Internet of Things for hospitality: A connected future
This is the second part in our series focusing on how the Internet of Things is being applied in various industries – you can read part 1, on healthcare, here.
When Hong Kong’s Kowloon Hotel first opened in 1986, it was the world’s first true “technology hotel”. The rooms were tiny, but every one featured a PC (acting as both a computer and a TV), a fax and a printer, and included 200 pages of information about the hotel, the weather and the location. At that time, this level of connectivity was unheard of.
Then, after the launch of the iPad in 2010, NYC’s Plaza Hotel became the first to include Apple’s tablet in every room. Guests could change the temperature, order room service, book a wake up call, communicate with the front desk and even help to print boarding passes, all from one screen.
Technology is part of the hospitality industry for one key reason: convenience. Hospitality is (or at least should be) geared to making the guest’s life easier; technology shares the same aim. For this reason, the Internet of Things (IoT) is perhaps the perfect tool for hoteliers, holiday operators and beyond.
A system that knows customers’ needs, requirements and preferences before they get to the hotel is invaluable to an industry where competition is fierce and customer satisfaction paramount.
So, how is the hospitality industry using the IoT now, and what will be possible in the not-too-distant future?
What’s happening now?
According to a report from PWC, hospitality is the industry with the fifth highest investment in sensors. Electronic doorbells silently scan rooms for body heat, alerting cleaning staff once guests have left the room. Environment sensors check for signs of life, adjusting lights and temperature accordingly. There are plenty of other areas in which connected tech is currently being used:
- The creation of “mini worlds”: While the Internet of Things is often thought of as connecting devices on a global level, there’s an increasing push towards confined spaces that the user controls, creating “mini worlds”. The Royal Caribbean cruise liner, Quantum of the Seas, was designed with this in mind.
While most cruises show off about fancy restaurants or flamboyant shows, the most important part of this ship, according to CIO Bill Martin, is the WiFi. The super-fast, reliable broadband keeps guests connected, allowing them to keep in touch with the ship at all times. Restaurants, shows and bars – replete with robotic bartenders – are all part of the experience.
- Automated guest rooms: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide have used “daylight harvesting” to adjust indoor lighting, based on the amount of natural light coming in from outside.
- Room control, via the television: Samsung’s Hospitality Management Solution allows hotel guests to control lighting, temperature and curtains via their in-room television, as well as use the interface to communicate with housekeeping.
- The use of mobile apps: Services such as Zest offer mobile hotel check-in and check-out services, and let you use your mobile phone as a key card to access guest rooms.
- Environmental considerations: Hilton’s LightStay tech measures operational efficiency across 200 different practices such as paper usage, food waste and transportation, helping the hotel firm to cut down on energy and water use, waste, and carbon output.
What does the future hold?
The world of hospitality is incredibly competitive, with the global hotel industry alone predicted to reach a revenue total of $550bn in 2016. Review sites such as TripAdvisor and online booking sites continually force leisure operators to strive for improvement.
Some hotels are already separating themselves from the crowd with tech, such as Japan’s Weird Hotel (which is partly staffed by robots), and the likes of California’s Aloft Cupertino using Botlr – a room service robot – to deliver items to guests’ rooms.
But the IoT isn’t simply about tech gimmicks. Imagine a hotel where, on booking or on check-in, a guest room could be tailored to a guest’s own requirements via technology alone: automated temperature and light settings on arrival, curtains opening when the alarm clock goes off, the guest’s favourite coffee brewing while they shower.
Imagine, as a guest, that you could use your phone to set the temperature, mood and lighting in your room yourself before you arrive, so that you don’t have to spend hours fiddling with controls and waiting for the new settings to kick in before you can get comfortable. Or, if you live in a smart home, the hotel ‘talking’ with your house to adjust the settings automatically.
The IoT goes beyond convenience, and offers a personally tailored experience to every visitor. Hotel operators could soon be able to offer a free gym pass to guests who are into fitness, or free chocolate to guests who always dip into the minibar.
At Las Vegas’ Aria Resort & Casino you’ll already find tech that choreographs your wake up and more, so we wouldn’t be surprised if these technologies are already on their way.
At theme parks, IoT wristbands for children could give parents peace of mind about their offspring’s location if they’re lost, while beacon technology could provide real-time, location-based updates to guests as they pass certain points at certain times.
You could fill in a survey before your visit and receive a customised itinerary – one that changes throughout the course of your visit, using heart rate monitoring to judge how excited you are by the rides you’re experiencing, and whether a little more thrill is needed.
On cruise ships, the wheels (so to speak) are already in motion, with the “Ocean Medallion” set to transform Carnival’s cruise ships into “smart cities at sea”. This tech will build up a picture of customers on-board, learning about their favourite activities, meals and more, and offering suggestions based on the data it receives.
It’s clear that there’s plenty of scope for IoT tech in the hospitality sector, with some firms already starting to dabble in its possible uses. As consumer uptake of IoT devices continues to grow, only the need to invest in super-fast WiFi and allay consumer concerns about data privacy will hold the industry back. With these tasks done, hospitality will become an ever more connected world that benefits both customers and businesses alike.
Want to find out how an IoT app could benefit your business? Take a look at our case studies.