How is the hotel industry changing to keep up with a rapidly changing world? Of course, there are some things that should not change, but most people live with deadlines and expectations, so their hotel stays must reflect that reality. People have developed technologies that, in turn, have changed them. Still, there is something inherently satisfying in checking into a space where your needs and desires are met. How are hotels balancing the need for functionality and the desire for luxury?
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Booking and Check-In
A couple of decades ago room booking was accomplished by visiting a travel agent. Many of today’s travelers book their hotel rooms online relying on travel sites such as Expedia and Travelocity to find good hotels and reasonable rates. A few hotels now send a keycard to guests after they book a room that contains the room number and, upon the guest’s arrival, unlocks the door. Most guests still value congenial lobby staff, but the nuts-and-bolts of checking in is becoming more automated. Some hotels are looking at assigning guests “smart wristbands” that will unlock their doors, adjust their air-conditioners or heating, admit them to hotel restaurants or spas and connect them with live staff if needed. Costs for restaurant meals or spa services will simply be added to their check-out bills.
Hotel lobbies with comfortable, luxurious furnishings and lots of open space are being replaced by hubs with more informal seating, technology plug-ins, bars and more inviting spaces for gathering so that guests can have quick business meetings or just “hang out” instead of staying in their rooms. The lobbies are becoming social hubs, some even touting a Starbucks.
The typical hotel room with its mirrored closet and bathroom where a dish holds tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion is disappearing. Data shows that most guests don’t unpack, so the closets are considered wasted space and have disappeared from newer rooms. Bathtubs are leaving, too, according to an article in Today online magazine Most newer rooms will contain only showers, and the tiny bottles are being replaced by pumps that are more environmentally friendly.
Rooms will also soon be smarter. For instance, guests will be able to control their room heating and cooling, lights and door locks using their smartphones.
The Tailored Hotel
Because some people still want the experience—the ambiance and the pampering—hotels will always exist to meet those needs. It is hard to be all things to all people, though, so guests are now seeing branded hotels. That is, they can select a hotel that caters to business people, one that welcomes longer-stay guests or one that intends to make a guest stay a memorable experience. Most hotels, focusing on the trend to stay fit, still offer pools and exercise rooms.
The Tech-Savvy Hotel
Hotels in some countries are experimenting with robotic staff. There are animatronic lobby greeters and small drones that deliver luggage to the rooms. Most hotels, however, use technology in other ways. Data about guests is stored, and hotels access it to anticipate guest needs. Virtual tours allow guests to experience the hotel before they book, and even to browse nearby attractions. Social media offers guests the opportunity to review rooms and services.
Surprisingly, one trend in the hotel industry takes the opposite tack and some hotels ae offering incentives for guests to unplug and go off the “technology grid” during their stays. Returning to the opulent ambiance and service-oriented hotels of the past, they offer guests the chance to be pampered. This business choice may pay off, as some guests seem to value the memorable experience of a hotel stay.
Staying on top of a quickly-changing consumer base, hotels must move to accommodate consumer demands. It is a hard task; while many hotel guests today are business-driven, some are seeking a relaxing “down-time” experience. Perhaps the biggest change in the hotel industry will be that guests will choose what they want, and do not want in a hotel stay that is no longer a “one-size-fits-all” business.