Arriving at a better guest experience with smart hotels

by Theodora (Theo) Lau, Founder, Unconventional Ventures and AT&T Business Influencer

This post was sponsored by AT&T Business, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent positions or strategies of AT&T Business.

Imagine getting off the plane after a long journey. As you approach the hotel, you receive a notification on your mobile phone that an upgraded room has been prepared for you. And as you walk into the hotel, you skip the check-in counter and head up directly to the designated guest room, using the digital key on the hotel mobile app. Inside, you find in-room voice control features that allow you to adjust the room temperature, control the drapes, lights, and television, along with an app through which you can order room service or chat with inhouse guest services.

These are just some of the features in a growing number of hotels that are leveraging technology to do more for their guests. As travelers slowly return, either for business or leisure, properties that can leverage state-of-the-art technology to deliver the best customer experience can stay ahead of the competition and secure the trust and loyalty of anxious guests.

Using robotics to improve efficiency and experience in hospitality

The use of service robots, for example, has been gaining momentum in recent years. Airports, shopping malls, convention centers, and hotels have deployed autonomous robots to disinfect the air and surfaces or vacuum the floor, keeping the properties clean, and giving health-conscious travelers a peace of mind. Delivery bots are another type of pandemic-era robots that have seen wider adoption worldwide. These robots are designed to fulfill specific tasks alongside their human counterparts, and have proven to be particularly effective in recent years where businesses are experiencing labor shortages, allowing staff to spend more face-to-face time with guests while the robots carry out the mundane tasks.

According to a recent member survey conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), 87 percent of survey respondents indicated that they are experiencing a staffing shortage, with 36 percent severely so. And the most critical staffing need? Housekeeping, with 42 percent ranking it as their biggest challenge. Robotics and other technologies are not only improving the guest experience, but are one of the strategies for managing employee shortages.

No wonder efficiency is often top of mind when it comes to deploying technology. Many of us are already familiar with self-service check-in kiosks at airports and contactless tableside ordering at restaurants. Now imagine being to request service items and meals and have them delivered anywhere on the hotel property — all done via the hotel app or by scanning a QR code: a fresh coconut juice by the pool, extra towels in the room, or a laptop charger in the lounge — on demand and contactless.

Another example is the use of facial recognition, which is becoming more prominent at airports for immigration and boarding. Elsewhere, biometric technology is also widely used for payments in support of mobile wallet and cashierless checkout experiences. Perhaps the days of leveraging similar technology to gain access to hotel guest rooms are not too far away.

Advanced technologies in hospitality to improve sustainability

For the environmentally conscious travelers, advanced technologies also bring added sustainability benefits. Guests can decline regular housekeeping or request services on an on-demand basis via the hotel app or in-room tablet, reducing waste and operating costs. Hotels can lower energy use with modern HVAC systems that enable heating and cooling by monitoring room occupancy and allowing guests to set room temperature schedules according to their preferences. Data on energy and water consumption can be recorded per each occupied guest room, enabling carbon footprint to be collected and analyzed. Much like how airlines offer their customers information on the carbon footprint of their air travel and provide them with means to offset them, hotels can also help their guests understand and reduce their environmental impact through partnership with external entities.

The benefits of a personalized guest experience

With the increase of digitally savvy customers who have become accustomed to an always-on lifestyle, having a personalized digital guest experience can be a great differentiator, facilitating a more seamless and pleasant journey, leading to increased customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, as well as repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. In a recent survey, 47 percent of business travelers have extended a business trip for leisure purposes in the past year, and 82 percent are interested in doing so in the future. With the adoption of a flexible ‘work-from-anywhere’ culture where business and leisure travel continue to blur, what can hotels do to cater to this new class of digital nomads? How can brands help extend the comfort and convenience of one’s home to a ‘home away from home’?

Work-from-anywhere – the world is your home

One of the most important things to road warriors is uninterrupted digital access that can enable them to connect to anywhere in the world instantly. From conducting video meetings to attending webinars, reliable high-speed internet is simply a tablestake.

To go one step further, smart hotels of the future will seek to cater to the best of both physical and digital worlds, while maximizing space for work, relaxation, and sleep, with amenities that blend work and leisure travel. Think Wi-Fi enabled outdoor terraces with a view, individual work spaces or private offices that can be reserved by the hour via the hotel mobile app, or co-working spaces equipped with tech support, ergonomic office furniture, and virtual-conference-ready backdrops. Could we also envision a future where hotels offer hybrid meeting capabilities as a service for connected travelers? And how about smart vending machines that can dispense rental power banks for the day as you take a break and go sightseeing?

In the work-anywhere and anytime future where flexibility is core to the new lifestyle, why stay in one location when we can explore different exotic destinations and work virtually at the same time? Some hotels already offer travelers the ability to book ride-share and order food and drinks, or provide day trip ideas and restaurant recommendations via their mobile apps. We can envision such virtual concierge services to become more immersive and interactive in the future. After a long workday, personalized in-room dining along with a virtual tour for a nearby local sightseeing spot might just be what we need to unwind.

In this modern era of hyper connectivity, the future of travel is smart, flexible, sustainable, and immersive. Do you have your bags packed and ready to go explore?

Learn more about AT&T Business solutions for Hospitality industry or reach out to your AT&T Business representative.