Hotels are getting smarter. As one of the largest and oldest industries globally, hospitality has been adapting to a changing world for thousands of years. That pace has accelerated in recent decades due to technological advances and the elevated guest expectations that come with it. More recently, the social distancing measures imposed by the Covid-19 outbreak have resulted in greater demands for cleanliness and contactless transactions. In contrast, concern over sustainability has made green initiatives a wise financial decision and a marketing necessity.
With IoT technology well-equipped to address these issues and to improve not only operating efficiency and profits but also guest satisfaction, it is no wonder that a 2019 PWC survey found that 70 percent of hospitality executives report being actively involved in IoT projects at their properties, compared to just 48 percent of executives from other industries. Here, I’ll share four ways the hotel industry uses IoT technology to adapt to the challenges and advances of the modern world.
Discerning travelers expect hotels to provide them with a seamless end-to-end experience and incorporate the technologies that have become an integral part of their lives both at work and at home. As such, many hotels now allow guests to control various room features on their phones, such as water temperature or lighting. In the future, an IoT platform could save guest settings so that each time they book a stay at a particular property or brand, they will find the room tailored precisely to their preferences. Luxury hotels such as the Wynn Las Vegas have also installed Echo devices in all rooms so that guests can perform various voice-controlled functions such as turning on the TV or getting weather reports. Further, hotels are beginning to experiment with occupancy sensors in rooms, too (among other things) inform staff of the best times to clean a room to avoid guest disruption.
Hotels such as the YOTEL Boston, Aloft Cupertino, Renaissance Las Vegas, and Hard Rock Hotel Biloxi have begun experimenting with robot helpers to clean or provide contactless guest service. Some are heavy-duty cleaning robots that emit UV lights designed to kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces and in the air (sometimes while playing music or giving a light show). In contrast, others have the more “fun” job of delivering guests amenities such as towels or toiletries, reporting hallway clutter or poor Wi-Fi connectivity or even making drinks for guests. For some hotels in Asia, robots proved to be the safest way to deliver food or vacuum the rooms of guests who were completing mandatory 2-week quarantine periods upon arriving in the country. In addition to cutting down on staffing costs, these hotel robots help ensure the safety of both guests and staff as higher cleaning standards are in demand, and social distancing continues to be de rigueur.
As technology advances and hotels become more innovative, many hospitality companies notice the value of implementing automated systems to save on energy costs. For instance, Starwood Hotels & Resorts has begun automatically adjusting indoor lighting in their public areas based on the amount of natural light entering the space. Within guest rooms, more and more hotels are implementing occupancy sensors, which trigger energy-saving measures such as closing shades, adjusting the temperature, or turning off lights and electronics if a room is reported as empty. Predictive maintenance can help properties avoid equipment breakdowns, and smart monitoring devices can be deployed to detect such issues as water leaks or poor air quality at the property.
Because of the high foot traffic and guest turnover, in addition to heightened sanitation standards necessitated by Covid-19, many hotels are seeing the value of using smart devices to keep guests and staff healthy and safe. For instance, the Wynn Las Vegas scans the temperatures of all people entering the hotel and pulls aside for additional screening of anyone whose temperature registers greater than 100 degrees.
IoT technology also offers the ability to improve safety. Door locks and emergency lighting can be activated in the event of a security breach, and staff members can use mobile devices to send alerts if they need assistance or are experiencing an emergency. More and more properties are replacing plastic key cards with mobile apps that allow guests to use their phones to lock or unlock their doors, providing convenience and eliminating the opportunity for a bad actor to hijack a guest’s key card. Finally, some hotels are experimenting with asset tracking technologies to monitor guest luggage and valuable possessions to prevent personal effects from being lost or stolen.
In the future, facial recognition technologies could be used to allow staff to identify guests by name. The latter ensures that only authorized personnel are granted access to guest rooms or other designated parts of the building, detect suspicious activity, identify known criminals, and even identify moods and emotions. In China, two Marriott hotels have partnered with Alibaba to experiment with facial recognition technology that issues key cards after scanning a guest’s face and matching it with a reservation.
While IoT has great potential to improve guest experiences, safety, energy usage, and ultimately a property’s bottom line, hotel owners and managers should be well informed of the drawbacks of implementing such novel, advanced technologies. Some properties, for example, are discovering bugs within their smart devices. The Hotel Henn Na in Tokyo recently “fired” half of its 243-robot workforce due to annoyances such as waking guests up in the middle of the night or an inability to perform such essential functions as providing updated weather reports. More seriously, cybersecurity is a more significant threat than ever, and hotels must take care to avoid breaches and ensure that sensitive information cannot be hacked via weak links in the network. Finally, hotels must take pains to ensure that guests can opt-out of having their data captured and stored and guarantee that guest information will only be kept for the duration of their stay.
Implementation of this new technology comes with societal implications as well. Many experts predict that, as hotels are getting more intelligent, more than half of hospitality jobs could be automated by 2035, thereby potentially exacerbating income inequality and disproportionately harming vulnerable populations. Of course, this is certainly not a problem unique to the hospitality industry and is one that will be addressed in the near term by leaders across industry sectors and the political aisle.