REVEALED: Top 20 hotel technology trends
The latest gizmos and innovations taking the hotel industry by storm
Hotelier looks at what is happening in the world of hotel technology and highlights some of its favourite gadgets, solutions, systems and gizmos
Continue reading for top 20 innovations...
1 Invisible door lock
Hotel security is an issue that often rears its head for all the wrong reasons. Hoteliers are left with the challenge of making hotel stays safe without turning the hotel into a fortified prison.
But a breakthrough of the positive kind has been made by VingCard Elsafe, the company behind the world’s first invisible door lock —Essence by VingCard.
This new concept in locking design and technology takes minimalism to the extreme, eliminating all lock hardware on the door by encasing electronic components inside the door itself.
Interior electronics include Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Near Field Communication (NFC) compatible locking technologies.
ASSA Abloy Hospitality president Tim Shea said: “Essence by VingCard represents another giant leap forward in hotel design and technology.
It not only makes the lock disappear from the hotel door, resolving design challenges for savvy, design-conscious hoteliers, but it also minimises a variety of operational issues, such as integration, installation and maintenance.”
2 Cloud Computing
Well, let’s be honest from the start, cloud computing is nothing new. In fact it has been around since the 1980s.
But in 2012, it has come to the fore in the hospitality sector. Cloud computing Software as a Service (SaaS) or ‘on-demand software’, is a software delivery model in which software and associated data are centrally hosted on the cloud.
SaaS has become the default delivery model for many business applications, including accounting, collaboration, CRM, invoicing and human resource management.
Essentially, it allows firms to negate the initial financial cost of investing in new hardware; they simply ‘rent’ the space on the providers’ servers. Space they don’t use they don’t pay for.
Furthermore, it allows for an increasingly seamless system that can be accessed across the globe without issues of lag and linking up internal servers.
This allows for greater guest interaction, more targeted campaigns and a more robust centralised reservation system. An added bonus is that it alleviates the risk of a major disaster hitting the hotel’s own hardware whereby all data is lost.
3 Trip Butler
While not strictly limited to hotels, TripButler is a new device that is aimed at reducing extortionate roaming costs associated with using mobile phones and Wi-Fi devices abroad.
An Austrian start-up has created this small pill shaped unit so it fits in the user’s hand or pocket, and uses local mobile carrier partners to provide data at a fraction of the cost of a roaming mobile phone. The unit can support up to five devices at a time so it is perfect for a family travelling together or a small group of friends.
Customers can order a device in advance of their trip and have it delivered to them or to their hotel so it is ready to use once they arrive.
This is the sort of service that can save people large sums of money, particularly if they are on business. It’s a useful stopgap before roaming charges are reduced and is also a chance for a hotel to provide a value-add to a customer.
Guests are always impressed with the little touches that provide convenience and reduce costs. For a small outlay from the hotel, this is certainly a product to consider offering if exceeding expectations is high on your agenda.
If you’re one of the hotels yet to offer free wi-fi, it could help reduce complaints on this topic too.
4 Portable audio
People love to be around their favourite music and hotel rooms are no exception. There is a wealth of new technology in this field but we were taken by the Geneva Sound System Model XS.
Weighing no more than a pound and about the size of an eyeglass case, the Model XS is a hi-fi sound system designed for a mobile lifestyle.
Inspired by the classic travel clock, it folds into a sturdy leather clamshell case that hides the speakers, amplifiers, radio, and alarm clock inside of Geneva’s trademark red, white or black finishes.
Once opened, a compact yet powerful Hi-Fi system is revealed. Advanced digital technology allows the Model XS to produce stunning and expansive stereo sound that belies its compact size.
The digital amplifier and stereo speakers play mid and high frequencies with absolute accuracy. The woofer is capable of producing robust bass response below 80Hz.
