Futurist Thomas Frey: A few nights ago, I arrived at a very nice Radisson Blu Hotel in Minneapolis for my talk on the “hotel of the future.”
My client was the good people on the Board of Carlson & Rezidor Hotels, the group responsible for a large number of impressive hotels and travel operations around the world.
When I first arrived on the property and entered my hotel room, the staff had prepared a very nice fruit plate, topped with peaches, apricots, and chocolates. This was a very nice gesture, but these were all things that my dietary restrictions would not allow me to eat.
The thought occurred to me that the hotel probably would have appreciated knowing up front about my food allergies, but it kinda ruins the moment if they have to ask lots of questions before they surprise you.
So I spent time considering this dilemma. What kind of anticipatory system could be created to broadcast the needs and preferences of guests to a hotel without turning it into a lengthy discussion?
It occurred to me that this is the exact space where smart building technology is intersecting with the Internet of Things.
In the past, hotels built their business around employing highly attentive people. In the future, they will replace many of their staff with highly attentive buildings.
Here’s a quick scenario that will explain the symbiotic relationship that will develop between people and a building that can attend to their every need.
Automated luggage attendant
1.) Highly Attentive People Replaced by Highly Attentive Buildings
The Anticipatory Hotel Scenario: As soon as you register for your stay, the hotel begins to track and understand you. On the day of your arrival, the hotel knows where you are and anticipates your arrival.
When you get within 10 miles, the hotel automatically adjusts the temperature and humidity levels to your liking so it will be perfect when you arrive.
Upon arrival, you will be greeted by an automated luggage attendant designed to whisk your bags to your room. Since each of your bags has auto-tracking tags, you’re not concerned about losing any of your bags.
At all times, helpful people are just a button-push away, but the building itself has been optimized around its automated peopleless systems.
Upon entering the lobby, you are automatically registered without having to check-in. Your room number and directions are displayed on your smartphone. “Proceed 50 feet in the direction of the arrow and take the elevator on the right.”
Virtual receptionists will be positioned at key intersections to help out whenever the need arises.
As you approach your room, the door will automatically unlock and you will see your luggage already waiting for you.
Upon entering your room, you’ll instantly begin to appreciate the anticipatory nature of this building.
Since it knows what mood you are in, it will automatically be playing music that syncs with your personality at the perfect volume. This music will change along with every shift in mood or activity, and will disappear completely when you no longer want it. You need only think it, and it’s gone.
Temperature and humidity have been dialed in specifically for you. Window shades will open or close depending on your position in the room, time of day, and intensity of the sunlight.
If you’re in the mood, a fire will automatically appear in the fireplace, and the color of the flame will automatically adjust to match your ever-changing whims.
Walking into the bathroom, you need only say, “hello mirror,” and a display will appear behind the glass. A quick scan of weather reports, headlines, your personal agenda, and a few fitness facts such as heart rate, weight, and body temperature will only scratch the surface of what’s possible.
2.) “Greenliness” to be Replaced by Hyper-Cleanliness
Gone are the days when hotels need to constantly remind you of their commitment to the environment. The new trend is to remind you of their commitment to cleanliness.
The “quantified self” is enabling us to monitor precise inputs and outputs of the human body. So having a set of monitors displaying air quality, water quality, radon levels, pollen counts, noise and vibration histories will become very common.
Stepping into the shower, not only will the controls anticipate your desired temperature, spray selection, and intensity, but will display readouts of everything from chlorine levels to bacterial counts.
When it comes to toilets, toilet paper flushing commodes will no longer be good enough. Next generation Japanese-style electronic toilet-bidets will attend to your every need.
3.) Rethinking Baseline Expectations
When was it that customers began expecting every hotel to have a hair dryer? How about cable TV, hair conditioner, coffee pots, or shower robes?
Over the centuries, hotels have evolved from the basic four-wall flophouse to a highly sophisticated luxury stay facilities, with a growing list of essentials to accommodate our increasingly complex needs.
Even though a few things like stationary and postcards have started to disappear, the list of expected amenities continues to rise, complicating the hotel operation immensely.
As an example, Wi-Fi today is not only an expected amenity; customers expect it to be free. With most customers bringing many different devises, even services that offer: “buy one connection, get five devices connected,” is not enough.
