Guests checking into the Shangri La hotel in Singapore, might be surprised to open their door to accept a room service delivery and not see a person. Instead, guests will be facing a robot ‘wearing’ a painted tuxedo who will happily hand over meals, spare towels, or whatever else you require.
Jeno and Jena can deliver items to guests within 15 minutes and can carry weights of up to 4.5kg. They’re not the fastest robots in the world: they travel at a maximum speed of 2.5mph to avoid bumping into hotel guests and are equipped with sensors which helps them navigate corridors. Want to know if something’s on its way? You’ll get a phone call from the robot when it’s close by. They can even use elevators to get things delivered to your door as fast as possible.
So, if robots are already here, then what’s next?
Flat-screen TVs and WiFi are unremarkable in hotel rooms, although they used to signify a seriously hi-tech offering. That said, when Virgin Hotels launched their first property in Chicago in 2015, they were among the first to offer fast, unlimited WiFi for free. This means you can relax after a busy day of meetings safe in the knowledge that your Netflix won’t cut out during your downtime, a key concern for all business travelers.
Hotels making the most of tech aren’t doing it just for customer brownie-points. They’re also doing it to improve their own efficiency too. A smart hotel room can collect a lot of data about your stay which can help a hotel to improve their space. For example, crunching data can help to work out how long it took you to find the lights. If it took you too long, then a designer may consider replacing or improving the lighting signposting.
The point of using tech in hotels is to deliver customer-friendly solutions to common problems. At the recent Independent Hotel Show, there was a talk about the hotel room of the future. They questioned whether the guest of tomorrow will really want lots of technology.
After all, most guests go to a hotel simply to sleep, and the number of hotels that prioritise a “tech-free footprints” is rising. There are a growing number of resorts that encourage guests to hand in phones and laptops when they check in in order to truly relax. This suggests that the future of hotel rooms might be solely focused around sleep, and how to encourage sleep, rather than technological distractions.
Simon Botto is CEO of DayBreakHotels. He thinks that “the time and financial pressures that come with work, family, and a busy social life mean hotel stays need to be time and cost effective for guests”. Short-term booking platforms (like DayBreakHotels) which allow people to use hotel facilities and rooms for just a few hours during the day will bloom, as people can experience hotel luxury at a fraction of the cost and without the hassle of an entire night away. Services like this will also help hotels thrive, as booking out rooms during the day will keep hotels full and busy at times when they're usually quiet.
He adds that short-term booking platforms will means guests will also have more autonomy over their stay, picking and choosing which element of the hotel experience they wish to make the most of and curating their experience. “Do they want a room, to use the spa, or simply to dine in the restaurant? This kind of flexibility in terms of how hotel rooms and services are booked and enjoyed is the future, and will allow the hotel industry to compete with the flexibility and increasing popularity of vacation rentals.”
Tony Carty from luxury travel provider, Destination 2, thinks that as technology evolves hotels will become hypr-personalised and hyper-connected. “You could well take your 'home settings' with you on holiday with the help of 'Internet of Things' technology or even have a wander around your host city through a gesture-controlled interactive wall. They're not common at the moment, but give it a few years and I do believe these kinds of luxuries will be commonplace in hotels all over the world.
“As technologies become more accessible, I think the hotel industry is going to use them to provide better amenities for their guests. From providing additional comforts for guests, to enhancing their stay through visuals - it's all going to contribute to a more pleasant consumer experience.”
Julie Grieve, CEO & founder of Criton, the UK’s first intuitive app builder for the hospitality sector agrees that technology will play a huge part when it comes to the future hotel room. “It is important to look at how guests can engage with the hotel and all its functions using technology to personalise their stay. A guest will be able to bypass a check-in queue and go directly to their hotel room using the hotels branded app. Their app knows they want the air-con at 20 degrees and has set it 15 minutes before they arrive.
“They have also pre-ordered, via their app, their favourite brand of wine and some snacks so they can relax before dinner. This is the sort of technology in which hotel chains are investing hundreds of millions of pounds. According to American Express, 83 per cent of millennials would let travel brands track their digital patterns if this would provide them with a more personalised experience.”
It’s difficult to predict just how the hotel room of the future will look, because there’s a good chance that it’ll be different depending on what tribe you belong to. For business travellers, a room dominated by hi-tech items (integrated printers, high-speed broadband, and simple ways to book cars and services) will dominate. For families, entertainment is key, which means simple ways to keep everyone in your room entertained. For everyone else, we just want a good night’s stay and anything that’ll mean we spend less time fiddling with the lights, and more time seeing sights.
What are some of the world’s most hi-tech hotels?
Sometimes you just want to check into a hotel to...check out? Hotel Zetter in San Francisco lives up to its hi-tech hype (and location in one of the world’s biggest tech-obsessed cities) with rooms crammed with gadgetry. The lobby has VR headsets which let guests explore nearby Washington State National Park from the comfort of the hotel.
Eccleston Square Hotel is frequently described as London’s most hi-tech offering. For visitors keen to escape the polluted air, guests can enjoy their own speciality filtered air pumped into their rooms. Beds cost upwards of £12,000 and are special ‘massage beds’, while the concierge services are all controlled by a bedside iPad. The bathroom mirrors are SmartGlass, with flatscreen TVs embedded into them, while the bathrooms are sumptuously heated through the marble flooring with underfloor heating. You can even choose to watch a 3D movie – glasses are onhand to watch anything you fancy on the 3D Neoplasma Panasonic TVs. And, best of all perhaps for regular hotel visitors, all the regular boring things - lights, curtains, air temperature - are controlled by simple touch sensors.
CityHub Amsterdam isn’t your everyday youth hostel, and it’s not your everyday pod hotel either. Yes, there are 50 pods, but each has a double bed, mood lighting controlled by an app, audio streaming (again, controlled via phone) WiFi, and electronic wristbands that can unlock your very own pod.
And let’s not leave Virgin Hotels off the list. A customised app in their Chicago hotel allows Virgin hotel customers to use “Lucy”, a virtual assistant, to control every aspect of their stay, from air con to concierge services, but the hotel offers more than technological innovations, they also work hard to create a unique sense of community at their hotels and through the recently relaunched The Know programme, they offer a personalised stay for every guest.