The Model XS features wireless Bluetooth capabilities, an integrated digital FM tuner, and an easy-set digital alarm clock. Music streams wirelessly to the Model XS from any Bluetooth-enabled device, such as iPad, iPhone, and other smartphones and tablets.
5 Virtual Concierge
Du has been making great strides in supplying the hospitality industry with relevant technology solutions that promote business growth and provide the ‘wow’ factor.
One of these solutions is the Virtual Concierge said vice president, marketing (enterprise segment), commercial, for du, John Lincoln.
“The hotel industry is growing at a phenomenal rate, much quicker than most other sectors, so it is a great time to focus on hotels and hospitality,” he said.
“Virtual Concierge is a brand new service, but we believe that many, many hotels will use it and a lot have been interested so far. They can have a kiosk in the lobby or somewhere else in the hotel, and guests could go in and use it to find out information using our video conferencing technologies.”
The virtual concierge service uses cloud computing technology. Customers will be able to go onto a hotel’s website and do things like take a complete tour of the hotel with a 360° view or look at menus. They can also use du’s servers to store that information.
“Hotels need space to store their servers, and the more users and data, then the bigger the servers,” Lincoln asserted.
“One hotel I’ve come across in Dubai was storing its servers in the basement, and it was on a sea-front front. What happens if the water level rises?”
The Virtual Concierge also helps hotels keep track of customers and understand the demographics.
Finally, Lincoln said the main benefit is that “we control it all from a central location; the hotels don’t need to invest in expensive equipment”.
6 Cloud security
Cloud security is one of the hottest topics in the tech world; you have outsourced your CRM and data files to a cloud provider, but how confident are you that it is safe from hacking?
There have been a number of high-profile cases in the last couple of years whereby a lodging company has had its clients information stolen — more specifically credit card information.
Financial security is essential for the hospitality industry and that is why a great deal of effort has been made in providing the necessary safety features.
One company that is at the forefront of this technology is Savvis, a CenturyLink company. It recently released Trend Micro Deep Security to its global Savvis Symphony Virtual Private Data Center (VPDC) cloud services.
The new security offering, Virtual IPS (vIPS) for VPDC, makes Savvis among the world’s first cloud providers to introduce a virtual, fully automated intrusion prevention system purpose-built for hybrid and public cloud deployments.
Benefits to Symphony VPDC customers include virtual self-tuning intrusion prevention and inline patching capabilities.
“Deep Security’s innovative virtualisation and cloud security design and feature set enable us to deliver a fully automated, virtualised intrusion prevention system that our customers can implement quickly and easily,” said Chris Richter, vice president of security products and services at Savvis.
Available in US, Asia and EMEA, Symphony VPDC is one of the industry’s first enterprise-class virtual private data centre cloud solutions with multi-tiered security, service and network profiles.
7 The Sanctuary
These days we are so bogged down in gadgets of all shapes and sizes, we have to take an arsenal of cables, adaptors and batteries wherever we go.
Luckily for the hotel business there are some clever people out there who have tackled this problem head on.
The Sanctuary boasts a simple and compact design that conceals a universal charger compatible with more than 1500 electronic devices from most major brands and a USB port allowing hundreds more electronic devices to be charged.
This means users can charge their mobile phone, PDA, Blackberry, iPod, MP3 player and Bluetooth headset simultaneously in one location.
A charging station designed for daily use at the bedside table, kitchen counter, office desk, etc, The Sanctuary performs its functions with ease and elegance and is therefore perfect for the hotel room.
“The Sanctuary never truly reveals its multi-purpose electronic capabilities so the user develops an emotional attachment, as it becomes personalised and integral to one’s daily routine,” according to the company behind The Sanctuary.
We are not sure about the emotional attachment but we are certain it is incredibly useful and a great addition to your in-room technology set-up.
Guests simply plug the AC adapter into the mains, lift the inner tray and plug the adapter into The Sanctuary power socket.
They then select the device connector and replace the inner tray with selected connector on top of the inner tray, plug in and charge. They can also add keys, wallet and watch if they want.
