. 7 Hotel Tech Trends to Watch | Successful Meetings

7 Hotel Tech Trends to Watch

Whether it's chatbot concierges or self-check-in kiosks, hotels are getting smarter

Hotel Tech 2018 opener

Robots. Facial recognition technology. Virtual and augmented reality. There's a seemingly unending stream of cool tech tools flowing out of research-and-development centers and into all corners of the meeting and hospitality industries. It's influencing hotel and event check-in processes, adding bells and whistles to guest rooms, and innovating meeting spaces. To borrow from Thomas Dolby, they're blinding us with science.

Before delving into the latest tech trends, it's worthwhile to hear the consensus view from meeting planners, hoteliers, and futurists who focus on the hospitality industry: Technology will enhance but never replace the way hotels cater to guests.

As someone who helps people understand and cope with the implications of new technology and ways of working, Jim Carroll often finds himself thinking that many of the predictions made about tech products are way off base.

"I shudder every time I hear one of the 'experts' suggest we are about to see a lot less human contact in the way we work, and the way we get together, particularly when it comes to meetings and conferences," says Carroll, a speaker and author who focuses on global trends and innovations.

Carroll made that very same observation in print way back in February 2002. He wrote an essay that appeared in the pages of Successful Meetings, in the wake of America's 9/11 tragedy. "What I wrote back then, the same thing is true today," he says.

It bears repeating: Technology will enhance, not replace.

While acknowledging that the rate of new technology is speeding up, Carroll points to a telling correlation on how the public views change. "People tend to overestimate how much change will occur over the next two years, and underestimate change that will actually occur over 10 years," he says.

Carroll points to the Gartner Hype Cycle, a theory that attempts to differentiate a technology's bold promises from its commercial viability. That cycle typically includes: an innovation trigger, a peak of inflated expectations, and a trough of disillusionment. That's sometimes followed by a slope of enlightenment involving the product and, hopefully, a plateau of productivity.

Take, for example, something as basic as Wi-Fi in hotels. Remember when it was a novelty?

"There's nothing as irritating as substandard bandwidth," says Dr. James Canton, a futurist, author, and CEO of the Institute for Global Futures. "Yet, it's still a problem at some hotels. Not every chain has figured it out that guests expect fast Wi-Fi and expect it to be free."

Some companies get it. "We realize guests bring multiple mobile devices and need to stay productive," says Gary Murakami, director of global sales for MGM Resorts International and member of the board of directors for the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). "In Las Vegas, we offer high-speed, seamless connectivity over all our properties. And if you're using multiple properties, it spans to wherever you are."

Wi-Fi may be experiencing a plateau of productivity in Vegas. But in Sin City and all over the country, tech gadgets exist in all stages of the Gartner Hype Cycle. How the toys and tools are integrated into traditional hospitality will be the measure of success.

"It's all about the customization and curation of the experience," says Murakami. "Whether you're holding a meeting for 10 or 10,000 people, technology is now at the center of what we're focusing on."

Here are some examples of technology that's hacking its way into your next event and hotel stay:


Chatbots
Amazon's Alexa and Echo, and Google Home, are residence-based examples of chatbots that employ artificial intelligence (AI) to receive and respond to questions with audible, humanlike capabilities.

First, a definition: AI is a broad term that is applied to a machine that mimics cognitive functions we associate with the human mind, such as "learning" and "problem solving." Technology labeled as AI tends to change from year to year, and yes, it's been a scientific vocabulary word since the 1950s.

Corbin Ball points out that the Wynn Las Vegas is putting the Amazon Echo in every one of its upscale hotel suites. The Echo can be used to control the TV and thermostat, raise and lower the blinds, and contact the concierge desk to make requests.

"It's great, though there is some concern that the chatbot is always on and listening to you," says Ball, a meetings industry speaker and technology expert.

He adds that the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Vegas offers a text-based chatbot concierge -- named Rose -- that's programmed with a little … attitude. At check-in, guests receive a card that says, "I am the answer to the question you never asked; know my secrets. Text me."  

5 Hotel Chatbots That Can Make Your Stay More Satisfying


Use artificial intelligence to enhance the attendee experience, courtesy of these hotel brands


If your thumbs have a closer relationship with your smartphone than your voice does, you're not alone: U.S. smartphone users send and receive five times as many texts every day as they do phone calls, according to mobile data tracking firm Informate, which says Americans spend approximately 40 minutes a day texting via SMS or chat apps, compared to 21 minutes a day on voice calls.

The reason that texting is so popular: Compared to voice communication, it's fast, it's easy, and it's convenient.

As it turns out, "fast, easy, and convenient" also is how many travelers would describe their ideal customer service interactions with hotels. Unfortunately, the labor required makes those interactions is prohibitively expensive for most properties. At least, it used to be. Now, thanks to chatbots -- automated messaging programs that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate natural conversations with human users -- hotels across the country and around the world can afford to increase and refine their communications in ways that enhance customer service and improve guest satisfaction.

