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  • Joe Schwinger

How the Hotel Room of the Future Will Be Transformed by Mobile Technology

Mobile technology has transformed our lives in countless ways, from transportation and entertainment to communication and dating. The hotel is no exception. At this point, most major hotels offer a mobile app for basic services and amenities, and these apps have made the average hotel stay much more convenient. But mobile tech has the potential to deliver much more. In the near future, hotels will tap into vast amounts of data generated by phones and smart, connected homes. Hoteliers will turn this next wave of tech and data into an experience more personalized and comfortable than anything we've seen before.

Here, we'll explore the technology powering this industry-wide revolution and see some of the first steps taken by the major players. We'll paint a picture of the hotel experience of the future, examine the benefits of new personalization for guests, and show you how to harness this new technology to boost your bottom line.

The State of Hotel Technology Heading Into 2019

For some industries, mobile apps are a nice-to-have or an add-on to core services. For the hospitality industry, apps have proven to be a major value-add. That's why hotels from Marriott to Mandarin Oriental work to stay on the cutting edge of this technology. When you walk into any modern hotel, you're likely to be able to use an app for check-in, book a spa appointment and order room service. When it comes time to check out, many hotels allow you to pay via their app. Increasingly, customers prefer typing and tapping over picking up the phone or visiting the front desk, and hotels are keeping pace with this change in behavior.

With the Conrad Concierge app, for example, guests can request room service or a turndown when it's convenient, and arrange valet or a rental car when they're on the move. Conrad (which is now included with the Hilton Honors app) has rolled out some interesting personalized options as well. Guests can adjust their check-in time, and add some extras ahead of time, like towels, bedding or a bottle of champagne on ice - all right from the app.

At the upper end of the market, Four Seasons rolled out a sleek, well-designed app of their own. With it, guests can request a restaurant reservation - or even a forgotten item like a tube of toothpaste - directly in the app, and hotel staff will take it from there. For many visitors, the experience is about more than their room. Guests are interested in culture, regional cuisine and sightseeing, all of which is taken into consideration with the "Four Seasons Recommends" feature, including everything from interesting local events to selected shopping destinations and restaurant picks, all curated by knowledgeable front desk staff. Similar curation features are a growing trend, saving guests the time, energy and hassle that comes with researching in a new city.

The Dream Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles offers a mobile app, but goes a step further with a tablet at every bedside. These tablets elevate the services and amenities of a typical hotel stay, running a branded app where guests can order room service, schedule housekeeping or set an alarm. The need to pick up a phone and call down to the front desk is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

The Industry's First Steps into the Future

The apps currently in the market take many of the services and amenities of the hotel and make them even more accessible. Some hotels are stepping beyond convenience and into a tailored experience. Hilton's Connected Room, introduced in 2018, is a perfect example. Connected Room guests use their app like a remote control for the TV, setting their favorite channels and perusing schedules. Guests can also use the app to switch on or dim any light in the room and control the thermostat.

For many, the mobile phone is the control center of their lives. The Connected Room takes the industry a step in this personalized direction - turning the app into the control center of the hotel experience.

What the Future Looks Like for Guests

Many people have welcomed new guests into their homes, guests with names you may recognize, such as Alexa and Siri. Personal assistants, A.I. and smart appliances are changing our lives in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. It's now common to have an artificial intelligence platform on your coffee table, activated with a simple spoken word and capable of searching the internet, pulling up recipes, taking notes and answering questions. New tech has changed the ways we interact with our own homes: playing music, browsing movies on Netflix, setting timers and adjusting our thermostat, lights and refrigerator temperature.

All of these commands, tasks and actions contribute to a vast reservoir of data available to companies like Apple, Amazon and Google. In this reservoir the hotel industry will find the personalization experience of the future. Apple, for one, has begun to open up its HomeKit data to third parties, creating an opportunity for the hotel industry to tap in.

In the future, when you scan your phone to unlock your hotel room, a new level of personalization will await. Your new experience will go something like this: When you walk into the room, you'll hear the radio playing softly in the background, tuned to a station generated from your favorite tracks and personalized suggestions from Spotify or Apple Music. The drapes will be open, but the sheers are closed, just the way you like it at home.

The TV in the room will be glowing with a personalized welcome message. The screen will also display your calendar, noting your upcoming meetings. Tap an appointment and a map will show you where you need to be and provide directions on how to get there. Prefer to take an Uber or Lyft? These options will also be ready and available, with a price quote and a map of nearby drivers.

After your meeting, you might want to relax with a movie or TV show. You're reminded of the episode you paused the night before, in an effort to catch some sleep before your early flight. You tap into Netflix on your phone, and your account will appear on the hotel TV screen. When you hit play, the lights will slowly dim to 0%, because that's the preference you set at home for TV-watching.

This experience is what I call next-gen personalization. All of your preferences from your home and your phone will be the default setting in your hotel room. It's a dream scenario for both guests and hoteliers. Hoteliers know that business travel is exhausting - it's hard on the body and the mind. Travelers are looking for comfort and a good night's rest. That's why hotels will spare no expense to deliver each customer's exact preferences. Merging data, technology and the hotel room is the ultimate way to understand the guest's preferences and tailor the perfect experience around them. Once guests experience this level of comfort, they will come to expect it, and reward hotels who deliver next-gen personalization with loyalty and repeat business.

A Brighter Future for Hoteliers

Operating systems and software platforms for many hotels are old - sometimes decades old. The industry is ripe for disruption, and several new companies have stepped into the market, delivering platforms with the potential to deliver on the promise of next-gen personalization. Hotels that take advantage will see surges in operational efficiencies, savings and profits.

One of the biggest startups on the scene in the past year is a hotel operating system called Alice. Alice's workflow management software synthesizes requests and communication between guests and staff from all areas of the hotel. Staff can receive and respond to service requests, while management can track the data and find ways to make every task faster and more efficient. All this – responding internally to handle requests as well as receiving and responding to guest requests – happens seamlessly on any mobile device. The company is well-funded and making a name for itself as the hotel operating system of the future.

Platforms like Alice can process requests at new speed and on a new scale. Hotels will find new profits in simpler and more efficient management and operations, while increasing the hotel's value in the eyes of the guest, all through mobile devices.

Why We Should Embrace, Not Fear, the Future

Even today, not everyone is quite comfortable with Alexa on the coffee table, or a hotel room that mirrors the comforts of their home. Fortunately, these services are all offered at the discretion of the user, with the ability to opt-in or out. It's natural for there to be hesitation when adopting new technology and new behaviors. Concerns about data and privacy are legitimate. However, when handled responsibly, these changes can be safe and beneficial. Take transportation as an example. Imagine if someone told you - just a few years ago - that in the future, a stranger would arrive in their car and you would hop in for a ride. It would have sounded far-fetched.

Today, with Uber and Lyft, this is a common, everyday occurrence for many. In fact, most people can't imagine life without this on-demand service. As our culture adopts new tech, our behaviors and expectations change as well. Smart hoteliers will embrace and shape next-gen personalization, not fear or ignore the trends. Those who adopt this new mobile technology will have a major head start, enjoying increased guest loyalty for years to come.

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