Automation is the future of hotels

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Find new ways to improve guest experience and operational efficiency with advancements in automation technology.

by BILL LALLY

Our need to be constantly connected is transforming the way hotels do business and changing what kind of customized experiences are provided to guests – including brand loyalty programs and features like mobile check-in. But there’s more to bringing technology into a hotel than making an app – automated rooms give guests convenient check-in, set digital do-not-disturb status, and control their lighting using scenes to help them relax, work or recover from jetlag. Other than providing a luxurious or convenient guest experience, the systems behind making this possible can also provide operational benefits for the hotels, such as energy savings, room data, and helping management to efficiently delegate teams.

Enabling a luxurious guest experience

High-end hotels started the technology adoption trend. In New York’s Baccarat hotel, guests enjoy the beauty of 15,000 pieces of handmade crystal and a spectacular automation system with automated lighting scenes by world-renowned interior and lighting designers, as well as smartphone control of everything in the room including the TVs hidden behind mirrors. Here, the technology provides a luxurious and customizable experience for the guests, and the hotel staff can use it to their advantage by identifying which rooms are occupied, or controlling any of the lights throughout the hotel from a single tablet. New features like voice control provide additional benefit when connected with the automation system, allowing guests not only to access information about the hotel and nearby attractions with a simple command, but easily adjust the temperature and lighting in their room with another.

Reducing energy usage

Automation can also help reduce energy usage. The 1 Hotel franchise specifically focuses on energy consciousness on many levels − providing guests with room details such as LED bulbs, filters in all taps, sinks and showers, and a complimentary Tesla electric vehicle and a bicycle valet service at the Central Park location. All 229 guest rooms are outfitted with automated lighting fixtures, and the lobby is illuminated with over 250 zones of automated lighting, which the staff can change at a moment’s notice.

The lighting scenes reduce energy usage by being set to “off” as often as possible. For example, a sensor can activate them by detecting when a guest walks into a room, or the lights can be set to turn on and off based on the time of day or even the sunset. Guests enjoy the automated experience, but behind the scenes management gets the major benefit. All of the devices in the rooms can be controlled from the master system so that nothing is running when it shouldn’t be. Keeping several hundred light bulbs off and thermostats down makes a huge difference in energy consumption.

Team deployment and maintenance

The energy management features in an automation system can benefit any hotel to keep operational costs down, and this information can also be used to improve service team deployment and room maintenance. By using electronic do-not-disturb, hoteliers can detect which floors have the most rooms closed off to cleaning each morning to properly deploy service teams. Sensors or status of connected devices in the automation system can also work in hoteliers’ favor by indicating which devices are working or when HVAC units, for example, need maintenance or need to be replaced. Instead of waiting for a guest to report that a light is out or a TV isn’t working, the hotel can respond proactively by receiving notification through the system that a device is down, taking the room out of guest rotation and deploying a team to correct the issue.

Creating these systems is no easy task, as each one is custom-generated for both the hotel guests’ and operational needs by integrators, in cooperation with designers, architects and engineering teams. When the process is started, the integrator will determine each hotel’s goal for the system – guest comfort, reduced energy usage, or operational efficiency – and will design and select product accordingly. But regardless of the expectations of the clientele or management, technology in any hotel has one thing in common: it must be easy to use, or it won’t get used at all. If the guest cannot figure out how to use the automation system within the first few seconds of touching the remote, touch screen or keypad that controls it, the experience could quickly become negative.

Hospitality technology is an investment, and it takes a great deal of coordination and customization to get it right. While many are special cases now, these examples of technology will become the standard in hospitality. As these technologies continue to advance, hoteliers will find new ways to use them for improved guest experience and operational efficiency.

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: Zhu difeng/Shutterstock.com

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