For meeting professionals, hosting events at hotels with chatbots is a novel way to enhance the attendee experience while also creating a little extra buzz around the coffee urn. Here are five hoteliers whose bots will leave even the most aggrieved group guests feeling gratified:


The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

In January 2017, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas introduced Rose, a sassy chatbot that delivers customer service to guests via text message.

"Rose is a virtual VIP host with a witty personality that helps guests have a better time while they're in Las Vegas," Senior Director of Digital, Social, and eCommerce Mamie Peers told Successful Meetings in an interview last year. According to Peers, guests can text Rose to instantly receive restaurant and bar recommendations, have amenities like extra pillows delivered to their room, play games, or even receive guided tours around the resort.

"Whatever the guest wants is what Rose is able to deliver," Peers continued. "She fulfills needs quicker than it would take you to probably dial a phone number; it's one of the most convenient ways to get extremely fast service."


Mercure Hotels

AccorHotels' Mercure brand prides itself on creating properties that are firmly rooted in their local destinations. It launched its chatbot, Mercure Bot, in 2017 in order to help guests discover those destinations. Based inside Facebook Messenger, where it lives, Mercure Bot is a digital concierge whose conversations with guests help them discover local gems. Guests must first turn on location services from their smartphones, then search for "Mercure Bot" inside Facebook Messenger. From there, they can simply ask Mercure Bot what they should see or do nearby, at which point the chatbot will commence a conversation that helps them discover their surroundings.

"Offering a hotel experience anchored in a specific locality is the very essence of the Mercure brand and its venues. Everything from design to food is geared towards helping guests grasp what makes a city tick and providing inroads into the history and hidden treasures that form the identity of a place," AccorHotels explains. "But only a bot is capable of memorizing the full range of stories from so many places around the world."


Hotel Indigo
Another hotel brand utilizing Facebook Messenger for its chatbot is InterContinental Hotels Group's (IHG) Hotel Indigo. The "Neighborhood Host," as it's known, is available to guests after they book a reservation at participating hotels, at which point they receive an invitation to engage with the bot. Those who do can ask for details about their reservation, seek recommendations for hot spots in the neighborhood around their hotel, and make special requests for their stay.

"We want travelers to interact with Hotel Indigo the same way they do with their friends, so introducing our digital Neighborhood Host on Facebook Messenger was a perfect way for us to better connect with them through one of the world's most used platforms," explains Lara Hernandez, IHG's chief commercial officer in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa (AMEA) -- where three Hotel Indigo properties are currently testing the bot. "This chatbot technology strengthens and complements the existing personalized guest service provided on-ground at each of our hotels, allowing us to better anticipate, and meet the ever-changing needs of travelers today."


Aloft Hotels
Marriott International's Aloft Hotels brand tested a robotic butler called "Botlr" in 2014 as a way to help front desk associates respond more quickly to guest needs. Last year, the brand introduced a new generation of Botlr that takes the form of a chatbot instead of a robot. Called ChatBotlr, it's available via text message and allows guests to make service requests directly from their smartphones -- anywhere and anytime they have a need. Guests may ask ChatBotlr to have toiletries delivered to their room, to give them a wake-up call in the morning, to answer questions about the hotel's amenities, or to connect them to Aloft Hotels' #AloftLive music playlist.

According to Marriott, early findings show that two out of three Aloft guests are interacting or making requests with ChatBotlr, and that the service has a five-second response time.


Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Not all hoteliers are embracing chatbots. Case in point: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, which last fall launched Four Seasons Chat, a digital service that guests can use to send and receive instant messages with property teams before, during, and after their stay. Consider it the "anti-bot." Like chatbots, it allows guests to ask questions, submit requests, and otherwise interact with hotels via text message -- using the Four Seasons app, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, or SMS. Unlike chatbots, however, the platform is powered by humans instead of artificial intelligence.

"Human connection may be the single most important element of the Four Seasons guest experience," says Four Seasons President of Worldwide Operations Christian Clerc. "Four Seasons Chat ensures guests have access to our people at any time, for any need. We continue to evolve our service offering to incorporate digital enhancements that are powered by people, to facilitate and strengthen personal connections, and to ensure guest expectations are met and exceeded every day."

Four Seasons Chat is equipped to translate more than 100 languages efficiently and in real time, according to Four Seasons, which promises "best-in-class response times … in minutes, if not seconds." In a pre-launch pilot program at 30 hotels, it reports, more than half of guests introduced to Four Seasons Chat leveraged the service on their first stay, and most used it more than six times during a stay.


-- Matt Alderton


Self check-in
Face it, waiting in line sucks. Technology for skipping lines -- in hotel lobbies and at event registration desks -- is ramping up.

