Hotels are using new technologies, especially smart phones, to make convenience and comfort more personalised and streamlined. They may also help them reduce costs and be more sustainable.
What is changing?
The hotel industry, along with other sectors, is adapting to new customers, new needs and new technologies. Gen Y, aged 18-34, is one of the prime drivers of some of the changes – with their love of technology, convenience and choice.
The smart phone is centre stage, providing the means to research, plan, book and pay for trips, especially last minute bookings or changes. But it does not stop there. The check-in is increasingly tech-enabled with kiosks to reduce queues, or text messages to send the key-card identifier and the option to go straight to the room: no queue, no fuss. Soon, seamless convenience will extend into the journey, so that if planes, and therefore arrival times, are delayed, the hotel will know in advance, automatically.
As traditional forms of room service disappear, so alternative options, e.g. for food, are emerging. Here too technology will enable convenience with interactive menus accessible from the room, so that tables and food can be ready and waiting – to eat in or grab and go. But convenience will not mean reduced quality or choice.
Instead of stacks of leaflets in rooms saying what is on or presenting services in the hotel, interactive displays, local apps and downloads, augmented reality information about trips, the area and places to go will be available from any number of access points around the hotel, so that guests can plan their visits quickly and easily. And take the necessary information with them.
Sleep is becoming a greater issue for health and wellbeing: hotels are recognising its potential for service differentiation. Hotel chains are offering a choice of bed firmness – and using easy to change mattress toppers and other technologies to achieve them, as well as choice of pillow type. Increasingly, those choices will be part of the customised experience, recorded and remembered for repeat visits – in the same or other hotels in the chain.
Some hotels are going further to help people relax and sleep well. TVs include sleep channels or offer relaxation recordings can be purchased; eye masks and ear plugs, thicker more light proof blinds and fewer light sources around the room from bedside radio clocks to standby lights; better temperature and noise control – from noisy neighbours and quiet reminders in corridors- in future noise control could extend to white noise options; relaxation experts to advise on relaxation or give treatments; food and drink offers designed to relax – some exclude the night time chocolate, because of the sugar.
Comfort may also include really feeling at home. Giving guests far greater control over décor and lighting, the ability to reconfigure space to suit work and leisure needs during the course of the stay – all will be possible. Picture displays could be selected from a digital library, including the option of home photos and family images.
Sustainability Eco-tourism is a market in its own right, but all hotels will need to be greener. Building design, services on offer when and how, energy and water use, lighting and controls will, as in any building, be critical factors. But so too will supply chains.
Individually packaged soaps and other extras in rooms including mini-bars, bedside radios/ clocks, room phones will be less and less common – helping to reduce energy use, but also cost and maintenance. And soon, the signs saying leave towels in the bath for washing will follow. All those big fluffy towels may disappear, and with them all the related laundry costs, to be replaced with full body driers – with choice of scents, or none.
Food waste is rising up catering’s sustainability agenda. The options to pre- select portion size or pre-order specific dishes are both emerging in an attempt to reduce food waste.
Giving bags emerged from a student competition. About 20% of items ‘forgotten’ in hotel rooms are left deliberately. Putting giving bags in the room would enable guests to leave unwanted items behind for re-ruse and recycling.
Hotels are facing ever more competition – not least from services like AirBnB and Roomshare, which provide low cost but personal experiences. They will need to leverage their expertise and use new technologies to best effect to differentiate themselves, and to personalise and streamline the customer experience before, during and beyond, so that comments and custom can be rewarded. One San Franciscan hotel is offering a free drink to people wearing Google glass in return for posting a picture of their stay online.
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