BOTLR the robot butler courtesy of Aloft Hotels

The Latest Hotel Technology Trends

AI robots and mobile 360 VR tours of hotels may sound like science fiction hospitality, but the future is now.

BOTLR the robot butler courtesy of Aloft Hotels

As technology evolves, the world evolves with it. One area that has kept pace is hotels and the hospitality industry.

Take the history of hotel keys. First, they were actual mechanical keys, then they eventually became credit-card-like keys that needed to be swiped or inserted, and now they’re usually the same kind of credit card key just tapped on the door to unlock it. That is if the keys aren’t made out of your own facial recognition program or hooked up to your cell phone or fingerprint.

Hotels are continuing to research and try ways they can use technology to their guests’ advantage. Marriott, for example, has turned a 1980s Charlotte, North Carolina property into a beta innovation lab to test features that could work at other properties. Some items up for experimentation? Virtual fitness classes, booths in the lobby that measure moods, purified air systems in rooms and even lighting to ease jet lag.

Some of this technology is still in the beta phase, meaning it’s not technically in rooms yet, but it's a sign of what's to come.

"I think it important to stay current: As the guest becomes more familiar with these types of technology, they expect to use them everywhere," says Robert Warman, an instructor in ICE's Hospitality & Hotel Management program with 35 years in the industry. "Hotels must understand that alternatives should be available for guests who may not be technologically savvy and not totally take out human interaction. Hospitality is about making people feel well and that only happens when people interact."

Here are some of the most exciting technology advances rolling out at hotels around the world.

Mobile Everything

Back in the day, everyone used their room phones: for a concierge, for room service, to set a wakeup alarm or order a taxi (long before rideshare apps existed). Today the room phone has been reimagined in the form of the guest’s smartphone. Guests can use their mobile phones to check-in and check-out; unlock and lock their rooms order room service, a car, their cars from the valet and control the TV, sound, lights, even the blinds. Certain hotels, like Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton, even have apps that make it easy to request services like dry cleaning and laundry, a babysitter or more. Notifications (when allowed by the guest) are welcome for events, and maps of a property could be helpful for conferences and meetings. It’s also a no-brainer for loyalty programs.

Facial recognition check-in technology pilot at two Marriott International properties in China
Facial recognition check-in technology pilot at two Marriott International properties in China

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition software used to feel like something out of a Tom Cruise movie, but thanks to Apple’s Face ID feature, many don’t even think twice about it. Now it’s being rolled out as a feature for security for guests to unlock their rooms, authorize payments and check-in. Concierge services are using it to help identify guests as they ask for help. AliBaba’s FlyZoo Hotel has robots that will scan your face then send charges directly to your room bill instead of having you take out your wallet. Marriott began a pilot program for facial recognition check-in at Hangzhou Marriott Hotel Qianjiang and Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay last year with plans to expand the concept and increase efficiency at other properties. The uptake of these will be interesting, especially among guests concerned for their privacy.

Alternative Realities

Virtual reality, VR, and augmented reality, AR, are new kids on the block for hospitality. The difference between the two is that VR is a complete immersion in a new world while AR adds digital elements to a current live view of the world you’re in by using the camera on a smartphone. Hotels are using these technologies to showcase different amenities and the rooms on offer. VR hotel tours are becoming more common, with brands like Atlantis Dubai and Cape Dara in Pattaya, Thailand using the functionality in marketing materials. In addition to its robot butler, BOTLR, that transports items from the front desk to rooms, Aloft Hotels uses a 360° Virtual Tour to showcase the panoramic views at its Tucson, Arizona property. The Premier Inn in the UK provides AR on maps in its rooms, where guests can see info on local spots nearby. AR is also expected to be an option for gamification in hotel rooms in the future.

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