By A. Patrick Imbardelli
Beyond the Thermostat – How Smart Rooms can Transform Hotel Brands
Smart rooms can provide efficiencies in terms of less wasted water or electricity. They can also reduce the need for staff members to perform tasks that can be moved to automated “smart” systems. The cost savings are great for the bottom line, but there’s a bigger benefit at work. When smart rooms and automation are implemented properly they can help a hotel’s brand in unexpected ways.
Marriot launched an IoT Guestroom Lab in 2017, which is designed to explore ways the hotel can improve guest comfort and personalization at its brands. It’s also meant to find waste reduction and reduce the number of times staff members need to perform manual functions. The tech inside the lab’s rooms allows guests to use virtual assistants to set alarms, ask for housekeeping, and even set preferred temperatures for the shower.
Smart Room Functions and Operator Scale
Implementing smart room functions appeal to hoteliers because of consumer demand, and also because they’re easily integrated into both new builds and retrofits. Smart rooms’ controls help to reduce waste and improve operations, and now they’re moving beyond the thermostat. This is driven by the pace of technological change that directly impacts every industry. Years ago people inserted key cards into their doors and that was the extent of the consumer-facing “tech” experience when visiting a hotel. Now visitors can do multiple functions with their phone, from check in and concierge requests to phone functioning as the room key. Hotel rooms are being filled with smart appliances, guests can adjust their lighting dynamically, and some hoteliers are even providing robot mixologists to create the preferred cocktails for guests. Many of these functions are managed through an integrated remote and/or the guest’s smartphone app. The app is the future of the smart room because it’s the gateway for the guest to stream their personal content to the in-room TV, order drinks at the pool, dim the lights, and even order a massage.
The current iteration of smart rooms are about more than efficiency, but also providing a tailored experiences for the guests and improving security. Some brands are featuring different types of glass that are either automatically adjusted for heating or cooling efficiency or manipulated by the guest. These include thermochromic glasses that change based on temperature or privacy glass that can go from opaque to transparent in an instant. The color and tinting of the glass might be recommended based on where the traveler is coming from, so the lighting is presented in a way to best help them reset their circadian rhythms and prevent jet lag.
Tech Systems and Expectations
Smart rooms are now playing a part the broader changing of customer’s expectations due to mobile and other tech. The guest’s expectations are shifting due to the proliferation of smart rooms and they’re helping brands to manage their operations in a much more uniformed way. Allowing guests to manage their smart room also provides them with a sense of control over their stay. For example many Millennial guests are very concerned about sustainability efforts, and appreciate being able to actively manage their waste and usage through smart room tech. They can manage housekeeping visits or use a thermostat-connected app to only run the heath or AC based on the guest’s schedule.
With Marriott and its thirty-plus brands, they can now manage these brands more efficiently because they use the same loyalty program and back-end technologies. These brands are eager to spread mobile-based smart room platforms across all of their properties because it provides them with unparalleled depths of data. And the big brands can more easily integrate acquisitions into their processes and smart room platforms because of the uniformity of the platform and its scalability. Consider the merger of Delta and Continental that came together and enabled the combined company to reach a massive scale, including how it uses tech, how it moves customers around the country, and many other considerations.
With smart room tech and analytics, the hotel brands can make personalized recommendations from because they have access to such a wealth of data. The companies can better anticipate demand both in terms of aggregate guests and the demands of the particular guest. All of this tech does come with infrastructure costs, which makes it more appealing to companies that are in 100 countries and operate thousands of properties across the globe. And the smart room customization simply makes more sense when the scope of the brand is immense, as it can be updated via software to include new languages, new features, and other elements that help it meet the needs of new hotel locations.
Technology within the hotel industry used to be a focus on distribution, finance, booking engines, and other back-end processes to help hotels do things better. But now technology such as smart rooms are integral to the hotel experience. And this tech has allowed big multi-brand companies such as Marriott, Hilton, IHG and Accor to use tech to tailor and customize the guest experience for each of their brands.
And these companies leverage this benefit while also enjoying the efficiency of a single streamlined platform. It’s counter-intuitive at first glance, as massive corporate size is often tied to homogeneous experiences. However, within the hotel industry it’s the tech that enables different experiences and brands that suit the needs of different types of guests.