Tech trends in hotel public spaces
10 FEBRUARY 2016 7:52 AM
Technology in public spaces focuses largely on integrating guests’ personal devices to improve their experience.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Much of the thought and discussion about technological innovations in hotels revolves around in-room experiences, but public spaces, from lobbies to restaurants and meeting spaces, are also continually adapting to new technology.
Sources say that much of public space innovation revolves around how guests use their own devices, and also how technology can be used to enhance the guest experience in these common areas.
Here are some of their top trends in public space technology:
Bring your own device
One of the biggest trends for public spaces, and hotels in general, is finding ways to incorporate guests’ own devices, particularly smartphones and tablets, into the in-house technology.
Jonathan Wilson, VP of product innovation and brand services for Hilton Worldwide Holdings, said that is a necessity because of how people live their lives and interact with technology.
“Now guests are bringing their lives with them,” he said referring to smartphones. “Your social media is in tow. Your family and friends are in tow.”
Page Petry, SVP & chief information technology officer for the Americas for Marriott International, said one of the top priorities for a hotelier should be figuring out how to integrate that technology.
“Quite frankly, (guests) want to move,” she said. “They might be on a laptop and need to come down to the lobby for a quick meeting or to meet with friends.”
Neil Schubert, VP of IT strategy for Marriott International, agreed with that approach.
“One of the guiding principles is the focus on enabling technology,” Schubert said. “Customers are carrying their own (devices). Our approach is to focus on what do we need to improve the customer's experience with their own technologies.’”
Petry said that integration can turn into things like wayfinding in large convention spaces, where guests use beacon technology, their devices and combined interactive screens to figure out where they are and how to get to where they need to be.
Allowing guests to connect to the hotel’s services through their own devices allows for a more streamlined experience and lends itself to more activity in public spaces.
Ron Swidler, principal with The Gettys Group, said beacon technology also has the potential to grow to allow hotels to offer more unique loyalty bonuses. He used the example of a diamond-level Hilton Honors member sitting down at a hotel restaurant and immediately being offered a free bottle of wine after being identified using beacon technology.
“These opportunities and the way they present themselves with loyalty programs can evolve into more unique offerings for guests,” he said.
One of the biggest issues that arises while focusing on guests’ own technology is creating the infrastructure to power that technology, particularly in public spaces that might not typically have accessible outlets.
While Petry said it’s a priority to address that through design when renovating older properties, she said, Marriott Hotels are also offering “power cube” wireless charging stations that can create social charging hubs at guests’ demand.
Swidler said he sees wireless charging solutions becoming more of a priority and more integrated into hotel spaces. He said similar efforts are already being made in retail spaces, particularly Starbucks, which has started using wireless charging tables.
Interactivity in meeting planning and signage
Petry said technology allows hotel employees to interact with meeting planners in new ways. For Marriott in particular, there is a meeting services app with a chat function that allows planners to request what they need on a 24-7 basis.
She said even the technology for signage has improved for meetings. She said more complicated digital screens have been replaced by cheaper, interactive tablets that she described as “a lower investment and a better display.”
Wilson said Hilton is putting focus on adding interactive signage into lobbies. Their signs can do numerous things, but the company largely uses them now to showcase their sustainability efforts.
Wilson said his company is experimenting with the implementation of robots in hotels, saying they have applications greeting guests and acting as virtual stand-ins at business events or even weddings.
“They can engage with guests in a way as a lobby ambassador,” he said. “Or they can move through social spaces so an individual outside the hotel can use it to participate in events. Say if you have a cocktail reception in the bar, and someone otherwise can’t join, then they can join through the interactive robot.”
He said that technology will allow the person to control the robot’s movements and show the user’s face on a screen.
“Guests can use it to teleconference in to a meeting then be part of an activity in a social space after,” he said.
While Wilson said this particular technology hasn’t seen widespread adoption yet, it has tested well in the company’s test space.
“We didn’t anticipate how much a robot moving around a lobby could teach us about how guests move in space or about great or bad spots for Wi-Fi,” he said.
Wilson also said technology allows hotels to make their food and beverage offerings more adaptable to guests’ needs. He said creating opportunities to order through smartphone apps can help hotels track guests’ food preferences, allowing hotels to offer meals how they want them and even in lobby spaces.
“The trend is for (F&B) to be more accessible and social,” he said. “If you don’t want to have a three-course meal in the dining room, you can stay in the lobby space and engage in all the difference pieces of technology while still enjoying the F&B component.”
Schubert said Marriott puts a considerable amount of effort into tracking consumer technology trends and researching what’s in the pipeline for major technology companies.* He said developing relationships with those companies is important for keeping up with guests’ needs.
“We try to keep an open dialogue so we aren’t surprised,” he said. “They have fairly long roadmaps for delivery of those next great things, and we do look at (the annual Consumer Electronics Show) for the launch of that next great thing they’re positioning. We’re rarely surprised at events like CES.”
Swidler said improving technology will allow for new ways to gather data. He said technology, including on-property cameras, can be used to gauge where consumers spend their time and for how long. He said his company did a similar project for a large theme park.
“That kind of information tracking is going to evolve quickly,” he said.
But while technology offers hoteliers new opportunities, he said hotel companies should be careful how they manage the handoff between technological and in-person interactions.
He said Apple stores represent a good equivalent in the retail space on how to handle that correctly. Those stores have people to greet customers, but then allow them to choose exactly how much human interaction they want to meet their individual needs.
“That’s a magnificent model for the hospitality industry to look at for how to take care of different guest needs depending on someone’s comfort with technology and their needs at the time.”
Editor’s note, 11 February 2016: The story has been amended to remove the mention of vendors.