Along with increasing levels of paranoia about water quality, hotels that do not offer free bottles of water will be relegating guests to drink unfiltered tap water, an without water-quality monitors, in many people’s minds, this is as good as asking them to drink poison.
Once hotels get past charging for Wi-Fi and bottled water, they will begin to discover a whole new range of premium services that will more than offset any revenue loss.
4.) Well-Balanced Operations Replaced by the Great Imbalance
Hotels are becoming the center of the universe for a much larger ecosystem that involves branding, retail, and entertainment products.
While Gucci, Lamborghini, Absolut, and Dior all represent premium brands, they each have something else in common. They lack a sense of place. Premium hotels attract a customer base that all top brands are anxious to align themselves with.
This has led to the current “shopfronting” craze, but slick storefronts displaying premium brands are often not authentic enough for the raw, real-world experience being demanded by today’s selfie-shooting bucketlisters.
For this reason, the well-balanced hotel operations of the past are being replaced by the great imbalance. Yesteryears cookie cutter approach to designing hotels is being swapped out for one-of-a-kind designs that highly leverage the strengths and identity of the local community.
As a case in point, the Radisson Blu Hotel I stayed at in Minneapolis was attached directly to the Mall of America, and the lobby was filled with unusual coworking spaces as a way to leverage the indoor work/play environments needed to offset Minnesota’s harsh winters.
5.) Reinventing the Sharing Economy Hotel
As sites like Airbnb, Crashpadder, and TravelMob continue to grow, and the sharing economy becomes engrained in our everyday thinking, it’s easy to envision many kinds of virtual hotel operations made up of condos, small houses, and various kinds of living units spread out around a city.
Naturally these will vary considerably, but we will soon see Virtual Marriotts, Virtual Hiltons, and Virtual Radissons adding to their hotel mix. Many will do this to dampen the proliferation of Airbnb and sign exclusive rental agreements on the best units.
Starting with a “front desk” operation located near a high traffic intersection, the operation will have both physical and online presence. Each unit will have to meet a set of standards, and all housekeeping, maintenance, and insurance will be handled by the hotel company.
For the premium hotel, the appeal of this kind of operation is that there will be very little investment in bricks and mortar, and owners of the rental units will receive a percentage of each night’s stay.
At the same time, running a distributed hotel operation comes with its own set of problems. Telling guests their room is still a 20-30 minute drive away, responding to late night maintenance calls or noise complaints, or providing any kind of room service will be problematic.
For most it will be a relatively easy brand extension, without the capital outlay, and it will enable them to quickly enter markets they currently don’t exist in.
6.) The Emergence of “Magic” Payment Systems
When Disney’s MagicBand technology first appeared, it was like the unveiling of the first iPhone. The digital world made its first major inroad into the theme park business in a significant way.
Disney has made a $1 billion investment in the MagicBand system, so don’t expect it to go away anytime soon.
Similar to keyless car entry, MagicBands store tickets, hotel keys, debit and credit card information and can be used anywhere just by tapping a sensor.
With their embedded RFID chips, MagicBands also enable Disney to track guests as they move around the park, send special alerts when wait times for rides get too long, and even address children by name or wish them a happy birthday.
A similar type of magic bands for hotels will enable guests to access their room, track their workouts in fitness centers, buy drinks at the bar, attend a concert, go shopping, rent a car, book an excursion, or even pay for a taxi with the flip of their wrist. The ease of making a transaction will increase overall sales dramatically.
MagicBand is very much a precursor to the face-recognizing smart-room technology described in the Anticipatory Hotel Scenario above. But a Radisson Blu MagicBand, as example, will have the ability to extend the hotel’s influence far into the local community, and even across country lines.
Smart home technology is baby stepping its way into our lives, and at the same time, elevating our expectations for hotels. In fact, we expect hotels to be ahead of the curve.
For them, this whole upgrade begins by creating a new operating system capable of incorporating smart hotel features far into the future.
None of this will be easy. Every new master plan will begin to feel totally outdated six months after it was first discussed, but someone will figure it out.
These six trends will indeed seem radical, upon first glance, to the hoteliers of today. But this kind of technology is coming, and it will happen much sooner than we think.
Personally, I can’t wait.
Author of “Communicating with the Future” - the book that changes everything