by Andrea Doyle | February 12, 2014
At the YOTEL New York, a towering robotic arm takes guests’ luggage and stores it in bar-coded storage bins. The Nine Zero Hotel in Boston uses iris-scan technology that opens the door to its presidential suite, while the Hotel Éclat in Taipei, Taiwan, has toilets with lids that open automatically. The hotel experience is changing, and the future will be here faster than you think. We asked planners, hoteliers, and hospitality experts to make some predictions on what the guest experience will be like; what follows are 20 features that are already here, or will soon be here before you even know it.
THE BRAND EXPERIENCE

1. Personalization
Industry experts agree that the hotel of the future will be completely personalized. From the height of the desk chair and bathroom mirror and the firmness of the mattress to room temperature, all of these will be to each guest’s liking when they enter the guest room. Inspired by advancing technology and pioneers such as Amazon, the hospitality industry will mine and use data to create a customized experience similar to the one we already see in the e-commerce world.

“The cookie-cutter in-room experience has to die,” says internationally recognized keynote speaker Dr. Lalia Rach, associate dean, UW-Stout School of Hospitality Leadership, Menomonie, WI, and founder of Rach Enterprises. Rach also was the founding dean of the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management. “We’ve talked about customization for a long time now,” she notes. “We’ve talked about the colors of the room changing, about what’s on the walls changing to be more reflective of the person who is in the room. But it’s not just the physical, it’s the intangible.”

2. Customized Service
In tandem with the move toward personalization will come a trend toward customized service. “When I land in New York, why can’t I receive a text saying, ‘Looking forward to seeing you at our hotel today. Do you need anything?’” posits Rach. “It’s getting to the point that if I grant you permission to know where I am location-wise, you should know what matters to me.”

Pillow menus were once all the rage. From a down-filled pillow to a sound pillow with built-in speakers, this was considered a high-end amenity. Rach is not impressed. “Don’t offer me a smorgasbord of choices. Make sure the pillow I like is in my room. If Amazon can do it, why can’t the hotel industry?”

3. Female Friendly
Julia Sutton, COO of Exhale Enterprises, which runs 22 spas in the U.S. and the Caribbean, says many female executives do not feel that the hotel industry has embraced them. This will no longer be the case in the hotel of the future. Some hotel companies, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and Hyatt Hotels & Resorts included, have already launched female-friendly programs that cater specifically toward women travelers.

4. Experience-Oriented
Hotels of the future will seek new ways to create experiences. Already, lobbies increasingly are being transformed into multi-use spaces where groups can eat, drink, work, socialize, and, sometimes, take in museum-quality artwork.

Activity options such as the on-site art room in the Gastwerk, a hotel in Hamburg, Germany, that was a former gas plant, will be commonplace. The popular attraction features an artist in residence; hotel guests can pop in to his studio and watch him create his works, which are featured throughout the hotel.

The Marriott Marquis Washington, D.C., scheduled to open on May 1, adjacent to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, will be home to one of the United States’ most impressive sculptures in a hotel — Birth of the American Flag — by renowned artist Rodney Carroll. The 56-foot sculpture, the centerpiece of the new property, is viewable from the ground-floor lobby, mezzanine, and the interior-facing guest rooms. It will be the largest piece of art in any Marriott hotel.

5. Grab and Go
More casual dining establishments are becoming popular, where guests can get a quick bite at a reasonable price and enjoy communal seating with Wi-Fi and plenty of plugs.

Herb N’ Kitchen is a new dining concept created by Hilton Hotels & Resorts that is now available in the New York Hilton Midtown, the largest hotel in Manhattan. Herb N’ Kitchen infuses fresh, local gourmet food into an upscale, casual restaurant and convenient culinary market. It also invites guests into the dining experience by enabling them to see their meals prepared.

BRAND IDENTITY

6. Hotel Brands Will Redefine Themselves into Boutique-Like Niches
This is already happening, but in the future, more hotel brands will offer meeting groups and other travelers an array of chain options based on demographics. “Brands are being challenged because many travelers do not prefer standardization as much as in the past. Edition is an example of a new approach to hotel branding,” explains Bjorn Hanson, Ph.D., divisional dean for the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management at NYU.

