To con­nect or not to con­nect

Jamaica Gleaner - - HOSPITALITY JAMAICA - David Jes­sop Con­trib­u­tor

HAV­ING SPENT a sig­nif­i­cant part of my work­ing life stay­ing in ho­tels in the Caribbean, North and South Amer­ica and in Europe, I have be­come ac­cus­tomed to the vary­ing, some­times sur­pris­ing fa­cil­i­ties and styles one finds in ho­tel rooms.

For ex­am­ple, I have been given a ho­tel room in Switzer­land that promised ‘colour ther­apy’, al­low­ing me to change the light­ing in a way that it claimed would en­able me to ad­just my mood – it failed; a ho­tel room in Brussels in which there was a bean bag and water bowl for my non-ex­is­tent dog; and an­other, many years ago be­fore tourism took off in a small, then for­got­ten Caribbean is­land, where the whole room was painted black, which my

JES­SOP

bill on check-out de­scribed ap­pro­pri­ately as the sui­cide room.

I note that, hav­ing spent the last week trav­el­ling in Europe, dur­ing the course of which I stayed in two ho­tels that could not have been more dif­fer­ent. The first in a smart pro­vin­cial Dutch town was sim­ple, al­most aus­tere and calm. There was Wi-Fi, a high-def­i­ni­tion tele­vi­sion and a mod­ern cof­fee ma­chine, but lit­tle more in the room other than one might more gen­er­ally ex­pect from any good ho­tel.

In con­trast, I went on to stay in Brussels in what was the high­est tech, most mod­ern ho­tel room I have ever been in, with a level of con­nec­tiv­ity that took me to the edge of my com­fort zone. The of­fer was straight­for­ward; by down­load­ing a ho­tel app I could wire­lessly link all my mo­bile de­vices from lap­top to mo­bile phone and iPod to their net­work so as to watch my movies, favourite clips and see my pho­tographs on their tele­vi­sion screen.

The ex­pe­ri­ence made me aware of the ex­tra­or­di­nary growth now tak­ing place in ho­tels across the world in guest-fac­ing tech­nol­ogy.

APP SER­VICES

What emerges from a lit­tle re­search is that it is be­com­ing more com­mon for guests in some of the world’s lead­ing ho­tel chains to be of­fered, be­fore ar­rival, the op­por­tu­nity to down­load an app on to their smart­phones that will en­able them to per­form a wide range of func­tions when they ar­rive. Th­ese in­clude check-in and check-out, ac­cess­ing their room floor and their room, con­trol­ling in-room fa­cil­i­ties, for ex­am­ple, by pre-set­ting and ad­just­ing room tem­per­a­ture, light­ing and mu­sic be­fore ar­rival, and even pre­s­e­lect­ing their choice of favourite bev­er­age for their mini bar. The same app, on some prop­er­ties, is also used for or­der­ing from room ser­vice, mak­ing book­ings at ho­tel restau­rants and more.

Be­yond this, a num­ber of Star­wood prop­er­ties are now equipped with bea­cons that can com­mu­ni­cate with guest­down­loaded apps so that, for ex­am­ple, front-of-house staff are able to greet guests by name or can in­form house­keep­ing staff when guests are not in their rooms.

Much less at­trac­tively per­haps, other ho­tel chains are us­ing bea­cons to send mar­ket­ing mes­sages to guests while on a prop­erty, for ex­am­ple, about spe­cial dis­counts at a spa dur­ing quiet times, or to en­cour­age them to use other fa­cil­i­ties like casi­nos or restau­rants. Some chains are also us­ing up­loaded in­for­ma­tion by guests to per­son­alise sub­se­quent mar­ket­ing mes­sages, and, in some cases, in­tend sell­ing this on to mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies, a de­vel­op­ment that po­ten­tially raises is­sues of per­sonal pri­vacy.

More ex­traor­di­nar­ily, one ho­tel chain is even mak­ing a virtue out of of­fer­ing guests the op­por­tu­nity to not have to interact with a hu­man be­ing un­less needed, and the chance to self-store their lug­gage us­ing a gi­ant ro­botic arm.

Ac­cord­ing to those de­vel­op­ing high-tech ap­pli­ca­tions for ho­tels, such fa­cil­i­ties are likely to be­come par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant as the baby­boomer gen­er­a­tion fades and mil­len­ni­als be­come the next high­spend­ing, well-trav­elled gen­er­a­tion, car­ry­ing ever more ad­vanced smart­phones.

How much of this tech­nol­ogy will ap­pear in Caribbean prop­er­ties or will come to be ex­pected by those vis­it­ing the re­gion re­mains to be seen; but for my money, a Caribbean va­ca­tion and a ho­tel are lo­ca­tions in which to re­lax, of­fer­ing one of the few chances to es­cape from the me­nace of to­tal 24-hour con­nec­tiv­ity.

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