From virtual to augmented reality, chatbots to robots, there’s a seemingly unending supply of cool tech advances being used to take the hotel guest experience to the next level. Some of the bells and whistles are impressive, while others may make you wonder why there’s an app for that.
In any case, it’s important to remember that no traveler wants to check into or stay the night in a scientist’s laboratory. The goal shouldn’t be to replace the human touch; rather, technology should exist to enhance the travel experience.
With that in mind, here are a dozen examples of newfangled wizardry elevating the travel experience in exciting new ways — while making hotel stays undeniably more cool.
Guests at the Westin Buffalo who call the front desk for extra towels or toiletries may have them delivered to their rooms by R2-D2. Okay, not the actual Star Wars droid, but a silver robot on wheels who looks awfully similar.
The Relay robot is loaded with your requested items by a human; then it rolls into the elevator and right up to your hotel room door, where it calls you on the phone. Open the door, and unload the robot’s storage compartment. Best of all: no awkward moment when you don’t have tip money handy.
The California boutique hotel Aloft Cupertino also has a robot butler, named Botlr, who delivers items like toothbrushes, chargers and snacks to guests. The property is located near — where else? — Apple headquarters.
Amazon’s Alexa and Echo, and Google Home, are home-based examples of chatbots that employ artificial intelligence (AI) to receive and respond to questions with audible, human-like capabilities.
Aloft Hotels recently launched ChatBotlr, a text-enabled chatbot that allows guests to make service requests on their phones, anytime from anywhere. Like all AI, the digital butler uses machine learning to get smarter the more it interacts with guests.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel, meanwhile, puts a decidedly Vegas spin on the tech, offering a text-based chatbot concierge named Rose that’s programmed with a little…attitude. At check-in, guests receive a card alerting guests to the service that says, “I am the answer to the question you never asked; know my secrets. Text me.”
What happens in Vegas, stays with…Rose?
Virtual Reality, which allows a user to experience an artificially re-created world, is perhaps the coolest tech on this list. And it’s being used to appropriately awesome effect by Marriott.
Recently, the hotel chain — in conjunction with Samsung Electronics America — introduced VRoom Service. The amenity allows guests to request a Samsung Gear VR headset that’s delivered to their room. The device comes pre-loaded with videos called VR postcards, which can be used to go on a series of virtual mini-vacations around the world.
With Vroom Service, you can make a trip to Peoria feel like a getaway to the beach.
Augmented Reality is often mentioned in the same breath as Virtual Reality, but differs in that it doesn’t recreate real-world scenarios, but allows you to add virtual components to real-life environments. Think Pokémon GO.
At London’s Hub Hotel by Premier Inn, you can open the camera on your smartphone and point it at a city map on the wall inside a guest room. The Explore app on your phone then shows pop-up bubbles that contain details about local bars, restaurants and attractions. Then, of course, you can leave the room and go interact with real people at these places.
Also in London, the Holiday Inn Kensington Forum launched an AR service last year that enabled guests to see virtual BMX, windsurfing, table-tennis and long-jump athletes from both the Olympics and Paralympics in action...right in their guest room.
Both Hilton and Marriott are experimenting with in-room technology that caters to an individual guest’s needs.
In a Hilton “Connected Room,” guests can have their preferences — selected via mobile app — accounted for during their stay. “If you like your room cold and to have ESPN on the TV, the room can start cooling once you check in,” said Joshua Sloser, senior vice president of digital for Hilton, when the tech was launched. “And when you use the phone or room remote to turn on the TV, your favorite ESPN and other channels would be on the screen by default.”
The nifty service will be scaled rapidly at Hilton hotels throughout 2018.
Marriott is similarly testing rooms that allow guests to control their experience via voice control or app. Imagine, for instance, using a virtual assistant to play a yoga video on your full-length mirror, or to request additional housekeeping services. These smart rooms can also play your favorite song, set the temperature to your preference and even draw a bath. (Alas, for now, bathers will still have to supply their own rubber duckies.)
