Photo courtesy of The Peninsula Hong Kong
The Peninsula Hong Kong might just be the only hotel on planet Earth that has a quasi-clandestine research lab that is reminiscent of the subterranean zone where James Bond’s “Q” experiments with his innovations.
Luckily for guests, this lab tests out several possibilities that could find their way to a hotel room near you. We caught up with Joseph Sampermans, General Manager of The Peninsula Beijing, and asked him to give us a crystal ball for the hotel of the future.
Q: What are the general technology innovations that are going into the "hotel of the future"? I'm sure you've brainstormed everything from iPhone docks to more....
A: Our Research and Technology, IT, and Operations Teams continuously keep performing research on improving our guest room technology.
But I think it is important we distinguish between the actual technologies that are installed, and the technology that is “invisible” but supports guest service and improves the guest experience. Those that are visible are the tablets, LED switches, VOIP phones (voice over internet), docking stations and bathroom panels.
Tablets, LED switches, TV screen and phones with display allow for the room to be set in 11 languages, so all information available will translate in the desired language, from concierge information to in-room dining menus, and from flight information to housekeeping services.
Even messages for window cleaning will appear on the tablets.
With regards to the “invisible technology;” at the backend of the visible technology are interfaces that allow the different devices to communicate, but it also can send information to the front office, housekeeping and food & beverage.
The front office now performs in-room check in via a tablet, so the traditional “front desk” experience has been eliminated, and guests are escorted directly to their rooms. We have also combined front desk with concierge and guest relations, allowing for a 'one stop' service (and no more traditional counters as a front desk).
Even housekeeping will get information on their mobile phone (each housekeeper has an iPhone), for items like extra towels, ice or laundry pick up. And since we have large 'valet boxes' which allows the staff to deliver items without guests having to open the door, the system will alert the guest via the message system on the tablet and the LED panel near the valet box. Room service orders from the tablet will go to the room service department without guests having to call.
What are your plans to improve this experience?
Considering what technology should or can be used, based on what is possible, the best result is to make these “innovations” hardly noticeable, user-friendly and seamless. So the overall guest experience has improved without having to hand the guest a manual- or having a half hour room introduction to ensure they know how to operate the printer, how to connect an HDMI device, use the 'spa button' in the bathtub or order a sandwich.
What new innovations will the Peninsula rollout, specifically?
Seamless Checkin/Checkout via a tablet allows our team to check in guests from virtually anywhere, be it at the entrance, in-room, sitting in the lobby. The Peninsula Beijing is the first hotel in our group to initiate this offering.
Of course, there are also LED switches and tablets, multiple languages in the room, new docking system, and private cinema rooms in our Beijing suites with 80" TV and surround-sound system.
Is Keyless Entry the way of the future? Why or why not?
Quite possibly: If we refer to keyless entry based on using a personal device, such as a phone - there is firstly the issue of more than one person in a room. Most systems do not support (at time of reservation/ confirmation) entering more than one device. Secondly, there is a security concern. As long as guests carry a “physical key” which is programmed at the hotel, the likelihood that the system can be compromised is lower.
In most countries, both domestic as well as international travelers would need to leave some ID (like their passport) at the front desk, making keyless entry less viable.
Most importantly – at least for first-time customers, we prefer to make personal contact. Besides explaining facilities, we believe that high-end hospitality is about personalization and personal contact.
Do you think new technologies like clapping and voice recognition will manifest themselves in the hotel room of the future? How so?
Perhaps not clapping, as the system would need to be able to recognize “different” clapping. Each person might have a different “rhythm” or “loudness” when clapping, and there is possibly nothing more frustrating than having to keep clapping to have lights come on.
Voice recognition would be a better option, but the technology currently available is not sophisticated enough yet. We have considered options to “personalize” the room but one would need to bear data privacy in mind. In this day and age, more people are concerned about the information that is kept. In that regard, rather than keeping information on guest preferences in a database, we prefer having staff that care for our guests and to remember what they like and dislike.