Edition is a Marriott boutique hotel that will anchor a 100-city chain, in an effort to attract a younger crowd. The brand was conceived with the help of boutique hotelier Ian Schrager. Marriott International has launched another hotel brand, Moxy, also aimed at the Millennial traveler.

Indeed, the lucrative Millennial segment is having a big effect on what the hotel of the future will look like. “With this generation, travel is no longer discretionary, it’s a right — and that’s a different reality,” notes Rach.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts has its Aloft brand, with more than 75 hotels in 14 countries. “For the always-on next generation of traveler, Aloft offers a tech-forward, vibrant experience, and a modern style that is different by design,” says Brian McGuinness, senior vice president, specialty select brands, global brand leader, Starwood Hotels & Resorts. “We are aware of the power of Gen Yers specifically, who are poised to become the largest consumer group in the history of the U.S. and, therefore, the future market for most consumer brands. Gen Y is made up of more than 75 million individuals, and they spend $200 billion each year on consumer products and experiences. Loft-like guest rooms, a buzzing W XYZ bar scene in the open lobby, an urban-inspired grab-and-go café, and industrial design elements throughout make Aloft a far cry from the conventional cookie-cutter brands.”

7. Name-Brand Fitness Centers and Spas
Another trend that will continue is hotels and resorts featuring name-brand fitness centers and spas as a way to differentiate themselves and bump up offerings while offloading the bulk of investments on a partner.

Properties are pairing up with fitness brands such as Exhale, Core Performance, DavidBartonGym, and SoulCycle. “Hotels are now trying to create a lifestyle for their guests,” says Sutton. “They can no longer get away with just putting a gym in or a regular spa.”

8. Celebrity-Chef Restaurants
Hotels and resorts have already been adding celebrity-chef restaurants at an unprecedented rate. The days of a hotel restaurant thinking it can rely on a captive audience are long over. They are being judged just like restaurants in the retail space.

CHECKING IN

9. Front Desk-Less
The hotel of the future will be without a front desk. “In the past, there were wood and marble front desks that served as a barrier. It was as if the staff was afraid of the customer,” says Rach. Those days are over. “We are no longer a society that takes to lines. We are definitely not a society of patience. Even the airline industry gets that. There are kiosks and smartphones, where we can check in or change our seat.

The hotel industry has to move away from the structure that currently exists and move into an experience structure with service.”

Right now, 14 Aloft properties are equipped with Smart Check-in, giving travelers the ability to bypass the traditional check-in process and head straight to their guest room with an enhanced keycard equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. An additional 14 will have this capability this year.

10. Keyless Entry
A guest will walk into the lobby and head straight to his room. The room number will be sent via text, as will a barcode that unlocks the door. One’s cell phone can be used for easy, keyless entry, something Starwood also is pioneering. Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) members who opt in to this offer receive an enhanced SPG/Aloft-branded keycard. On the day of a planned stay, a text message is sent to the guest’s mobile device with her room number. Once at the hotel, guests can skip the check-in line and go straight to her assigned room, where their enhanced keycard will unlock the door.

IN THE ROOM

11. Easy-to-Access Technology

The movement toward augmented reality — the use of computer imagery overlaid on the field of view to augment the reality that has recently been introduced with Google Glasses — will eventually make its way into guest-room design. This will enable the attendees to access a variety of information about the hotel, the destination, and the meeting or event through interactive technology displays.

Andrew MacCachran, CMP, director, meetings/conferences and program development for the Washington, D.C.-based American Chemistry Council, says that in-room technology access is a priority. “We are a society with the philosophy, ‘I know how I want things and I expect them to be that way,’” says MacCachran, who engages in the end-to-end meeting planning for 30 annual off-site conferences and events ranging from 30 to 900 attendees. “We are a generation that expects everything to be customized and efficient with the technology we now have at our disposal. We want multiple outlets that are easily accessible, wireless, iPod docking stations, and flat-screen TVs. These things are not negotiable.”

