By David Chestler, EVP, Global Enterprise Sales & Business Development, SiteMinder
After a long flight, a weary traveller strolls off the plane. The beacon nearby detects him and signals he has arrived with his Uber waiting to take him to his hotel. His TripIt has his itinerary and details from multiple locations all sorted onto his device.
The Uber whisks him traffic-free using Waze into his hotel. He checks his assigned room number on his smartphone, goes to the elevator, opens the hotel’s mobile app, and orders a drink and a bite to eat.
Arriving on his floor, he opens the room door with his phone, he checks his emails on the television that has his favourite stations from home, his email open, and his Facebook status ready with the ability to check in and take a quick hotel selfie.
He then realises his shirt for tomorrow’s meeting tomorrow is creased, so sends for a robot butler to do a spot of ironing, before heading back downstairs to the co-working space in the lobby to work on some last minute meeting notes.
This isn’t the start of a futuristic sci-fi film.
These are all features that are starting to appear in forward-thinking hotels around the world.
So, with the pace of tech innovations constantly increasing, what can we expect from the hotels of the future?
The end of hotel check-in as we know it?
Let’s start at the beginning.
For as long as hotels have existed, the check-in desk has served as the face and the heart of an establishment. The front desk is the very definition of what hospitality is about.
It’s the first port of call for guests, and the font of all hotel-based knowledge. Even the rise of online bookings and smart-technology has had a relatively minimal impact on the trusty desk.
But all that is starting to change.
One of the early adopters has been Jannah Hotels and Resorts in Dubai. The five-star Middle-Eastern property aims to eliminate lobby queues by allowing customers to check in by simply pressing a few buttons on a tablet computer and providing them with a QR code, which links to a video that explains anything else the customer needs to know.
The service, which they call Karim, also performs other ‘check-in desk’ functions like wake-up calls or help with car hire purchases.
While some may still prefer the human touch, the success of self-service kiosks in supermarkets suggests convenience and speed may win out.
A further advantage of abandoning the desk would be to open up more space for other ventures, and areas for guests to collaborate, and find entertainment.
Hotels are more than just a place to sleep
Hoteliers may be inclined to use any newly opened up space left by their departed check-in desk to expand the bar or lounge areas. But what if the check-in desk is replaced by…more desks?
And as more people start to work remotely – both for themselves and for their employers – the demand for alternative, flexible working spaces has increased dramatically. Additionally, the line between hospitality and workspace has become blurred – as the surfeit of laptops in some cafes demonstrates.
The good news is that hotels are perfectly positioned to capitalise on these changes. With WiFi connections and bar and food service, many properties could offer rented desk space on an hourly, daily or weekly basis.
Depending on space this could be opened up to non-guests too, creating an extra revenue stream. Imagine the hotel being able to bring Airbnb clients to their doors for laundry cleaning services, use of the gym, or food and beverage outlets, and meeting spaces.
Closing the gap between hotels and hostels
And it’s not only in the field of employment where societal expectations are changing.
Increasingly travellers are becoming more specific in their demands. City Hub, a hospitality brand that launched in Amsterdam last year, is targeting the gap in the market between hotels and hostels.
City Hub maximises space by using pre-fab hubs that can be slotted into any position in their building, employing communal bathrooms, and only offering one size of room (for one or two people).
This gives them the scope for greater scalability and means they can offer privacy and low cost at the same time, hitting a gap in the market for money-conscious travellers who don’t like the communal aspect of hostels.
Individual rooms for individual guests
When we book holidays, we book a specific seat on a plane or train, a specific slot to do activities or a specific table at a restaurant. So why not a specific room in a hotel?
Well, according to Hotel Schani in Austria, there’s absolutely no reason at all.
When you book a room there, you can pick which floor you stay on, what size your room is, what you overlook and all sorts of other variables.
Post-booking you get a room number so you can skip the check-in desk and step into your assigned room using the hotel’s app.
It’s early days but the hotel seems to be on the way to achieving their aim of a more streamlined hotel experience for users, while enabling staff to create a more personalised experience for guests because they have less concierge duties, and more time to prepare for individual needs.
They hope this personalised experience will increase repeat bookings and business.
And what about the guest now being able to put on virtual reality (VR) glasses so they can choose the room or view and better manage the expectations. One example is using virtual reality to allow guests to see what $50 more per night might get them with an upgrade.
What else can we expect from hotel technology in the future?
Technology, and its use in the travel industry, is developing so rapidly that predictions can be a dangerous game. We can already see robot butlers, smart mirrors and mobile payments in action in various hotels around the world.
The IoT (Internet of Things) and the IoE (Internet of Everything) will enable more data-driven decisions and tools to support the experience of the connected traveller. Emerging technology like virtual reality, 3D printing and wearables could all be utilised in hotels.
Making delivery of food, products, services, and even seeing room or seating options, as we illustrated earlier, are all ways to make the guest and the operators better understand each other’s needs and meet those needs for the new user economy.
Perhaps in the next few years, we’ll be able to virtually bungee jump sitting on the bed while measuring how many calories we burned on our t-shirt before printing out a new pair of shoes to wander round the city.
Whatever happens, it’ll be exciting to be a part of it.