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Reinventing the hotel vending machine

Reappearing in both luxury and tech-driven hotels, contemporary vending machines can help to grow brand profiles, increase sustainability, delight guests and boost revenue

Vending machines, traditionally, seem the antithesis of personalised hospitality. More commonly sighted in gyms or office blocks, they stand for no-frills functionality rather than any sense of special luxury.

Yet London’s luxurious new, 161-room Bankside Hotel has such a digital vending machine – selling items such as beer and slippers – on each of its four guest floors in lieu of minibars.

The property’s General Manager, Douglas McHugh, says sustainability was an initial motivator for investing in the technology. “Lately, I’ve seen the use of minibars declining,” he outlines, “which creates an awful lot of wastage”. That can still occur with vending machines, of course, but by opting for four machines (plus complimentary water and snacks) instead of 161 minibars, the hotel significantly cuts down on perishable items.

Has it been a challenge to align typically-utilitarian technology with an upscale property? “The thinking is to still provide product of superior quality – such as half bottles of champagne and spirits including Patron tequila – but in an entertaining way. “Our tailored digital machines sell both liquor and other accessories such as tights, CBD drops and sparkly pants. This ensures they fit into the overall Bankside offering by representing fun and a point of interest.”

Brand enforcement and revenue growth

Novelty and brand enforcement are also messages stressed by Finnish studio Made By Choice, whose new turn-key concept for hospitality brands, The Nordic Happiness Hotel, includes a luxury digital vending facility – the Nordic Happiness Machine – which stocks curated items.

“We believe authentic connections are today’s luxury currency,” says Made By Choice’s Founding Partner, Niclas Ahlström. “[Along with more prosaic items], our Nordic Happiness Machine enables hotels to hand-pick offerings which resonate with their own philosophy and provide another platform to engage with guests.” Properties might, he suggests, consider stocking artisan goods – such as jewellery or confectionery – anchoring to the local area.  

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Bankside Hotel vending machine
Photo: credit to Bankside Hotel

 

There are also other, more straightforward benefits. Such vending machines, says Ahlström, can “offer an additional revenue stream with minimal overheads – as guests simply pay by card or mobile”.

More perks are outlined by VendEase, a specialist hotel vending operator which stocks chains such as Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza. Its machines will “keep guests’ money in the hotel and reduce pressure on front-desk staff”, pledges Dave Berman, the firm’s Sales Director. Ultimately, he says, it’s like having a 24/7 shop at a fraction of the cost.

While some VendEase clients are budget chains, increasing interest from higher-end hotels has resulted in a newly-launched, more contemporary touch screen kiosk called SlimLine. That is similar to the models at Bankside, and to vending machines at pod-based Amsterdam hotel CityHub. Guests operate these – along with a self-service bar – by scanning their provided wristbands. “Clever technology isn’t our main goal,” clarifies Communications Manager, Flavia Larocca, “but simply tools that give travellers the best possible experience. Self-service lets guests feel more at home”. There are also business gains: “Having a self-service bar, check-in and vending machines frees up staff from a lot of tasks, allowing them to better connect with guests and dispense local tips,” she outlines.

The mono model

Elsewhere, single-concept vending machines are appearing in unlikely locations. Once it opens in July, the new hotel at British vineyard Denbies will boast wine dispensers. Amid New Orleans’ Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, the Art-o-Mat is a repurposed vintage cigarette machine dispensing small, original artworks. New Orleans has also witnessed Moët & Chandon champagne vending machines decorate the lobby of its Ritz-Carlton hotel since last April; ditto at the same brand’s outpost in Naples, Florida.

“We wanted something unexpected, but still in keeping with our main offerings,” reveals Jaime Moench, Market Director of Sales and Marketing for the Ritz-Carlton, Naples. “These machines, which are definitely each property’s most popular photo opportunity right now, readily compliment the extensive champagne product already in place at both resorts.”

This is the recurring message amid the reinvention of vending machines, then: their ability to reinforce brand messages. Combine this with increased sustainability, the enhancing of staff performance and revenue growth, and it’s easy to see why the machines are making a comeback.

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Hero image: credit to Fabrizio Chiagano, Unsplash

Takeaway
  • Replacing mini-bars, vending machines can cut down on perishable items and help reduce wastage
  • The products available in carefully-curated vending machines can emphasise overall brand messaging, such as art themes or links to the local area
  • Slick design, touchscreens and the means for a seamless card or phone payment means vending machines can work in various hotels
  • Other benefits include freeing up staff and allowing guests a sense of freedom
  • Mono-product models, such as champagne vending machines, can serve to further champion a hotel’s existing product and assist in ancillary sales

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