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Smart Hotels: What are Smart Hotels and What Technology do They Use?

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Jordan Hollander in Operations

Last updated July 19, 2023

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Wondering what makes a smart hotel “smart?” Although ChatGPT can’t change linens or comfort an angry guest (yet), hoteliers are leveraging technology in many facets of front-of-house and back-of-house operations. In short, a smart hotel enhances the guest experience with technology and utilizes technology to make operations more efficient. As innovation continues to rapidly improve hospitality-specific technology, hoteliers find more and more use cases for technology at their properties. And in today’s market conditions, technology is especially compelling because it can help you save money, stretch staff bandwidth, automate repetitive tasks, and better serve guests. Plus, guests are becoming more tech-savvy, as we can see from the rise in popularity of contactless payments and a shift toward contactless options in many industries.

In this article, we’ll explain the key benefits and features of smart hotels, then we’ll dive into some real-life examples of smart hotel activations from brands like Marriott and Hyatt. By the end of this article, you’ll have some ideas and inspiration to bring smart hotel technology to your property.

Benefits of Smart Hotels

Leveraging technology at your hotel can unlock two main benefits: an enhanced guest experience and improved operational efficiency. On the guest experience side, technology enables guests to enjoy more personalized services and preferences, since technology can solicit, store, and deliver customizations like communication preferences, room preferences, preferred language, and more. In addition, technology can deliver a more seamless check-in and checkout experience. Mobile check-in or physical hardware like kiosks can empower guests to complete check-in on their own, bypassing the line at the front desk. And technology can also give guests the tools to customize their room settings, like temperature and lighting, plus access amenities like in-room entertainment or room service menus.

But the benefits aren’t limited to guests; employees, managers, and owners can realize efficiencies when implementing technology that streamlines hotel operations. One of the most exciting benefits of technology is automation: rather than replacing employees, technology can shift manual tasks off of their plates and free up time to spend on more impactful tasks. Tasks like sending templated emails, requesting guest reviews, and sending invoices can be easily automated, potentially taking hours of repetitive work off your staffs’ to-do lists. Another way technology can benefit your bottomline is through energy management; technology like building management systems can reduce your energy costs by turning lights and climate systems off when guests are not in guestrooms or public spaces. And keeping those guestrooms and public spaces clean can also be made more efficient with work order systems that allow teams to submit tickets, see in-progress and closed tickets, route tasks to team members, and complete preventative maintenance on-time.

Key Technologies in Smart Hotels

So what exactly makes a smart hotel “smart?” What technology do smart hotels use to create better guest experiences and more streamlined operations? Let’s dive into four main types of technology: the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), mobile apps and digital platforms, and smart room features.

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Internet of Things (IoT)

  • Connected devices and sensors: Smart devices like noise sensors, smoke sensors, and motion detectors can help hoteliers monitor activity in rooms while maintaining a high level of privacy.
  • Smart room controls and automation: In-room systems can control and automate lights, heat, air conditioning, power, and more, and hoteliers can use one central dashboard to set schedules or automate on/off functions. 
  • Energy monitoring and optimization: Smart room technology can give hoteliers real-time access into energy consumption trends while also allowing for optimization based on occupancy, seasonality, and guest preferences.

Artificial Intelligence

  • Virtual assistants and chatbots: Often found on hotel websites, mobile apps, or even in-room tablets, virtual assistants and chatbots can handle a variety of guest inquiries, from “what’s the WiFi password?” to “I want to request a late checkout,” yielding immediate answers and requiring less staff bandwidth.
  • Machine learning for guest preferences: By feeding guest reviews, surveys, and messages to a machine learning model, hoteliers can glean better insights than ever about what drives a positive or negative guest experience.
  • Predictive analytics for demand forecasting: Smart revenue management systems will learn from past performance to make rate recommendations based on anticipated demand.

Digital guest experience platforms

  • Mobile check-in and keyless entry: With a mobile or web app, guests can complete the check-in process completely self-service and receive a mobile key or a door code to enter their guestroom. A mobile key uses Bluetooth technology to securely unlock guestroom doors – and this technology is more secure than traditional keycards since they’re less likely to get lost or misused.

