Published by: Hospitality Technology Magazine

By: Belinda O’Kelly

Technology has created an amazing age for hotel design, opening new pathways and expanding old ones to make the patron as comfortable and in control as possible.  Innovation has changed what a guest values in a hotel room, as well as what the owner needs to make their operation as efficient as possible.  Even now, the location of the coveted USB chargers will impact how a guest room is planned and used.  As we continue to look forward, there are even more exciting developments in technology that will allow us to further push the limits of the conventional hotel and create space for more creativity in hotel design.  These developments will impact how the guest will be able to fully utilize the space, while presenting opportunities for the operator to control the environment more completely and cost effectively.

They are watching you, they know where you are, and they might even know what you do next! 

Your room key identity may soon follow you around the entire hotel.  With technology available now, hotels are able to track the habits of guests and even anticipate their next move.  This allows hotels to better serve guests and create a more curated experience.  As we toured some of the new prototype reveals this year for leading brands, one trend that emerged was using RFID technology for guests to do more than go to the fitness center.  It will allow you to lock your laptop up in drawer in the lobby, access a bicycle, and let the hotel know where you are so that they can serve you a cocktail.  We are currently working on the renovation of a Sheraton Hotel and recently had the opportunity to visit a mock up in Times Square of the new Sheraton brand by Marriott since the acquisition of Starwood.  The new Sheraton showcased some of the features like the capability of using your room key to lock and unlock drawers in the business center, so you could leave your laptop and personal items while you take a break.  This is anticipated to be attractive to the millennial generation, who tend to take more advantage of common area amenities.  Many anticipate that the data gathered by this technology is the long-term value.  Hotels will be able to better track sales by location, demographic, and habits of individual guests.  Imagine if they knew you liked a fresh croissant at 7:45 in the morning and had one waiting?

As designers, this not only creates new challenges in designing “smart” furniture, but the larger impact is that we can start to spend more attention on the public areas of the hotel.  Then perhaps, the trend will lead to guestrooms getting a bit smaller and more efficient.

On Demand – Ultimate Food and Beverage Freedom!

With new point of sale technology, it is making it much easier to increase food and beverage sales throughout the hotel.  The tablet/cell-phone based point of sale software allows us to serve food and beverages well outside the context of the bar or restaurant.  Hotels can serve drinks and food to anywhere in the lobby, business center, lounges, pool or conference center.  This lets us as designers blow up the conventional bar and restaurant space and mix environments more freely around the hotel.  Recently, we renovated the Hilton Chicago Oak Brook Hills Resort and were able to open up the bar and restaurant completely and mix seating throughout the lobby.  The result is that the operational staff has tremendous flexibility in serving different size parties for different occasions.

Additionally, with new loss prevention technology, we can have 24-hour markets open for self-service items, including a full coffee bar, sundries, retail-like iPhone chargers, and snacks in the lobby, business center, meeting rooms, and pool.  This will greatly benefit select service and smaller hotel establishments that will be able to offer the guests on-demand services without needing to add more staff to operate it.

Robots…Really?  I’ll have the usual.

With innovation in the robotics industry, there are now operational cocktail-making robots that can make your drink to specification, exact specification.  So, if you like a very dirty martini shaken, not stirred, you will soon be able to use an app to share your specification directly with the bartender (or robot-tender) and the drink will be perfect, every time.  There have also been strides made in room-cleaning robots, and the idea of a personal “butler”.  Voice activated technology similar to Alexa may replace in-room phones and be capable of getting room service, connecting you to the front desk, or placing a call.

Why is my hotel room 60 degrees?  They know I like it to be 74 precisely.

Housekeeping is often reminded to turn down the thermostat to keep guestrooms cool, however think of the waste from 10 am (when housekeeping was in the room) until 11 pm when you may have checked in.  With the new smart thermostat systems, we can now set the temperature in the room at check in – or an hour before.  In European hotels, it is common for you to have your room key plugged into a wall slot to get the electricity to work, confirming that you are in the room and need the lights.  We are headed back in that direction, but we can use technology to make it feel a little more seamless.  The Westin Elements brand started talking about using smart thermostats in 2016 and is now implementing it into new construction units.  This type of implementation across a 240-room hotel has the potential for great operational cost savings.

All that said, as hotel design technology advances, new concerns and challenges emerge.  From a guest perspective, privacy is a growing distress.  The age of gathering and sharing data prompts security questions of what is being captured, where it is stored, how it is shared, and what is personal.  From the owner/operator perspective, they have to be mindful to keep personal attention in the foreground and use technology to support it.  With some of our luxury hotel brands, there is a concern that if the technological advancements are not integrated properly, they will detract from the experience instead of enhancing it.  There is a strong feeling that the best use of technology may be on the side of the staff operating the hotel.  Keep the guest-staff interactions on a more human level, but let the staff use these developments to enhance the overall guest experience.