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Imagining the Hotel of the Future

by Terence Ronson, March 22, 2010

When we talk about the Hotel of the Future, I cannot help but find myself reflecting back to those biblical times when it all started, and the perennially repeated phrase “there was no more room at the Inn”. How happy and disappointed that Innkeeper must have been. Happy because he had a full house, but disappointed because he missed out on that paparazzi opportunity of accommodating what was to become one of the most famous individuals of all time. 

An Inn from those yesteryears has now transformed itself into a Hotel of the Modern era, but still essentially serving up the same basic set menu of services: a place to rest, a place to clean up and a place to take some refreshment. Of course, in today’s fast paced and very demanding society an Inn or Hotel has so much more to offer, and this is where we need to seek answers in how will those services and facilities change as we glance into the future.

Back to the future

What we know today, is that the most highly sought after amenity beyond nice bathroom cosmetics, a great bed and a fluffy bathrobe – is fast, reliable and appropriately priced Internet access. And its by no means surprising that when the occupants of the ISS (International Space Station) were recently hooked-up to the Internet and the WWW, one of the first things they did was to Tweet away. 

Did you know that the ISS is the most expensive Hotel (a.k.a. object) ever constructed and that the ESA (European Space Agency) estimates the cost at €100 billion over 30 years. It’s no wonder that this has become the sought after playground of the super rich and famous - reachable by a limited few. Dennis Tito a California-based multi-millionaire became the first ever space tourist when he paid US$20m (a long staying guest rate) when he stayed 7 nights aboard the ISS back in 2001. I just wonder what upgrade premium he would have been prepared to pay if his room type was in the newly furbished Tranquility suite of the ISS and now boasts a 31-inch window, dubbed the Cupola, that provides stunning views of space and the Earth never before seen from inside the station. 

Movies have created many great and voyeuristic examples of futuristic living. Perhaps you saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie "Total Recall", where space tourism was a central theme. The “Fifth Element” starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich filled the silver screen with examples of living and commuting amidst floating cities, and the recently launched TV series – Caprica, has us moving in and out of Second-Life type existences using life-like avatars and virtual reality.

Back to basics

As I said earlier, when we try to imagine the Hotel of the Future, we really need to go back to basics in order to understand what was, and still remains today, the basic premise for creating a Hotel (apart from profit).

Inns (a.k.a. Hotels) were originally conceived as temporary resting places for travelers far away from home, and somewhere to freshen up and partake of a meal while on a long journey.  These remain and I think no matter how creative and innovative one can be, will continue as the foundations of the hotel business long into the future.

Since we have the basics established, we can now layer on top various facilities and amenities the guest may require. This could include somewhere to meet friends, associates and family. Here we could use the F&B facilities and they will morph themselves depending on the needs and profile of the customer.

Technical services such as the TV and Telephone were added as conveniences for the traveler, allowing them to stay in touch while on the road. These are often made obsolete by the guest’s own Smartphone and/or laptop computer. It’s also very probable that over a short period of time they will converge into one, with the TV becoming a portal providing wider connectivity such as to SNS (Social Networking Systems), video conferencing and a richer viewing experience with 3D capabilities -which are already beginning to hit the US domestic market. 

The mini bar along with beverage making facilities, whilst they are useful and convenient (but often overpriced), can be replaced by automated kiosks/vending machines which themselves have become more sophisticated and accepted by certain demographic types. Today, vending machines sell almost anything from condoms to iPhones.

A service industry

We have always said that the hotel business is a service business and that people are the only means to delivering those services. However, people are becoming increasingly unreliable (and expensive) and machines can remove that unreliability (and cost) and in some instances, replace the service altogether – such as in the case of Check-In and Check-Out kiosks. Whilst using these may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they finally have a place and are accepted in society as seen all too often in Banks and airline counters.

The Concierge/Information service is being replaced by a Kiosk or interactive touch screen monitor, and where questions are more complex than can be offered through a simple touch screen, a video link to a remote service center handling multiple locations and languages is very feasible.

Operationally in the Hotel of the Future there will be a big move to Cloud computing and virtualization. This being mostly driven by rising labor and utility costs, the need for efficient space utilization, and the lack of on-property skills, which are increasingly harder to find and keep. Data ownership, security and connectivity issues will be resolved as will the finding of suitable service providers. Once these companies wake up and realize the true potential value of this new recurring revenue model, they will descend in droves onto the properties and management companies touting their wares. Some forward thinking groups have already laid the groundwork by creating test labs, and others yearn for the day this will happen.

Security will continue to be a concern not just of the guest and property, but the data from transactional records. Hackers undoubtedly will see hotels as a honey pot and although to-date they have mainly held off, they will without doubt focus their attention on this highly visible industry. Recent attacks have shown this is a reality, and so more stringent practices must be put in place. And remember, not all hacking is from outside the property…

CRM = Customers Really Matter

Customer relationship building will need to become even more personal. The development of apps as seen on the BlackBerry and iPhone along with other mobile devices are a driver for this. 

The intimacy of these relationships needs to be even more carefully thought out and managed especially when a customer consciously installs an app onto their device – this is a big ? in favor of your business. 

This means I want you to know me, and I want you to treat me as an individual and not just as another punter at the end of an internet connection. 

This kind of one-on-one intimate relationship building is new to all of us. Especially as we take the hotel out of the hotel and place it into the palms of our guest’s. This action becomes key to the successful management of the Hotel of the Future.

First appeared in Hotel Management Asia – Tech Newsletter


Terence Ronson

Also See: The iPad Is Coming to a Hotel Near You (part 2) / Terence Ronson / March 2010
The iPad is Coming to a Hotel Near You! / Terence Ronson / January 2010

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