Monday, October 22, 2012

When will technology really disrupt the hotel business?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about hotels of the future, which expressed essentially thoughts about comfort. Another aspect of the evolution of hotels is connected to technology and how it has become key to brand strategy differentiation. Technology
is a catalyst for increased building efficiency and it is becoming a key element of disruptive market strategies by hotel owners,operators and the designers that support their vision.

The recession limited the comprehensive modernization of hotel systems, but it also coincided with an incredible growth in interactive technology, and particularly its ability to impact the guest experience.

As renovation budgets become more robust and new construction accelerates, we’ll increasingly see the deployment of integrated systems that improve hotel performance and also enhance the guest experience. A few successful examples of hotel concepts that are already pushing the envelope are YOTEL and CITIZEN M.

Yotel in New York is the most recent outpost of the brand:

Yotel New York - Entrance 

Yotel New York - Lobby

Yotel New York - Typical Guestroom

And Citizen M opened the first of three London hotels in July 2012:

Citizen M (website)
Citizen M London - Typical Guestroom

Citizen M London - Guestroom Control tablet

The focus of end-user technology varies across market segments:

  • Upper-upscale and luxury hotels have had a greater ability to add high-end technology to enhance the entire experience from concierge services to entertainment.
  • The upscale segment, and in particular business oriented hotels, have deployed technology to improve check-in, to achieve some customization of guest relationship, to offer advanced meeting space functionality and to provide some in-room amenities.
  • The economy to mid-scale segments have focused more on the implementation of building management systems looking at cost control and operational sustainability, with a more incremental use of technology in public spaces and in-room technology.

We are starting to see state-of-the-art technology in all hotels, from tablets to 3D TV, from digital art to smart keys. But when will we begin to see a truly integrated approach to technology deployment?

The reality is that the conventional operation model has not changed much, and the use of technology in hotels is essentially a layer applied on top of the traditional services, and issues affecting equipment reliability and inter-operability have discouraged owners and guests alike about the validity of turning technology as ubiquitous in hotels as it is in homes and offices.

I believe that this will only come through a re-concepting that merges the hotel operation, the asset management and the guest experience through solutions that address simultaneously service, comfort, entertainment and amenities.
A more seamless hotel experience is one that will bring together the human, physical, personal needs of the guest and the capabilities permitted by technological innovations.
I am sure that behind retina-scan access doors at the HQ of large hotel companies there are very smart people wielding state-of-the-art tablets and thinking about what the hotel of the future will be.

I wonder if these are the questions they are trying to answer:

  • Can a hotel become an intuitive experience that anticipates the guest’s needs within a very efficient operation?
  • Can we make a hotel react to the guest?
  • Can a hotel ever become an extension of the guest’s own personal environment?
Right now, there is an opportunity for hotel owners, operators and designers to re-think radically the role of technology and how it can catalyze a deeper integration of interactive capabilities in the hotel physical space.

Who will take us on this journey first?