As travel resumes and business picks back up during COVID-19, hotel guests are becoming increasingly concerned with a hotel’s cleanliness — in a Fuel Travel poll, nearly 60% of respondents said they want to hear from hotels about what they're doing to protect guests.
With that being the case, smart hotels — that is, properties that utilize smart technology to maximize the customer experience — are becoming more and more important.
In this week’s edition of Good Works and Great Ideas, we discuss the emergence of smart hotels as a whole, and take a look at how properties can use technology as a selling point. Keep in mind that while much of the newest technological advancements being implemented are related to COVID-19, there are still tons of ways for hotels to take advantage of technology and stay ahead of the competition for years to come.
Discover 8 ways smart hotels can utilize state-of-the-art technology:
1. UVC light for disinfecting
Hospitals have been utilizing UVC light and virus-killing robots for disinfecting, and the Westin Houston Medical Center is the first hotel to follow suit. Some of these virus-killing robots have arms to increase their disinfecting capabilities – they can open drawers and doors and move objects around.
Healthe, an industry-leading lighting solution company, has developed devices that use far-UVC light, which scientists say is safe for humans. It uses a shorter wavelength than UV or UVC that can’t go through skin, but can still kill viruses and bacteria. This is the ideal way to disinfect crowded public spaces or clean areas while people are around.
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Fred Maxik, founder and CTO of Healthe, said in a USA Today article that far-UVC portals will "clean the pathogens off your clothing, off your skin, off any packaging you might carry with you as you walk into the space.”
This kind of technology could be used to sanitize packages and room keys before giving them to guests, and could even replace typical lights in public spaces for continuous sanitization in the area.
2. Voice control for in-room features
The Wynn Las Vegas has Amazon’s Alexa and Echo installed in its rooms. Guests can use voice commands to control things like the thermostat, drapes, television, and lights, and can ask questions about the weather or the news. This allows the guest to customize their stay while minimizing the number of things they need to touch inside their room.
MODA by Bittel is another device similar to Echo. Specifically designed for hotel guest rooms, it allows voice-control of the thermostat, lights, and drapes, and has a button to contact the front desk instead of calling.
3. Branded apps
Even before COVID-19, hotels had their own branded mobile apps to use for check-in, rewards, and room keys. Now is the perfect time to be putting those to use and upgrading their features, or establishing your own app if you don’t already have one. In addition to automating processes, the use of apps can also protect your guests and staff by reducing the need for face-to-face interactions.
For example, the Hilton Honors app allows guests to book Ubers, request food and drink or extra amenities, and can be used for mobile check-in and as a door key. Marriott Bonvoy is a similar app with similar features, and also offers things like city guides. The Hyatt Hotels app has a chat feature that allows users to connect with employees via Facebook Messenger or Twitter if they have any requests or concerns during their stay. Apps like these allow guests to bypass the front desk and head straight to their rooms, while having everything they need delivered right to their door.
4. Robotic butlers
Hotel robots are one of the first things that come to mind when people envision smart hotels. Aloft in Cupertino, California uses a robotic butler named “Botlr” to deliver things like extra towels or toothbrushes to guest rooms. Botlr can navigate hallways and elevators autonomously, which frees up staff for other tasks and so they can maintain distance from guests.
The Renaissance next to the Las Vegas Convention Center also uses these robot butlers, built by Savioke. The robots can do more than just deliver items to guest rooms. They can also report poor Wi-Fi zones to staff so it can be repaired, and they can alert housekeeping staff when there are empty food trays or trash in hallways and where they’re located.
Yotel properties in Singapore, Miami, and Boston use robots called YOSHI and YOLANDA. Because of the robots’ localization and mapping technology, they can move freely throughout the hotel, delivering amenities and room service to guests.
Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi have robots that perform a different kind of service to guests – mixing drinks. The robotic bartender, called “Tipsy,” will make your drink in around one minute and does a dance while doing so. Even though it’s intended as an entertainment attraction, using a robot to make drinks or food — especially during times of heightened health and safety concerns — can be an innovative solution for contactless F&B, and an added unique guest experience factor.
5. Digital concierges
Having a digital concierge is a good first step to reduce contact with guests, while still providing them with the assistance and answers they need. Chatbots and virtual robots can complete simple requests and provide basic information, freeing up your staff to execute on more complicated guest needs.
Go Moment’s smart concierge, Ivy, provides guests with personalized service and suggestions via texting. The Ranch at Laguna Beach, California, and Eagle Hospitality Trust use Ivy so staff can focus their attentions on other requests. Powered by AI, Ivy helps guests with housekeeping and food and beverage requests, and anything that would typically be handled by the front desk.
