Trying to work out how to control the heating or air conditioning in a new hotel room is one of the more frustrating aspects of travel. But imagine being able to control everything in your room from the temperature to the TV from an app on your mobile phone?
Long gone are the days when the only tech rooms were equipped with was a trouser press and an alarm clock. Now guests come to expect in-room tablets, bluetooth speakers and streamed entertainment as they check in.
In the last year, we've seen a rise in the popularity of voice-activated assistants such as Google Home and Amazon's Alexa in the home, so it comes as no surprise that smart rooms are cited to be the next boom in the hotel industry. While it's a high initial investment for hoteliers, the upside is that it aims to offer guests the ultimate in personalised service.
In December, Hilton Worldwide announced plans to rollout smart rooms in its Hilton-branded US properties in 2018. Hilton's Connected Rooms are the industry's first mobile-centric hotel rooms and will enable guests to control the room temperature, adjust the lighting and even close the curtains via the Hilton Honors app on their phone.
"The technology we put in hotel rooms has to be intuitive, simple and quick to pick up," says Joshua Sloser, Hilton's Senior Vice President of Digital Product. "Guests typically spend a limited time in their rooms and we want them to spend that time enjoying the experience instead of adapting to new technology."
Repeat guests will also be able to use the app to set their room preferences prior to arrival, including favourite entertainment, a preferred room temperature and a minibar stocked with their chosen tipples, taking customer personalisation to the max.
And Hilton are not the only brand to jump on the smart room bandwagon. Over at Marriott's Maryland HQ, a team has developed a voice-activated smart room in the company's Innovation Lab. Unlike Hilton, which has developed its own bespoke system, Marriott has been working with electrical installation giant, Legrand and Samsung to develop a fully connected and voice-activated smart room.
Voice activated assistants aim to offer guests the ultimate personalised experience. Photo: Alex Block, Unsplash
Like Hilton, a guest's room preferences will be linked with their loyalty accounts and can be saved for any of the Marriott brands. However, while the company will implement more technology into its rooms this year, guests will have to wait up to five years to enjoy fully connected smart rooms in Marriott properties.
Internet of Things
But there's also a potential additional benefit to the introduction of smart rooms in hotels. Accessibility. AccorHotels is using the Internet of Things (IoT), a network of devices which connect and exchange data, to create a highly personalised and fully accessible guest room for their hotels.
The French hotel company has developed a smart room to meet the needs of everyone, including guests with disabilities or reduced mobility. "Our goal is to inspire the hotel market by introducing a new approach to PRM rooms (persons with reduced mobility), which are often unoccupied, not very welcoming and stigmatising," says Damien Perrot, AccorHotels Senior Vice President of Design Solutions. "We have envisioned a room for everyone, with design and creativity adhering to PRM standards and practices to the point that they disappear to the benefit of emotional and sensory experiences."
Potential for smaller players
Although there's no launch date set, AccorHotels' smart rooms will include a Google Home voice assistant, a tablet which adjusts the lights and music, controls the TV, closes the curtains and even tilts the headboard. It will also be fitted with sleep aids like Dodow, a luminous metronome that promotes sleep, or Dreem, a headband with integrated brain energy sensors.
But big chains aside, can the smart room format work in smaller establishments like inns and B&Bs? “Absolutely,” says Jason Martin from The Buckle, a luxury B&B in Seaford on the Sussex coast. "We decided to include smart technology (a tablet, Alexa and Hue lighting) in all our rooms to offer something extra for our guests. When we opened in summer 2017, it was something that people hadn't experienced in a B&B before,” explains Martin. “It fits in with our luxury price point and adds real value to the facilities we're offering."
And that's the crux. Smart rooms will add value if it means a seamless experience for guests, and that's progress we can all get behind.
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- Hilton Worldwide announced plans in December to rollout smart rooms in its Hilton-branded US properties in 2018
- Marriott's Maryland HQ has developed a voice-activated smart room in the company's Innovation Lab
- AccorHotels is using the Internet of Things, a network of devices which connect and exchange data with each other, to create a highly personalised and fully accessible guest room for their hotels
- The smart room format isn't just for big players, it can also work in smaller establishments like inns and B&Bs