by Julie Barker | April 03, 2017

Credit Steve Jobs for understanding that cool design is not just for the elite, Starbucks for recreating the public gathering place, and Facebook and Instagram for fostering in travelers a desire to have something sharable on social media -- a "scene," or beautifully plated food, or craft beers with new friends by the hotel's fire pit. These are among the trends, forces, and cultural shifts that have given us today's new hotels. But what about tomorrow's?

Technological change helped give birth to a cascade of "lifestyle" hotel brands in the last decade, and tech will continue to create new expectations among guests as we travel through our 24/7, interconnected lives. "Hotels used to be where the world came to see new experiences, and that is no longer the case at all. It's completely reversed," says Dr. Lalia Rach, a speaker and consultant, and a longtime educator in the hospitality industry. "You bring the expectation that you're going to be able to do in your hotel room all that you do at home. With all of your technology."

The experts interviewed for this article describe a future where Wi-Fi would have no dead spots, and the hotel itself is "really tech-centric, allowing people to not only have a very seamless check-in process and experience with the hotel itself, but also charge all their devices," as Liz King, CEO of Liz King Events, puts it. So let's look at technology in the hotels of tomorrow.

It Starts With an App

Brian McGuinness, Marriott

When we asked Brian McGuinness, Marriott's senior vice president of classic premium brands (Marriott Hotels, Sheraton, and Delta) to look into the future and tell us about the hotel experience he foresees several years hence, he envisioned the trip beginning with his opening an app on his smart device and pulling up his business traveler profile so when he arrives at the hotel, beacon technology would pick up that he is on site, and a few signals would be sent to make sure his TV channel lineup is set to the one he likes when he's traveling on business, and that the thermostat is set to his preferred 68 degrees. Also, the guest room will be set up for Business Brian, who likes bottled water and almonds on hand, a wakeup time of 6 a.m., signaled with music through Sonos speakers rather than an alarm. There is no need for Brian to stop at a check-in desk; his mobile device provides keyless entry. And beacon technology throughout the hotel's public spaces prompts information tailored to him and his trip to be delivered to his device. Humans, too, pick up prompts for service delivery in McGuinness' future: An associate greets him by name and offers the caffeinated drink he prefers on a business trip. The app/beacon interface also ensures he is advised about the strategic plan for the meeting he is attending, and lets him pick up on his device the five key takeaways from the speaker.

James Spellos, president of Meeting U, a speaker on technology, envisions a similar experience both with check-in and receiving meetings content via push technology, though in his future, the app does not derive from the hotel loyalty system, but from one's employer. "You won't need to download a conference app. You'll have the organization app. The hotel needs to accommodate that by doing two things: Having bandwidth that is always on and reliable, and also [dealing with] the security issue." (This past January the Romantik Seehotel Jügerwirt in Austria experienced the first instance of a hotel being held hostage by hackers. The keyless-entry system was affected, and incoming guests could not be given access to their rooms.)

Refashioning the Space
If you find hotel meeting spaces boring, you're not alone. Hotel designers are working on the problem. First, meeting spaces have to be more flexible, with freedom for attendees to move around and touch down here or there to collaborate.

Flexible, tech-connected spaces
are in high demand from younger
guests, and Marriot's event hub
in Charlotte is testing
several concepts

At Marriott's beta testing property, the Marriott Charlotte City Center, in Charlotte, NC, the event hub includes meeting spaces with built-in flexibility, says McGuinness -- pivot walls, movable partitions, and modular furniture. "Our goal is to allow the meeting planner and attendees to have a canvas of their own, a blank canvas to create the spaces where they feel the most productive -- to be able to move the furniture around and to feel comfortable and work within that 'white space.'"  

At the Radisson RED, Minneapolis, which opened in November 2016, a 1,000-square-foot space sectioned off from the lobby and called the Events & Games Studio is outfitted with essential meeting equipment such as a projector with remote connection and high-quality speakers. Other elements are less traditional: beanbag seating, Ping-Pong tables, a PlayStation, and board games. The space can be rearranged and reconfigured with ease. RED, by the way, is a Millennials-targeting brand.

Jennifer Hsieh, vice president of CX innovation in Marriott's customer experience group, says that in studying next-generation meeting space attributes, the company has discovered the importance of "in-between spaces." These are areas outside the meeting room where people sit and have conversations, or stand and network, or do informal work. She says planners will start to see these areas in future hotels, with soft furnishings and tall, bar-height tables, and integrated technology with screens.

We may also see kitchens in the meetings area, where the point is not to microwave your cold coffee, but to relax and chat as everyone seems to do when they congregate in a residence's kitchen. "It works brilliantly for popup meetings and brainstorming sessions where it's more casual and thoughtful and inspiring," says McGuinness of a concept kitchen called the LG Studio, now being fine-tuned and featuring café-type tables and an island.

UCLA's new Luskin Conference
Center includes "nutrition hubs"
between meeting areas, ideal for
breaks, healthy snacks,
or informal meetings

A new conference center at UCLA, the Luskin Conference Center, which opened last August, designed its in-between space as "nutrition hubs" that have a kitchen-like feel, with dual seating at cocktail rounds, though without the island. Along with coffee, tea, and healthy snacks, there's chilled water on tap, eliminating the need for plastic bottles.

Beyond casual and flexible spaces, the demand for spaces that spark creativity is highlighted in a report from IACC, "The Meeting Room of the Future." Mark Cooper, IACC's CEO, explains that "closely linked to the words 'creative meeting spaces' is 'inspiring meeting spaces.' Just as we get inspired by walking into art galleries" attendees are inspired by designed spaces.