The Renaissance Midtown Hotel has an interactive digital concierge wall called the Discovery Portal. Holograms are projected on the floor, inviting guests to step up and choose what category they’re interested in, like dining or entertainment. Motion sensors allow the digital wall to be controlled with gestures, and guests can then receive curated tips on whatever itineraries they choose.
Playing up its location, the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas created a fun virtual concierge robot named Rose. Guests receive a card with Rose’s phone number on it and can text her for things they need during their stay – like late-night food deliveries or extra towels. Rose can also provide bar and restaurant recommendations inside the hotel.
6. Contactless payment methods
Contactless payments are expected to rise in 2020 because cash and debit cards carry germs. According to data from Paysafe, 55% of U.S. consumers are concerned about handling cash. And half of U.S. consumers said they used contactless payments at least four times in the past month, with nearly 70% agreeing these methods were more convenient than cash.
Mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Android Pay are other kinds of contactless payment methods gaining widespread use, where guests can pay by tapping their phones instead of their cards. In addition to reducing touchpoints when paying, contactless payment and access control technologies can also lower other instances where there's a need to touch high-touch surfaces – like elevator access, keyless room entry, and payment at the hotel restaurant or food kiosk.
7. Contact tracing and crowd control technology
As travel picks up again and in-person events resume, attendees and planners will likely favor hotels that have contact tracing and other technologies to cut down on virus transmission, which helps provide safe meetings and events for everyone involved.
Apple and Google have teamed up to roll out a “COVID-19 exposure notification system” for public health agency use. After the app is downloaded and enabled, the user will receive an alert if they are exposed to or come into contact with anyone who may have the virus. The catch is, that person also has to have the app downloaded and enabled on their phone. According to one model from the University of Oxford, 60% of the population would have to opt in for this method of digital contract tracing to be effective. This type of technology is still in its early stages, but it’s something to keep an eye on for possible future use.
Triax Technologies developed a device called Proximity Trace, which assists with contact tracing and social distancing. The sensor, worn on a belt, tracks movements and beeps if employees are standing too close to one another. If a worker becomes ill, the tracker can identify all of the people and equipment they came into contact with. While Triax makes technology used for construction, it’s easy to see how this kind of sensor can be put to use for crowd control and contact tracing in hotels or other locations where people gather, like cruise ships, restaurants, or stores.
Inpixon — a data intelligence company that has worked with cruise lines and hotels — uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular signals for contact tracing and crowd control. Nadir Ali, the company’s CEO, is aiming to use this for passenger monitoring on cruise ships. The technology would allow cruise operators to view a color-coded map based on crowd-density levels, and can help pinpoint who an infected person has come into contact with by looking at their unique, encrypted cellular code.
8. Temperature sensors
Public-health experts predict that temperature-scanning systems in places where people gather will become as commonplace as metal detectors or security pat-downs at airports. Upon reopening, the Wynn Las Vegas now has thermal cameras to screen every person entering the hotel. If anyone registers over 100 degrees, they are taken aside for another temperature test and are turned away if it is still too high.
Like with contact tracing, planners and attendees will likely feel safer staying at hotels that have this kind of technology to help reduce the chance of contracting the virus or coming into contact with someone who might have it.
Discover how smart hotels across the world are transforming the guest experience:
1. Marriott upgrades cleaning and mobile app technology
As Marriott reopens its hotels, it has added new technology and equipment to its cleaning routines. Its hotels are now equipped with electrostatic disinfectant sprayers — the same ones used to sanitize airplanes. The handheld machines spray high-grade disinfectant that sticks to surfaces to clean rooms and public spaces like the lobby and the gym. The hotel chain is also considering UV light for disinfecting room keys and shared employee items. In addition to this cleaning tech, Marriott is also encouraging the use of its app for check-in, room service, and other requests to reduce the need for face-to-face interaction.
2. Hotels use robots to accommodate quarantined guests
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced plans to use robots in hotels that are accommodating quarantined patients. One robot connects with guests and shares information with them, and another is a fully autonomous vacuum cleaner.
In Hong Kong, the L’hotel Island South has Genie, Gena, and Genius — robots that serve food and drinks to quarantined guests. The robots have compartments to store the food and beverage, and upon delivery, guests must enter their corresponding PIN to retrieve their order.
Use these examples of smart hotels to modify your offerings!
It's all about the customer experience and keeping guests safe, and there are tons of changes your property can make to achieve both simultaneously. Up next, check out our hotel SEO tips to boost your overall exposure.
Megan Boley is a published web writer and editor with a passion for crafting stories. She specializes in planning and creating content across all platforms for brands and organizations, with a focus on demand generation. In her free time, she's a voracious reader and a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu.