6 new tech wonders coming to hotels
11 FEBRUARY 2015 3:34 PM
Hoteliers are watching new technology and planning with laser-like interest and anticipation.
GLOBAL REPORT—There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the next generation-tech wonders that might someday be adopted at hotels.
Directional sound, Li-Fi, virtual reality, drones, the all-encompassing Internet of Things, and 3-D printing are six such innovations whose time within the hotel industry has nearly come, according to industry insiders such as Ian Millar, professor of information technology at the École Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland and Richard Lewis of Best Western Hotels GB.
These initiatives are exciting and revolutionary, Millar told HNN, but some come with concerns.
1. Directional sound
In a new technology that Millar said floored him when he first saw it demonstrated, speakers can direct sound straight to the listener, but not to those nearby. For example, three people on the same sofa could listen to different tracks and not hear the others’ musical choices.
“It has huge implications in terms of customization and personalization,” Millar said. “Hotel restaurants could have such a system over each table or gyms over every treadmill. With the rise of the social lobby, it will be an attractive technology to some chains.”
Millar’s concern: What implications will this have on hotels’ music- licensing fees?
2. Virtual reality
Virtual reality headsets and other technology will be further embraced, Millar said.
“Google Glass was a legal minefield from Day One as it can film everything for free, but I’ve seen examples of other products such as Oculus Rift, and the technology is here to stay if only for hotels to be able to give virtual reality tours of their properties,” Millar said.
Despite being in an abbey built in 1145, the Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine also is making use of Google Glass.
“Google Glass still works, and for the needs we have, it is very good. As an example, our hotel is very much a museum, so if a guest wearing them focuses on a particular painting, their headsets will provide details on it,” said Andres Araya, GM of the independent hotel in Span. He added that the £10,000 ($15,225) he spent on the technology also required him to keep them despite Google Glass’ recent hiccup.
Millar’s concern: “A lot will depend on how significantly this technology is embraced in the gaming sphere. If it is, then expect it everywhere.”
Drone technology is now not new, but the next-generation version will be able to shoot video in 4K resolution, or Hollywood mega-movie quality, according to Millar. It could easily be integrated into virtual reality tech.
“Drones will be used for video and fixed photos, and the marketing implications are huge, although their use in urban hotels will be more limited by law. Some restaurants already are using them to deliver food, and what will stop a hotel using them to, say, deliver a toothbrush to a guestroom?” Millar said.
Araya is excited about drones. His property recently acquired its first drone.
“I am quoting to buy one. Our property also has a church with a huge tower on which storks nest, which guests mention all the time. So, what a wonderful way of allowing everyone to see what is going on in the nest,” Araya said.
“We’re allowing guests to experience a 12th century abbey with 21st century technology,” Araya added.
Millar’s concern: “There always will be safety problems with drones. They probably would be able to pick out the shape of humans via some form of recognition or infrared technology,” Millar said.
“But one drone recently flew into the White House garden, and another one crossed a French submarine base, so governments will further react to this technology for sure,” he added.
4. The Internet of Things
“Anything that has an electronic circuit will be connected: TVs, Wi-Fi, heating, lighting, doors, garage doors, fridges—everything, all sending and receiving data,” Millar said.
That hotels could be extremely intelligent is of interest to those hoteliers who want to improve guests’ experiences, but this is the area of new tech that comes with the largest problems.
Millar’s concern: “Authorities have caught the first hacker doing a (denial-of-service) attack (that renders machines or network inoperable) through a fridge,” Millar said.
“There are huge security considerations. Hotels could benefit immensely, but there will have to be a huge investment in encryption,” Millar said.
“One of the major hotel chains will be hacked. It will happen, and shares will plummet. Potential profits are huge, but so are the risks,” Millar added.
5. 3-D Printing
According to Millar, good 3-D printers are now selling for between $400 and $500, and while the tech had teething problems, hoteliers will start soon to 3-D print certain items.
“One guy in Holland is printing 3-D food, so how will that play out in the hotel space?” Millar said.
“Hotel engineering requirements would be a sensible starting point for hotels, or things that simply cannot be replicated, very bespoke items,” he said.
Millar’s concern: Some items such as the toothbrush mentioned above might take too long to print that guests should not expect wonders from this technology, at least in the short term.
Owners attending the members’ conference for Best Western Hotels GB, the United Kingdom arm of Best Western International, were most excited about 3-D printing, according to CEO Richard Lewis, who spoke with HNN.
“I do not think it will be used for things such as toothbrushes as the technology is currently too slow. Who would wait 30 minutes, an hour for such a thing? But certainly for older things, perhaps to replace a broken, unique handle on a door. If you can design it, you can print it,” Lewis said.
Technology exciting Lewis includes Li-Fi, an as-yet-unlaunched alternative to Wi-Fi.
“It has some important upsides. It’s potentially 100 times faster than Wi-Fi, and it is potentially more secure, as light cannot go through walls. Information, though, could be transmitted through what I believe are the 3 billion LED light bulbs in existence, which would be cheaper than building expensive transmitters,” Lewis added.
Lewis’ concern: One pitfall of Li-Fi is that at the moment it requires a static light source to transmit to a static receiver.
Carl Weldon, CEO of HOSPA, the association for hospitality finance, revenue and information technology professionals, named other tech initiatives that could come to hotels:
- the contextualized environment, where, for example, a hotel can be booked via a car’s GPS system and that allows a car key to also become a hotel key;
- what is termed the extreme environment, where every flat surface is a screen. (For example, guests at reception will look at the desk’s surface and chose rooms and services directly from it after seeing images of what is provided);
- technology that connects mobile apps with hotel signage or to fast-food providers; and
- “wi-tricity” charging facilities, where a phone can be charged by just laying it down on a surface. Weldon said his technology today is slightly slower, but it requires no leads and in two to three years will be faster and the norm.