  • In-room entertainment and control: Guests can control their music, TV, lights, and even guestroom climate from the palm of their hand with a mobile app or platform. CitizenM has a good example of a guest app that offers full guestroom control.

  • Concierge services and local recommendations: Within an app or digital platform, hotels can offer concierge services and recommendations that help guests build a personalized experience at your property and in your destination, even incorporating restaurant reservations and tour ticketing.

Smart room controls

  • Voice-controlled devices and smart speakers: Smart speakers can do more than just play music; in addition to controlling other in-room devices, they can provide hotel information, so guests can ask questions like “Hey Alexa, what time is checkout?”

  • Smart mirrors and interactive displays: Turn an otherwise analog guestroom mirror into a digital entertainment center; smart mirrors offer TV, fitness training, concierge features, and hotel information thanks to interactive touchscreen functionality.

  • Smart beds and sleep-tracking technology: One of the latest and greatest amenities for hotels that cater to health and wellness fans is sleep technology, such as Eight Sleep’s smart mattress topper which lets guests control their mattress temperature and tracks their sleep performance.

Examples of Smart Hotel Implementations

Let’s take a peek into some great examples of smart room experiences:

  • Hilton's Connected Room: Hilton offers guests several tech-enabled amenities in their Connected Room, including Netflix and the ability to control lights and temperature from their HHonors app. The Connected Room rollout started with roughly 1,800 guestrooms in 2019 with more Connected Rooms launching each year.
  • Marriott's IoT Guestroom Lab: Set in the Innovation Lab at Marriott’s Bethesda, Maryland headquarters, the IoT Guestroom Lab aims to create the guestroom of the future. Marriott partners with vendors that provide tech like voice-enabled devices to create the ideal smart room. For example, a guest will be able to request, by voice, a wakeup call or additional housekeeping services. 
  • Wynn Las Vegas' voice-activated rooms: In 2016 Wynn announced plans to add Amazon Alexa devices to all of their Las Vegas guestrooms. But guests can use the Alexas for more than just checking the weather and playing music; Wynn is connecting lighting, climate control, in-room entertainment, and window covering systems to Alexa, so a guest can control their room with their voice.

 

Let’s explore how some leading brands incorporate contactless technologies into their guest journeys:

 

  • Accor's mobile app and digital key: Accor launched their digital key solution, dubbed “Accor key,” in 2021. Accor partnered with STAYmyway, now under the Operto umbrella, to provide digital key functionality in the Accor app, which is available to use globally. The digital key enables Accor guests to unlock guestroom doors with their smartphones using Bluetooth technology, which will not only make the check-in experience smoother, but will also reduce Accor’s environmental footprint by minimizing plastic key card use.
  • Hyatt's Mobile Entry: Now available at many Hyatt properties, the Mobile Entry program lets guests use their smartphones or Apple Watches as their room keys. Guests can check in through the World of Hyatt mobile app then add their digital room key to their Apple Wallet for easy access.
  • CitizenM’s mobile app: Tech-forward brand citizenM creates a fully contactless experience by encouraging guests to use their mobile app. Within the app, guests can check in and use a digital key to unlock their guestroom door. In addition, guests can manage reservations, get invoices, and find hotel details in the app - entirely self-service.

Challenges and Considerations for Smart Hotels

It’s worth noting that incorporating smart technology into your hotel comes with a few considerations and potential concerns. One big concern, which isn’t just limited to technology in hotels, is privacy and data security. Using more technology means there are more potential opportunities for privacy issues or security breaches, so it’s crucial to apply good security practices. Another concern, especially for older hotels, is how to integrate new technology with legacy systems. In some cases, a complete overhaul of on-site software might be necessary, since your legacy PMS might not integrate well with the smart room technology you want to implement. Once you plan to bring new technology to your hotel, make sure to conduct adequate training for your staff, since staff adoption is necessary to encourage guest adoption and to troubleshoot as needed. Finally, there’s the financial cost of introducing new technology, especially if you need to purchase hardware, so it’s important to analyze your return on investment to make sure the benefit is worth the cost.

