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18 & 19 SEPT 2019


Three Lessons We Have Learnt Through the Recent Evolution of Hotel Technology

Mention the word ‘technology’ and ‘millennials’ in the same sentence to a room full of hoteliers and designers and at least half the audience will shrink into their seats or roll their eyes. That’s probably because their memory will flashback to the year of 2015 when robot butlers, wireless key entry and virtual reality were all very much considered ‘the future elements’ of hotel design.

One reason for this could very well be where our industry takes inspiration from. In 2015, the high-end residential market was seeing huge gains in making the modern home more convenient for the end user. All of a sudden, everything – from lighting to room temperature, from curtains to door entry – was accessible through a remote click of a button on either a tablet or smart phone device. Unsurprisingly, hoteliers and designers wanted ‘in’ on the tech in order to keep their properties and projects relevant to the modern traveller (hesitantly known as the millennial). At this point I will wave a flag and admit that even hotel design journalists like myself were predicting that this tech would soon launch in a hotel near you. 

Another reason why tech predictions went too far too quickly was because of good old-fashioned competition between one brand and another. Leading the race at the time, but the first to fall if it was actually serious with its robot future proposal, was Starwood Hotels, which one year later merged with Marriot International. The hotel giant publicly announced that it would roll out Botlr in all Aloft hotels worldwide. The friendly robot, which would send up fresh towels, extra pillows and room service, launched in the hope to being everyone’s favourite Hotel bot. However, the reality was that consumers actually like and appreciate face-to-face communication after all - especially when something is wrong. 

Three years on, and while I am pleased to inform that we seem to have made some progress in this department, the industry’s once lack of consumer judgement certainly stands as a reminder that when designing a hotel, we must think about those actually checking in. As a result, technology has become much more streamlined and, through trial and error like any industry, we have learnt some important lessons.


Lesson one: Gimmicks are not always user friendly

Picture the scene, you’ve just got off a 12-hour flight. It’s 1am in the morning (local time) and you are checking in to your hotel room. Your watch, which you were told you can check in to your room with has run out of charge and there is no actual person around to help you.

Chances are that the items on the top of your priority list - once actually in the room - will include, a bed, blacked-out curtains, easily accessible charging points and a decent bathroom. Everything else at this point is a luxury. Controlling the light settings on a device that you will have to learn how to use is not fun when you are sleep deprived. Nor is having to explain to a robot that you would like to switch off the AC because, like every other guest in the hotel, you can’t figure it out. Introducing gimmicks may well be a good way to grab headlines and show a point-of-difference from other hotels in the area, but more often than not they will become a nuisance for most guests in the hotel – which is never good for re-bookings.


Lesson two: Less is more

A guestroom or suite in a hotel has limited space. Therefore, injecting a mass of tech in these areas of a hotel will make the rooms look and feel cluttered and far from relaxing. Hidden technology that is not forced onto the guests, however, is becoming much more popular within modern hotel design. Elsewhere, technology that evokes conversation and interaction – such as interactive work spaces – is now seen more and more in the public areas of the hotel, which works well to meet the demands of business travellers and keep guests within the building.


Lesson three: Improvements through technology; the future is bright

Just because technology predictions were lightyears ahead of reality in 2015, it does not mean that the industry cannot look to improve their guest experience through tech advancements. One area that has in the past been neglected in the guestrooms and suites when it comes to interior design is lighting. Recent hotel openings this year suggest that much more thought and consideration has gone into how the guestrooms and suites are lit in order to reflect a relaxed, comfortable and laid - back in-room experience.


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Image credits: Starwood Hotels & Resorts and The recently opened The Edinburgh Grand’s penthouse