8 Meeting planner tool
Most hotels love a slice of the MICE action and many rely on it as a main source of income. If this is the case then they should be aware of Active Network’s Starcite ‘Meeting Locator’, a strategic meetings management technology.
It helps meeting planners and travel managers make informed decisions when choosing destinations for any business event. Meeting Locator quickly delivers advice based on global data from the industry’s leading travel and meeting spend platforms.
It is integrated within the StarCite Spend Management software and employs information from CWT’s vast travel database to find cost-effective and environmentally friendly destinations, along with their associated costs.
Active Network partnered with business travel management leader Carson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) to create the tool, which enables meeting planners to enter the dates of their meeting and the attendees’ departure cities into the Meeting Locator tool.
“Traditional approaches to determining meeting locations are inefficient and laborious,” said JR Sherman, SVP of Business Solutions at Active Network.
“With increasing scrutiny on spend management and compliance with travel policy requirements; it’s paramount that corporate meeting planners have the best technology at their fingertips.”
The tablet has been around for some time now, but 2012 is the year that hoteliers really embraced the device.
One example is at The Torch Doha, which has launched iPad services in all 163 rooms and suites. It offers guests customised in-room control options such as: lights control, curtain operation, access the internet on iPad and TV, and manage their hotel account.
Hotel manager at The Torch, Sherif Sabry said the property had “re-defined the idea of luxury service in Middle East hospitality”.
“Introducing the iPad system in all rooms and suites shows our vision focuses on guest convenience, control and speed of service. Guests can now enjoy a new found autonomy while we streamlined our operation,” he added.
Another system that uses the iPad is the iRis Sommelier, implemented at Kempinski Hotel Corvinus in Budapest.
10 COMPANY FOCUS: Entiretec & Rotana
With the vision of centralising all IT services and solutions, Rotana decided in 2012 to begin a long term strategic relationship with Entiretec.
The chain adopted Entiretec’s tailor made Managed Service concept, which includes the centralised management of all group wide services in terms of network infrastructure, security, management as well as internet access and communications. This gives Rotana the ability to adapt its own IT infrastructure in the future.
The objective of this group wide project at Rotana was to implement a platform in order to enable private services to be offered via a SaaS model within a private cloud.
The primary focus was the implementation of a centralised High Speed Internet Access profile management system, a two-node approach for the guest related information sitting in two data centres.
A major achievement of the project was the centralised guest management portal — a Rotana-branded landing page in the corporate design with no vendor presence or advertising.
It also gave Rotana the opportunity to gain new revenue with bespoke billing models from a centralised platform, cost savings due to streamlined solutions throughout the chain, and a much higher guest satisfaction due to a ‘single sign on’ environment.
11 Hosted PABX
For many hotels one of the largest capital expenditures has been PABX (Private Automated Branch Exchange). This telephone network is commonly used by call centres and hotels.
It allows a single access number to offer multiple lines to outside callers while providing a range of external lines to internal callers or staff — hence dial 0 for reception, or 9 for an outside line! Back in the ‘good old days’ revenue from guest telephone calls more often than not justified the large initial capital outlay for a PABX system.
Yet with the arrival of the mobile phone came the death knell for the PABX revenue stream as hotels looked just to cover costs. The solution – hosted PABX.
The model is based on minimal upfront costs and the provider is paid on a monthly subscription basis. This can also be based on a preceding month’s occupancy. Putting the model together can be complicated but it does offer a viable alternative to hoteliers who have an outdated PABX system.
12 Pool system
Guest safety is one of the most important factors for a hotel. And one of the most potentially hazardous areas is the pool.
In a bid to be one step ahead of the game, The Rezidor Hotel Group decided to roll out a high performance and sustainable swimming pool disinfestation system after a six months trial conducted at its Yas Island, Abu Dhabi hotel.