Waiting in a long line to check in at the front desk is a drag — and so yesterday. At properties around the world, technology that allows you to skip lines has ramped up.
At the new Park MGM (formerly the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino) in Las Vegas, you can now do self check-in right there in the lobby. The process allows you to go online to find out if your room is ready. If it is, you can check yourself in at a kiosk that then generates your room key. And yes, there are hotel employees standing by to assist.
Other hotels employing this tech include the Inn at St. Botolph in Boston, which offers a twist: Once you book your stay, you’re sent key codes in a confirmation email. When you arrive, simply tap one code into a keypad at the front door and another for your room, and voila, you’re in.
Apple’s snazzy new iPhone X famously includes a feature to verify a person’s ID using a digital image or video frame. But did you know this technology is also being used to check guests in to their hotels and guest rooms?
More than being cool, this advancement is practical; U.S. hotel experts opine that facial recognition could go a long way toward shoring up safety and possibly preventing situations like the horrific 2017 Las Vegas shooting.
The advancement hasn’t become big around the world (yet), but it is being swiftly adopted by hotels in China, where the fear of Big Brother watching you is already omnipresent. Late last year, the Singapore Tourism Board also launched a mobile app that uses fingerprint and facial recognition tech to help guests check in. And Roomatik, which supplies check-in kiosks to hotels around the world, is testing facial ID tech that it expects to offer as a service starting in summer 2018.
Infrared scanners are being used to minimize disruptions by housekeeping (“Come back in an hour, please!”). Instead of hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doors or being awakened by cleaning staff with knocks and phone calls, these savvy scanners can detect body heat within a room.
Seattle’s Hotel 1000 calls this feature a “silent electronic doorbell.” Housekeeping pushes a button at your door, which sets off the room’s scanner. If it detects any movement, an electronic “do not disturb” sign appears and the housekeeper knows to come back later.
Ray Bradbury’s prescient short story “The Veldt” called this one: gesture-controlled, interactive walls.
The Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel allows guests who enter the property from several entrances to experience a "living" wall showcasing local artists and neighborhoods. Displays are projected along a block-long corridor and respond to human motion. One alcove acts as a virtual concierge, letting guests explore local points of interests with the point of a finger or a tap of the foot.
Sofitel Paris Baltimore Tour Eiffel also welcomes guests with a futuristic digital wall, which can be used to search restaurants and shops and check real-time data on the stock market, exchange rates and headlines. The wall also transforms into an interactive canvas that can be used to draw, color and take selfies.
(Not to spoil “The Veldt” if you want to catch up on a sci-fi classic, but just steer away from living-wall lions.)
Next-Gen Entertainment Systems
These days, most people are addicted to their streaming services, making access to platforms like Netflix and Hulu crucial while on the road. Enter modern entertainment systems that can sync a room’s TV with a guest’s devices, allowing you to watch your favorite programs from right where you last paused them. These synced TVs remember your connections throughout your stay, and delete all info upon check-out.
Marriott and Hyatt are two big brands rolling out in-room streaming across their properties. Book these hotels, and you'll never miss an episode of “Westworld” while traveling again.
Room key technology is also evolving to digital — allowing guests or hotel staff to open a door via an app, from any location. The service can be used to welcome in other guests, room service or deliveries without having to leave the couch or bed.
Marriott, Hilton and Wyndham are deploying keyless tech chainwide. A perk for the over-pampered? Yes, at first glance. But there are other uses as well, including for those who are injured or disabled.
This isn’t exactly high tech, but the motion-sensor footlights on beds in newer rooms in the Hyatt chain are certainly pragmatic tech.
Say you’re staying at the recently renovated Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa in California. Nature calls in the middle of the night. It’s pitch dark and you’re disoriented. Not to worry: Swing your feet off the bed and onto the ground to illuminate floor-level lights that aid your navigation to the bathroom. Take care of business, and the lights will then be a beacon back to your pillow.
Other hotels offering this service include Grand Hyatt Denver, Hyatt Regency Dallas and Hyatt Regency Greenville in South Carolina.