12. Intelligent Furniture
According to “Hotels 2020: Beyond Segmentation,” a study conducted by Fast Future Research and technology company Amadeus, the hotel of the future will feature intelligent furniture with built-in memory that will adapt to changes in body posture. Guests will also have the opportunity to choose the room’s artwork and display their own photos in digital frames. As technology advances, and intelligent wallpapers emerge, guests will be able to configure the room décor on arrival or download their preferred designs beforehand,

13. The Ultimate Blow Dry
Don’t expect a stack of fluffy, white towels to be waiting in the bathroom in the hotel of the future. Head-to-toe body dryers will take their place, say hotel industry insiders. This is great news for the environment, as millions and millions of gallons of water are used every day to wash hotel towels, not to mention the electricity, soap, and labor that also is required.

14. Amenities
Of course there still will be a high-powered hair dryer in the bathroom for styling purposes, and a flatiron in the closet. But there also will be dermatologist-approved skin-care products, and humidifiers will be waiting in the appropriate rooms. Embedded in bathroom mirrors will be touch-screens and TVs.

Marriott Hotels’ 10,000-square-foot Innovation Lab focuses on hotel design concepts for the future

15. The Virtual Concierge
Once in the room, there should be a message on an iPad, TV, or on the touch-sensitive tablet walls that display text and graphics to welcome guests and ask if they want reservations in a restaurant that they may have visited in the past, says Rach. This is the guest’s personal control center, where he or she can order food, get a wake-up all, check on local events and attractions, and book spa appointments and golf tee times. Lighting, temperature, and music are adjustable from here as well. “The guest will be able to utilize 24-hour concierge-level service at the touch of a button,” enthuses Rach.

16. Smaller Guest Rooms
Guest rooms in the hotel of the future will be smaller than those in the past. “Credenzas have been removed that contained CRT TVs, now that flat screens are the norm,” reports Hanson. “Another factor affecting room size is that Millennials and other travelers are spending less time in their guest rooms. Many prefer to congregate with their computers in public areas.”

17. Interactive TVs
Dan Nadeau, general manager of the Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, notes that “Interactive TVs are falling into hotels’ must-have category. They must enable guests to sync up their mobile devices with the TV to actually play their own content on the in-room flat screens. Basically, guests are expecting the tech they have at home, including access to their own content library while on the road.”

IN THE MEETING

18. Customized Meeting Space
The next generation of meeting space is a focus of Marriott International. The ability to customize and personalize ballrooms and meeting rooms is key.

“Next-generation spaces foster collaboration with technology integrated into an environment that fosters productive work. Soft seating, spaces to write on the walls, ballrooms that are blank canvases and can be easily customized, and more social networking spaces in the meeting areas are what we are driving toward,” says Jenny Hsieh, vice president, insight, strategy and innovation, at Marriott International. An example can be found in the Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre, which has one of the largest LCD screens in China and can be customized for each gathering.

19. Meetings With a Purpose
An emphasis will be placed on much more than just physical meeting space. Marriott’s newly launched “Meetings Imagined” is forward thinking as it is designed to appeal to the next generation of meeting professionals by leveraging an online platform — MeetingsImagined.com — to make gatherings more “visual, social and purposeful.”

According to Marriott, every meeting has one of seven objectives: celebrate, decide, educate, ideate, network, produce, and promote. Meetings Imagined plans meetings around experiences that advance those purposes, rather than meetings that fulfill the purely logistical requirements of an RFP.

20. Meeting Attendee Kiosks
Pamela McQueary who plans meetings for a large retail chain, envisions the hotel of the future will offer dedicated kiosks where meeting attendees can check-in, as well as mobile apps that can easily be personalized for each meeting group.

As customization of the guest experience, meetings included, becomes increasingly important for hotels, McQueary expects such personalized conveniences to become de rigueur.