by BILL LALLY
The world is getting smaller. As travel times between major cities get shorter with developments of airplanes and high-speed trains, international travel is becoming more frequent. At any step of the journey, the need for connectivity is transforming the way hotels work and how they accept and cater to guests. Brand loyalty programs, mobile check-in, VR experiences, and even robots are some of the features that are entering hotels. Technology can provide vast benefits for both business and recreational travelers, and provides an opportunity for hoteliers to differentiate themselves.
Jetlag, language and cultural barriers can add layers of difficulty or discomfort to a guest’s stay. And after a long day of travel, guests wish for the familiarity of their own home. A pain point of hotels for guests is not knowing how to turn down the air conditioning, where the light switches are, or how to use the TV. To make room controls easier and help the guest feel at home sooner, hotels can deploy in-room automation.
Incorporating the lights, thermostat, TV, and even other guest services make rooms act as an organism itself, which shift several fixtures from a single command for the right atmosphere for the guest. Lighting scenes can include all the fixtures in the room – and even the thermostat and TV – so that when a guest enters the room, a welcome scene has already lit their room, triggered by their check-in. Then, a good night button on the nightstand makes an all-off so guests don’t have to walk across a dark room to bed.
The lighting scenes can be further customized to suit guests traveling between time zones. Acclimating to their new environment can be difficult, and aside from blackout shades and do-not-disturb, there wasn’t much a hotel could do to help with their physical jetlag previously. Now, circadian lighting scenes can help guests acclimate quickly to the new time zones using lighting levels and tones which naturally aid the body’s adjustment to new surroundings. A setting can help guests go to sleep early if they’re traveling ahead, or stay up later if they’re traveling forward.
To control the in-room technology, guests can reach for a smartphone or tablet that now sits where the information book of hotel amenities, room service, local restaurants and activities used to live. These touchscreens are designed to suit the travelers of each hotel, so they can easily navigate the services they need without calling the front desk. This can help with language barriers, where the interface includes several languages for international guests.
The tablet can control these lighting scenes, as well as the other room fixtures for an at-home feel. The automation provides convenience, and keeps guests from having to fumble around to learn the light switches in the room. Hotels are now also incorporating customized voice control in rooms with the automation system. These features can make a guest’s stay that much more comfortable, and this technology can differentiate a hotel from its competition, where scenes or circadian lighting make a guest remember their stay when booking their next trip.
The hotel automation system is customized for each hotel based reflecting its own brand, typical guest, and the experience it wants to deliver. For those hosting business travelers, technology features combine to focus on providing efficiency and convenience. For other places that host vacationers, comfort and entertainment are prioritized. One example is the Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa in the Grand Cayman, which deployed a Control4 automation system to provide comfort and convenience for its guests looking to relax at nearby beaches with lighting scenes.
When guests arrive at the hotel, they’re directed to their rooms by a bellhop and shown a complimentary smartphone or tablet that controls the automated lighting and temperature. The four pre-programmed scenes – Welcome, Relax, Good Night, and Daylight – slowly dim or brighten multiple light fixtures to create the perfect ambiance for a relaxing afternoon, refreshing morning wake-up, or to ease into sleep at the end of the day.
At the Kimpton Seafire, first-time guest Katherine Kerr was surprised by the feature when walking into the room, and said it helped set the mood during her getaway with her husband. “I love the way the lights come on slowly at night – it’s just much more soothing and calm than having them turn on all at once,” she said. “Having it come on gradually is perfect in a resort setting to give a gentle and relaxing feel.”
For any in-room technology, whether for the business traveler or the vacationer, ease of use is a key consideration. The automation controls must be designed to be completely intuitive regardless of the audience, so guests can turn on the TV as easily as they would in their own home. Customization of the in-room fixtures can improve the guest’s stay and travel experience. By incorporating the right lighting, entertainment, temperature, or other in-room controls, hotels can differentiate themselves by providing exactly what their guests needs for the more frequent travel that’s become common. ■
Bill Lally is the president of hospitality integration firm Mode:Green. He has extensive experience and background in a variety of areas ranging from commercial audiovisual and control systems to energy management, broadcast, recording, post-production and hospitality.
Photo credit: nd3000/Shutterstock.com