Future Trends and Outlook

What’s next for smart hotels? If we’ve learned anything from the past decade of innovation, it’s that technology and guest expectations are constantly evolving. Within the next few years, we expect to see advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, unlocking new possibilities for technology that can enhance the guest experience and streamline operations. These advancements may also allow you to future personalize each guest’s stay, creating hyper-customized experiences that draw on guest preferences and trends. In addition to the focus on the guest experiences, we expect technology to also help you deliver more sustainable experiences and incorporate eco-friendly practices into your operations. By reducing the need for consumables, like keycards, and shifting to services upon request, like housekeeping, technology can help you minimize your environmental footprint while also decreasing costs.

While the idea of shifting your hotel to a “smart hotel” might seem daunting, it’s clear that even small steps toward a more tech-enabled future can deliver benefits to your guests, your staff, and your bottom line. Incorporating smart technology can enhance your guest experience while making your operations more efficient, and guests are eager to adopt technology like digital keys, voice-activated devices, and smart room amenities like window coverings and TV. Taking inspiration from brands like Hilton and Marriott, you can begin to shift your offerings toward your future vision of your hotel.

Every hotel owner should consider investing in smart hotel technology to enhance their property in numerous ways. Smart hotels leverage technology to run more efficiently and profitably, driving convenience for guests while reducing reliance on labor, particularly in challenging markets. By incorporating smart hotel technology, hoteliers can transform the guest experience, prioritize sustainability, and optimize operational costs.

One of the key benefits of smart hotels is the seamless integration of technology into various aspects of the guest journey. For example, self-check-in kiosks and mobile apps allow guests to bypass traditional front desk procedures, resulting in a smoother and faster check-in process. Additionally, smart hotels can offer room service through mobile apps, enabling guests to order food and amenities directly from their smartphones.

Smart hotel technology also enhances the in-room experience. Guest rooms can be equipped with advanced features such as smart TVs, voice commands, and personalized temperature control through smart thermostats. With voice commands and smart TVs, guests can easily access entertainment options and control room settings, making their stay more convenient and enjoyable.

Smart hotel technology enables hoteliers to optimize their operational costs. Through the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, various devices and systems within the hotel can be interconnected, allowing for real-time monitoring and efficient management. For example, motion sensors can detect occupancy in guest rooms, enabling hotels to optimize energy consumption by automatically adjusting room temperature and turning off air conditioning when rooms are unoccupied.

Implementing smart hotel technology also caters to the growing demand for sustainability in the hospitality industry. IoT technology can track energy consumption and identify areas for improvement, leading to reduced environmental impact. Hotels can minimize waste by utilizing contactless technologies, such as digital room keys and mobile payment systems, which not only enhance convenience for guests but also reduce the need for physical materials.

Smart hotel technology also enables hoteliers to provide personalized service based on guest preferences. Advanced management systems can analyze guest data and generate insights that allow for customized experiences. By understanding guests' preferences and behaviors, hotels can tailor their offerings, promotions, and services to maximize customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The adoption of smart hotel technology is not limited to one location or hotel chain. It is a global trend that is reshaping the industry. For example, in Singapore, several hotels have embraced smart technology advancements, such as Yotel, which features high-tech, contactless solutions. In Las Vegas and New York, renowned hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton, Wynn, and others have implemented smart hotel technology to enhance guest experiences and streamline operations.

Investing in smart hotel technology brings numerous advantages to hotel owners. It not only improves operational efficiency, profitability, and guest convenience but also contributes to sustainability efforts. By leveraging advancements in IoT technology, artificial intelligence, and connectivity, hoteliers can enhance the overall customer experience, optimize energy consumption, and reduce operational costs. Embracing the era of smart hotels is crucial to staying competitive and meeting the evolving expectations of today's tech-savvy guests.

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Jordan Hollander
Jordan is the co-founder of Hotel Tech Report, the hotel industry's app store where millions of professionals discover tech tools to transform their businesses. He was previously on the Global Partnerships team at Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Prior to his work with SPG, Jordan was Director of Business Development at MWT Hospitality and an equity analyst at Wells Capital Management. Jordan received his MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management where he was a Zell Global Entrepreneurship Scholar and a Pritzker Group Venture Fellow.