The connected hotel

​In a world where consumers expect the latest customized technology, the hotel industry is harnessing smart applications to improve the customer experience and boost business

First published on January 27, 2017

​It used to be that a hotel stay meant a polite chat with a receptionist while checking in, phoning for room service that took so long it was barely warm on arrival, key cards that rarely worked, and filling your case with as many toiletries as you could get your hands on.

But in an industry where hotels are facing increased competition – not just from each other but also from online homestay applications such as Airbnb – harnessing technology to provide customers with convenience and an ability to enhance their stay can ensure hotels remain competitive and drive repeat custom.

Indeed, with tech-savvy, mobile-first millennials expected to represent half of all travellers by 2025, it's never been more important for the hospitality industry to upgrade their tech.

Here are just some of the ways that the hotel industry is using the IoT to ensure that every customer stay is a memorable one…

Before you arrive

Virtual reality (VR) is often touted as the next big thing and the hotel industry hasn't been slow in adopting it to help engage potential customers. VR offers hotels the chance to give customers an immersive flavor of what they can expect from the hotel well before they arrive by providing a guided tour of rooms, grounds and facilities.

Marriot hotels has been using VR for a number of years – its Teleporter program was set up to take potential guests to all corners of the globe through a fully-immersive, 4D sensory experience. They even created a "virtual honeymoon". Marriot then followed this up by launching its VRoom Service – allowing guests to order a Samsung Gear VR headset brought up to their room for 24 hours. The devices come pre-loaded with "VR Postcards" which recount stories from travelers.

Digital front desk

The concept of a digital front desk has been around for some time with hotels like Citizen M and Yotel offering the chance to self check in and out. Yotel New York's YOBOT robot concierge​ and Aloft Cupertino's Botlr robotic butler have arguably become a gimmick of the technologically advanced hotel, but at the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel, which opened in spring 2016, the digital front desk has been taken one step further. A digital, "living" wall greets guests and provides an interactive "virtual concierge" via the hotel's Discovery Portal – a digital alcove with hologram projections on the floor and a screen on the wall. Standing on the holograms activates content that helps guests explore the local area. Guests need only raise an arm and press the wall for more information.

In the palm of your hand

The names might be different – keyless entry, digital key, mobile entry – but the idea is essentially the same: using a smartphone to unlock a hotel door.

Hotel chains such as Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood have been experimenting with smartphones as room keys by offering guests the ability to check in and unlock their doors through mobile apps using Bluetooth wireless communication.

Expanded smartphone applications include 'hyper-personalization' features such as choosing your favored room and even (using applications such as Google's NEST technology) adjusting the room's temperature or light settings before you arrive.

Flick of the wrist

Tour operator TUI Group has been harnessing wearable technology and trialing it at its flagship resorts in Turkey. TUI Smartbands​ not only replace the need for a room key, but allow guests to control the air conditioning and lighting in their room – something TUI says encourages sustainable tourism by better managing energy and resources – and make contactless payments for services such as drinks or entertainment. Via connection to the TUI My Holiday app, hotel guests are also able to get real-time information on their spending habits and better control their holiday spending.

Smart carpets

Stickers embedded with RFID sensors are being used in Aloft hotels in the USA and hidden under carpets near the bed. Triggered by movement and weight, they will sense when a guest wakes up in the middle of the night and put the bathroom light on. These same stickers can also be attached to room service trolleys and, when left outside a room, a sensor hidden near the door will alert housekeeping to come and clear it away.

TAGGED IN iot; internet of things; virtual reality; wearables; sensors