It wasn’t so long ago that people would call a restaurant for a reservation, or go to the video store to see what tapes were available, or waited on the sidewalk for an empty taxi to drive by. Just as technology has made all of these practices obsolete, new technology is automating many of the processes that used to take up the valuable time of both hotel guests and team members.
But while these new devices may be the wave of the future, hoteliers should think carefully before trying to cut down on costs by opting for automation. After all, technology is not only as good as the engineer who designs it, it’s also only as useful as the person who uses it.
Much like supermarkets with self-serve lanes, some hotels have started offering self-service kiosks in their lobbies, allowing guests to check in, check out, and search for information without having to speak to a front desk agent or a concierge. For the better part of a decade, designers and hoteliers alike have been adjusting lobbies to incorporate these devices into luxury and midscale hotels alike, leaving the front desk agents to deal with more complicated matters while the machines handle the simpler tasks.
The kiosks aren’t limited to checking in, of course. In the spring, Marriott’s Aloft brand – one that does not always include a full-service on-site restaurant – updated its Re:fuel by Aloft food & beverage program to include digital kiosks that let guests place breakfast orders with a few taps on a screen. Much as with the check-in kiosks, these machines take care of the basic parts of the transaction, but a team member can help with any special requests.
And while many kiosks are easy to use and self-explanatory, some guests may have issues with the machines that cause delays – the very challenge the devices were meant to avoid. The Park MGM Grand in Las Vegas uses such kiosks, and a search on TripAdvisor reveals numerous complaints about the devices and requests for help from the staff.
People who are accustomed to walking in their front door and saying, “Alexa, turn on the lights!” will be happy to find “smart” devices turning up in guestrooms. KEYPR, a technology company that focuses on cloud-based platforms for guests and hoteliers, is rolling out its system at the Silver Reef Casino in Ferndale, Washington. Guests will be able to use a custom-branded mobile app that includes a mobile key and in-room tablets to expedite their check-in and check-out, order room service, communicate directly with hotel staff (for example, texting the valet to get their car ready), and get messages from hotel staff whether on or off property. The hotel can also receive guest feedback through the app in real time for active service recovery.
Hotel G in San Francisco has Roxy devices in its penthouses and top-tier guestrooms, enabling guests to issue commands through the voice-activated speaker to get hotel information, order extra towels and amenities, arrange check out, and other typical hotel tasks. Roxy then relays the message to the front desk without anyone having to make a phone call. The device can also do things such as play music, provide weather information, and set a wake up alarm.
Some devices blend into the guestroom’s decor. Last year, KEYPR partnered with Mirror Image Hospitality to create Remi, a “smart mirror” that doubles as a TV and a virtual concierge platform. Guests can use the mirror to find information about the hotel and surrounding neighborhood, order room-service, make reservations at nearby restaurants or just watch TV. The Savvy SmartMirror is a similar product that comes in a voice-activated model which is useful when a guest’s hands are full. The SmartMirror is expected to debut next year in the Sinclair Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas.
And in June, Amazon launched Alexa for Hospitality, a new program that gives hotels an Amazon Echo to act as a voice-activated virtual concierge in each room. Amazon installed Alexa devices in some properties (including the Wynn Las Vegas) to find out how guests responded, and feedback surveys came back positive.
Following the trial, Marriott International is rolling out the Alexa program in several of its properties, with each brand getting devices customized to its demographic. (Westin hotels, which have a strong wellness focus, will get Alexa devices with meditation playlists, for example.)
But not everyone is enthusiastic about these devices, especially machines that are voice-activated and have to listen to whatever is going on in the room. While guests who like “virtual” services at home may appreciate the same in their hotel rooms, others may want the option to completely disconnect them and maintain their privacy.
Room-service robots have also gained ground in several years in hotels, going from cool quirk to useful tools.
Many of these robots double as butlers, delivering amenities and room service items, like the Relay robot from Savioke, which can be seen at the Luma Hotel Times Square in New York City. Savioke also built Fetch and Jett, two dog-themed robots at the Vdara Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas, who started serving snacks and drinks to guests over the summer.
LG, meanwhile, announced the CLOi (pronounced KLOH-ee) line of hospitality-focused robots earlier this year. Each robot has a different role to fill in a hotel’s setting: The serving robot delivers meals and drinks, while the porter robot delivers luggage to guestrooms and can also handle express check-in/check-out service and take care of payment.
Pros & Cons
All of this technology, from the robots to the kiosks to the in-room devices, can help hotels improve efficiency and give guests a unique experience, and it can also boost a hotel’s bottom line. According to a recent article in the Telegraph, citing research by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the cost of labor has more than doubled since 1990, but robot prices have nearly halved over the same period. This makes replacing employees with robots appealing from a bottom line point of view, and one study estimated that up to 65 percent of Las Vegas jobs could be replaced by machines. Mary Giuliano, Vdara’s general manager, told the Las Vegas Sun that guests enjoy the novelty of getting deliveries from Fetch and Jett, and that the robots free up time for the rest of the staff to focus on requests that require a higher level of service.
But not every guest wants to work with machines, and with privacy concerns on the rise, more people may opt to unplug their in-room Alexa and ask the concierge for advice directly. After all, an app can recommend a nearby show or restaurant but it often takes a concierge’s connections to secure hard-to-get seats. While automation may be the wave of the future, true hospitality depends on human interaction, and no machine can replicate that.