joy long, lazy baths while watch­ing their fa­vorite films and pro­grams, then dis­ap­pear like magic when the mir­ror func­tion is needed again. Other in­no­va­tions in­clude the use of am­bi­ent light­ing to help cre­ate dif­fer­ent mood en­vi­ron­ments. The W Sin­ga­pore Sen­tosa Cove, for ex­am­ple, of­fers four dif­fer­ent mood light­ing con­fig­u­ra­tions in gue­strooms – Hello, Run­away, Es­cape and Flirt – so guests have more con­trol over cre­at­ing a har­mo­nious en­vi­ron­ment. The ho­tel’s use of sen­sory stim­uli ex­tends to its WET out­door swim­ming pool, which fea­tures un­der­wa­ter speak­ers that em­anate a sooth­ing series of sonic waves as guests do their laps. Adding a retro touch, the aptly named Ar­cade Ho­tel in Am­s­ter­dam has fit­ted each of its gue­strooms with con­soles and old-school video games. The ho­tel also has hand-held con­soles avail­able in the lobby bar for mul­ti­player gam­ing. En­ter­tain­ment tech­nol­ogy is not lim­ited to a ho­tel’s premises; The Penin­sula Ho­tel in Tokyo for ex­am­ple al­lows guests to bor­row iPods that come pre-loaded with dig­i­tal au­dio-guided tours of the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood.

Se­cu­rity Is Key

Star­wood was the pi­o­neer of key­less tech­nol­ogy, which has since been picked up by the likes of Mar­riott and Hil­ton. The idea is to trans­form guests’smart­phones into their ho­tel room keys us­ing Blue­tooth tech­nol­ogy, en­abling guests to skip check-in queues and en­hance over­all se­cu­rity. By stor­ing a“dig­i­tal key”within smart­phones, guests are no longer re­quired to carry phys­i­cal key cards.

Mov­ing for­ward, Star­wood has al­ready started tak­ing things to the next level by un­veil­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of its SPG Key­less ser­vice, which en­ables mul­ti­ple guests shar­ing a room to use the same dig­i­tal key as well as ac­cess the tech­nol­ogy even while off­line.

An in­no­va­tion that some may think smacks of“Big Brother”is the use of fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy. The 1,200-room Hil­ton Amer­i­cas-Hous­ton ho­tel in­stalled a dig­i­tal video sys­tem back in 2014 that uti­lized the tech­nol­ogy to help em­ploy­ees rec­og­nize VIP guests and lo­cate miss­ing suit­cases.

Mean­while, at Ho­tel 1000, Seat­tle, tech­nol­ogy is used to main­tain the per­sonal pri­vacy of guests. All gue­strooms are equipped with in­frared de­tec­tors to alert house­keep­ing staff of oc­cu­pancy, thus help­ing to avoid em­bar­rass­ing post-shower en­coun­ters.

Added Com­fort

One of the key parts of a guest’s stay is over­all com­fort and re­lax­ation, so nat­u­rally, ho­tels are us­ing tech­nol­ogy to of­fer the best pos­si­ble ex­pe­ri­ence, from smart toi­lets to un­der-floor heat­ing. At the Im­pe­rial Ho­tel Tokyo a smart bath­tub fills it­self up with hot wa­ter in min­utes – no need to fid­dle with tem­per­a­ture or watch the wa­ter lev­els rise.

An­other de­vel­op­ing trend is the pres­ence of mas­sage chairs, avail­able at the Dorsett Mongkok in Hong Kong, Le Meri­dien Dubai Ho­tel & Con­fer­ence Cen­tre and the Wanda Reign brand, to name a few. Guests ar­riv­ing from a lengthy flight will no doubt ap­pre­ci­ate the chance to sink into lux­u­ri­ous leather and have their mus­cle aches soothed away.

Vir­tual Re­al­ity

The last two years has seen an ex­plo­sion in vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) tech­nol­ogy, with prod­ucts such as Google Glass and Plays­ta­tion VR en­thralling au­di­ences around the world. The feel­ing of“be­ing there” is some­thing that many ho­tels are also ex­per­i­ment­ing with.

Shangri-La Ho­tels and Re­sorts, for ex­am­ple, of­fers im­mer­sive 360-de­gree videos on its web­site, where vis­i­tors can take vir­tual tours of the des­ti­na­tions and ho­tels, all from the com­fort of their own home.

Adapt­ing this tech­nol­ogy, the newly opened St Regis Kuala Lumpur in­tro­duced an LED video wall pro­jec­tion sys­tem in its grand ball­room. The pro­jec­tor de­liv­ers a vir­tual re­al­ity panoramic sim­u­la­tion, sup­ported by a su­perla­tive light and sound in­stal­la­tion, to cre­ate im­mer­sive events and pre­sen­ta­tions for guests.

Food Tech

Tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion also ex­tends to the ho­tel kitchen, where chefs are us­ing mod­ern tech­niques to cre­ate dishes with a twist.

For ex­am­ple, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin at the Siam Kempin­ski Ho­tel Bangkok uses liq­uid ni­tro­gen to cre­ate its sig­na­ture Maine lob­ster salad with frozen red curry, while the highly tech­ni­cal sous vide method – in which food is sealed in air­tight bags be­fore be­ing placed in wa­ter baths – is used at the Din­ner by He­ston Blu­men­thal in Man­darin Ori­en­tal Hyde Park, Lon­don to cre­ate the quirky“meat fruit”ap­pe­tizer.

It’s not just through their dishes that chefs are us­ing tech­nol­ogy to el­e­vate the din­ing en­vi­ron­ment; Raf­fles Hainan hosted a Din­ner in the Sky event ear­lier this year, which saw din­ers hoisted 165 feet into the air by a crane for a height­ened ex­pe­ri­ence. BT

Left and be­low: A ro­bot concierge at Henn-na Ho­tel in Ja­pan; and a smart­phone room key

From left: Handy smart­phone at Mira ho­tel, W Sin­ga­pore WET by night, and Botlr, the ro­bot that de­liv­ers snacks and other items to your room

From left: Lang­ham Place New York’s bath­room mir­ror TV screen, ho­tel but­ler room ser­vice de­liv­ery, Siam Kempin­ski Ho­tel Bangkok’s Maine lob­ster salad with frozen red curry

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