Diverguard products are designed for Middle East climate; the stabilisers in this product eliminate the efficiency lost due to high temperature climate and the disinfection levels are maintained between 1-2 PPM even during summer.
The product’s special formulation helps to maintain pH of the water at 7.4 – 7.5 without using pool acids thus making it safe for human skin.
Since the disinfection parameters are maintained at all times, algae growth is completely eliminated without dosing additional chemicals
Due to the new products, the hotels will be able to reduce the back wash time from five minutes to one minute which means an actual saving of 3000 litres of water per day in one pool.
The hotel group has also introduced Kontrol 800 with network communication, which is connected to the PC of the chief engineer. This helps the engineer monitor the parameters on a computer.
13 POS Integration
At the forefront of SaaS solutions is Micros-Fidelio, with myfidelio.net,featuring an online reservation platform, and mymicros.net which provides up-to-date reporting on Micros point of service (POS) solutions.
We were impressed with the company’s 2012 integration of the Isis SmartTap mobile commerce application into the Micros Simphony POS platform, allowing consumers to make purchases, redeem offers and present loyalty cards with the single tap of their smartphone.
“Through our work with Isis, Micros is able to provide our Simphony POS users with a new avenue to engage customers and cater to changes in transactions at the point of service,” said Michael L. Russo, chief technology officer, Micros Systems, Inc.
Isis chief sales officer, Jim Stapleton said mobile commerce provides a “significant opportunity for merchants and restaurateurs to engage with consumers and build customer loyalty through payments, loyalty and offers”.
Hotels also benefit from high security, and no shortages as far as memory goes.
With all the demands for technologically advanced rooms it is little wonder that many hotels end up with a jumble of systems.
Fortunately there are now companies that offer multi-functionality platforms that cut through the mess.
Swisscom Hospitality is one such company and it has launched a generic application programming interface (API) that enables hotels to achieve full service integration between their guest room entertainment systems and mobile guest applications on the one hand, and their POS, property management and back-office systems on the other.
In parallel, Swisscom Hospitality has developed an HTML5 application, allowing leading TV and set-top-box manufacturers to interact with its in-room entertainment solutions.
It can be used by any mobile application vendor to interface with Swisscom Hospitality’s IPTV, ConnectedHotel TV or any third-party IP application on a Swisscom-managed network.
As a result, hoteliers have complete freedom when selecting their application providers and mobile guest application development partners, whilst at the same time being able to count on Swisscom Hospitality’s proven reliability and service management.
15 Energy Management Systems
Energy Management Systems (EMS) have never been more important. With rising costs and a focus on reducing waste, it is essential that properties have robust systems in place that reduce energy wastage.
Long gone are the days of simply having a magnetic card that operates the room’s electrical circuits. Sensor-based systems have been available for a while, but the results speak for themselves.
The sensors know when a person is in the room and when they leave can adjust the air-conditioning and lighting accordingly. Those properties that have invested heavily in their EMS systems have seen dramatic reductions in their energy bills.
There is certainly an initial expenditure, but industry standards have revealed the ROI on these systems can be between as little as two or three years – even less for hotels that qualify for rebates through government sustainability initiatives.
The great thing about EMS is the fact that the data is easily monitored by the engineering department. Savings are therefore easily tracked and areas where there are energy surges can be dealt with in an informed manner.
16 Robotic sleep painter
While saving money through technology is a worthwhile endeavour, we also need to embrace the fun element of gadgets.
One company that is doing just that is Accor’s brand ibis.
The chain has enlisted the help of a robotic artist that paints a guest’s sleeping data gathered from a re-designed mattress. The robotic artist system is the result of collaboration between Accor, ACNE robotics and BETC Digital for a project known as ‘Sleep Art’.
The robotic actuating arm paints a representation of the guest’s sleeping patterns taken from 80 sensors embedded in the mattress.
