‘Smart’ personalized technology transforming travel experiences of the future

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by Arne Sorenson
Chief Executive Officer of Marriott International

Say the word “innovation” and hotel isn’t likely to be the first word people will associate with it. That could soon change. Some of the most interesting and impressive innovations are coming in the hospitality industry as personal technology advances, travel demand explodes, and new disruptive competitors emerge.

Increasingly sophisticated and demanding travelers want both the comforts of home and unique, personalized experiences on the road. Technology is allowing us to bridge that divide, whether through innovations around “smart rooms,” more app-based services, innovative loyalty programs, customized destinations, or high-tech “known traveler” ID systems.

Last fall, for example, we teamed with two leading companies – Samsung and Legrand – to launch the hospitality industry’s Internet of Things (IoT) Guestroom Lab powered by Marriott’s Innovation Lab at our corporate headquarters. The Lab lets us test new technology – multiple responsive IoT systems, devices, applications – before rolling them out to make sure we’ve gotten it right.

Inside the lab, a user can ask a virtual assistant for a 6:30 a.m. wake-up alarm, begin a yoga routine in front of a full-length ‘smart’ mirror, request additional housekeeping services and start the shower at the desired temperature stored in their customer profile – all by voice or app. We’re also testing new room designs and more efficient and more sustainable construction methods as well.

We’ve hosted about 1,000 visitors in our IoT room who’ve provided valuable feedback, and we’re already rolling out some of the ideas developed first in the lab.

At the Irvine Marriott in California, for example, guests can scribble on the glass door of their shower – where most ingenious ideas originate – and have them captured and emailed to them. We’re calling it Splash of Brilliance.

At the Charlotte Marriott City Center in Charlotte, N.C., we’re testing out an app that lets guests use their smart phones to check-in, unlock their door, and connect to the in-room TV to stream Netflix, Spotify or whatever other apps they have.

We’ve also launched a partnership with China’s Alibaba to provide a problem-free travel experience – from planning trips to booking vacations to reserving activities – for the burgeoning Chinese travel market. We invested in PlacePass, an online search platform that lets our guests find and book things to do at their destinations with a click of a button on Marriott.com or SPG.com.

Finally, at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, we announced a Known Traveler Digital Identity prototype that will make international travel more seamless and hassle free. The system, which we’re developing with Accenture and others, will let “known” travelers create a verifiable and secure portable digital identity using biometric and other data. Canada and the Netherlands are developing a pilot, marking a pivotal phase in this effort.

Technology will never replace a warm welcome and a broad smile. But, it will allow us to enhance the travel experience in ways that are hard to imagine now.

I hope you will stay with us soon to see how we’re leading the charge on innovation.

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