Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Wed May 18 2016

Hotel of Tomorrow: How Technology Will Improve the Guest Experience

Hotel & Resort | Patrick Clarke | May 18, 2016

Hotel of Tomorrow: How Technology Will Improve the Guest Experience

PHOTO: The new Herb N' Kitchen at Hilton San Francisco Union Square. (Photo courtesy of Hilton San Francisco Union Square).

The Hilton San Francisco Union Square recently became the first Hilton property in the city to integrate digital keys, a brand-wide initiative that allows Hilton HHonors members to book a room, check-in and access their room using only their smartphone.

Although digital keys aren't everywhere yet, the initiative highlights a few of the ways that ever-changing technology and the hotel industry's implementation of it is improving the guest experience.

"Many of our guests rely on their smartphones to manage many aspects of their lives," Hilton Worldwide's Director of Digital Product Innovation Dana Shefsky told TravelPulse. "Our digital tools give them the convenience, access and decision-making power they desire."

The added convenience of being able to choose your room and unlock the door without having to stop by the front desk is undeniable, but digital key and similar efforts also benefit hotel staff members, which in turn benefits guests.

"By giving our guests access to the more transactional processes that have traditionally been managed by front desk staff — like choosing their room or issuing their key — we’re also freeing up our team members to have more personal interactions with guests," added Shefsky.

"Previously a guest’s first impression of the hotel was with the front desk. Now, the guest’s first impression might be from a housekeeper or room service server."

READ MORE: 3 Top Hotel Trends To Watch For in 2016

The human element doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Therefore, the hotel of tomorrow is one where guests will be able to choose how they go about their stay rather than be forced to interact solely with robots.

"It's about giving people options for how they want to interact," Penn State School of Hospitality Management director Donna Quadri-Felitti told TravelPulse. "Technology expands those options."

"It's about the experience and technology allows people to have an experience on their terms," she added.

READ MORE: ACSI Report Finds Hotel Guest Satisfaction Down in 2016

"The human element is critical to our ability to deliver best-in-class hospitality experiences to guests for decades to come and our digital tools are not changing our long-term staffing strategy," added Shefsky.

As Quadri-Felitti notes, food and beverage experiences also promise to feature heavily in tomorrow's hotels as guests — especially those traveling for business — look for spaces to gather and hotels work to accommodate them with larger and more well-equipped communal areas.

"Food and beverage is becoming more important, even in the limited- or focused-service segment. It's still always about the interaction between people. What's different is allowing the traveler to determine when and how they want to do that."

READ MORE: Hilton, IBM Pilot First Watson-Enabled Robot Concierge

"This movement to a sort of smaller room and larger social space I think is the key trend that's going to sustain itself for another decade."

Interestingly, the Hilton San Francisco Union Square's recent $25 million renovation included a pair of new food and beverage outlets and a full lobby transformation. The hotel added an Herb N’ Kitchen marketplace (pictured above) equipped with fresh, local and seasonal fare and created a lobby bar boasting signature cocktails and seating customized for networking and remote working.

Like much of the industry, Hilton will continue to search for ways to simplify travel for its guests and expand their options.

"We’re embracing the intersection of technology and travel, dreaming up creative ways technology can personalize a guest’s stay and make travel easier," said Shefsky. "In short, many of our digital tools help our team members do  their jobs even better."

So while you can bet the hotel of tomorrow will embrace new technology and provide you with more options than you have today, the human element is sure to stick around.

"Technology can permit travelers to have that solo experience," said Quadri-Felitti. "But travel is about engaging the world, it's about being in a differenct place and experiencing a different place."


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