Data collected from the sensors includes temperature, pressure and sound, which are then sent via a Wi-Fi connection to the robot. digital image.
The whole process is done live in real-time throughout the evening while you sleep instead of generating an image instantly with a lump-sum of collected data., although the robot is based in Paris. Ibis chose 40 people who signed-up on their Facebook page to take part in the trials for the technology.
17 Bluetooth keyboard
Business areas in hotels are still very useful, but increasingly guests have their own computers and tools with them. And while tablet technology is great, as writers we know that the built-in keyboards aren’t the most comfortable to use.
That’s why we love the idea of the Bluetooth Stereo Keyboard with speaker phone for iPad and other devices.
It works wirelessly with tablets and has a fully functional QWERTY keyboard with built-in music control functions.
A bluetooth stereo speaker system streams music wirelessly from across the room and there are two USB charging ports to charge mobile devices. It comes with a volume limiting switch to match max output to room size and a built-in audio patch cord allows guests to play their MP3/CD player (or other external device) through the speakers.
And rather than having to ring down to reception to find out how to use the device there are simple written instructions on the cabinet for ease of use. This ticked all the boxes for us; allowing for your own music to be played, making typing less of a chore and offering the ability to charge your devices.
18 COMPANY FOCUS: Jumeirah
Jumeirah has delivered a number of key projects this year aimed at improving the way it operates as a business.
One of the most important projects has been in the Enterprise resource planning (ERP) space, an area largely invisible to guests, and this included improvements to the way the company budgets and forecasts, as well as the way it manages procurement.
“We have also successfully implemented a number of initiatives in the area of CRM, allowing us to deliver the levels of service that Jumeirah is renowned for through state-of-the-art technology,” explained Floor Bleeker, vice president business solutions at Jumeirah Group.
“In 2012 we introduced the mobile version of Jumeirah.com, and have implemented free Wi-Fi in some of our hotels’ limousines in the UAE, allowing guests to stay connected even when on the road with us.
This year will also see the launch of a beta version of phase 3 of www.jumeirah.com, as well as mobile and tablet apps for some of our hotels, allowing guests to order in-room dining, etc.”
19 Employee theft
We have already touched upon the need to protect your guests’ details from outside theft, but what about internal theft or unintentional financial malpractice?
The pace of business within the hospitality industry is fast and it can be hard to keep up, but loss prevention solutions and exception-based reporting can make a world of difference.
According to Micros, statistics show that fraudulent POS activity can account for an average of up to 4% of sales. That means that one in every 25 transactions per point of sale could prove costly to your business.
Large hotels, restaurants or entertainment venues usually have numerous POS terminals within a facility, which could translate into a huge number of fraudulent transactions every day. Sadly it is estimated that 60% of losses can be tied to employee theft.
With exception-based reports, these instances can be tracked, recorded and you can take corrective action. Micros-Retail’s XBR loss prevention system has been a leader in the field for around 20 years and the company is now aggressively expanding the system in the hospitality industry throughout the Middle East, including at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai.
We all know we have to be on the internet. Most of us know we have to be present on mobile devices. But how many hotels are providing fully-functioning mobile content that is fully geared towards each type of mobile device, whether it be an iPad or an android phone?
As Samir Abi Frem, corporate vice president, information technology for Rotana explains, everyone wants to jump on the mobile devices but the minute you start manipulating it, “you find you’re going back to a PC-based experience”.
“Our mobile app, we don’t have a single link to a website, and this is where 90% of apps today that exist, once you finish with the nice pictures and app text, once you move to certain functions — to look for an offer or to book — they put you back onto the webpage that you can’t use properly on a mobile device,” he asserts.
“So everything we have done on our new app is in the app, you never have to leave it. And that’s what people like. You are launching an app to book, and this is where the revenue comes from, so if the app stops before they finish, then you lose everything.”
The lesson to be learned is if you are developing an app for your property, do it properly – there will be no excuses in 2013!