MGM's Murakami says the new Park MGM (which is replacing the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino) is phasing in self-check-in. It's a program Caesars Entertainment also has implemented. The process allows you to go online to find out if your room is ready. If it is, you have the option of checking yourself in at a kiosk than can generate a room key.

Self-service kiosks are also gaining popularity for onsite event registration, notes meetings tech expert Ball.


Facial recognition
The ability to unlock a device by verifying a person's ID from a digital image or video frame was rolled out to the public on Apple's iPhone X. How about using that technology for event-registration or hotel check-in, or in lieu of a key at your guest room door?

Facial recognition has gained a level of acceptance in China, according to futurist, speaker, and author Jack Uldrich. "It does have a level of 'Big Brother' concern attached to it, though," he says. "But if you think about the Las Vegas shooting situation, it can recognize and alert security officials on who's coming and going at hotels."


Smart rooms

A definition of the term "Internet of Things" (IoT) is inherent to a discussion of smart rooms. The IoT is the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.

Both the Hilton and Marriott hotel chains are experimenting with in-room technology that connects to an individual guest's needs and preferences. In a Hilton "Connected Room" being beta tested through 2018, imagine walking in and the TV greets you by name. Marriott is also testing rooms that will be able to anticipate guest needs.

MGM is revisiting its event spaces to look for new and creative ways to make them "high touch and high tech," says Murakami.

"Making use of the Internet of Things means placing sensor technology chips all over buildings and rooms," Uldrich says. "In smart buildings you will quickly be able to lower the air conditioning, change the lighting, and aim to lower energy consumption via the sensors."

At the moment, smart guest rooms and smart meeting rooms/function space are definitely on the innovation end of the Gartner Hype Cycle. It will make sense to circle back in two years to see where the technology has advanced. And 10 years from now, look forward to the possibility of smart rooms entering a plateau of productivity.
 
 
 
Questions or comments? Email [email protected]
 


This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.

Robots
Guests at the Westin Buffalo who call the front desk for extra towels or toiletries may have them delivered to their rooms by R2D2. Okay, not the actual Star Wars metal droid, but the toothpaste or deodorant you forgot will arrive via a silver robot on wheels that was first put to work in late 2017.

The Relay robot is loaded with your requested items by a human, then it rolls into the elevator and right up to your hotel room door, where it calls you on the phone. You open the door and unload the robot's storage compartment. No tipping necessary.

But here's a suggestion: Keep an eye on Ava Robotics (a spin-off from iRobot). The company is preparing a robot that will offer a new level of telepresence for events. The self-driven robot will allow people to use video to see and be seen while collaborating in a variety of environments -- from meeting rooms to hallways, manufacturing floors to convention halls.


Virtual reality (VR)
These computer-generated scenarios that simulate a real-life experience are relatively well-immersed in society; VR technology allows a user to look around in an artificially recreated world.

A few years ago, Marriott introduced Vroom Service in conjunction with Samsung Electronics America. Hotel guests can request a Samsung Gear VR headset that's delivered to the room. The device is preloaded with videos called VR postcards that allow viewers to go on a series of mini-vacations around the world.

More and more, hotels (and other companies) are creating promotional VR displays that can be viewed at meetings and events.  


Augmented reality (AR)
AR is often mentioned in the same breath as VR but differs in that AR doesn't recreate real-world scenarios. Rather, it allows you to add virtual components to real-life environments. Think Pokémon GO.

At London's compact hotel, hub by Premier Inn, for example, you can open the camera on your smartphone and point it at a city map on the wall inside a guest room. The Explore app on your phone shows pop-up bubbles that contain details about local bars, restaurants, and attractions.

Similarly, meeting and event planners can use AR to give attendees more information about schedules and agendas at on-site venues.  

Robots
Guests at the Westin Buffalo who call the front desk for extra towels or toiletries may have them delivered to their rooms by R2D2. Okay, not the actual Star Wars metal droid, but the toothpaste or deodorant you forgot will arrive via a silver robot on wheels that was first put to work in late 2017.

Westin Buffalo guests can have
amenities sent to them via
the Relay robot
Westin Buffalo guests can have amenities sent to them via the Relay robot

The Relay robot is loaded with your requested items by a human, then it rolls into the elevator and right up to your hotel room door, where it calls you on the phone. You open the door and unload the robot's storage compartment. No tipping necessary.

But here's a suggestion: Keep an eye on Ava Robotics (a spin-off from iRobot). The company is preparing a robot that will offer a new level of telepresence for events. The self-driven robot will allow people to use video to see and be seen while collaborating in a variety of environments -- from meeting rooms to hallways, manufacturing floors to convention halls.


Virtual reality (VR)
These computer-generated scenarios that simulate a real-life experience are relatively well-immersed in society; VR technology allows a user to look around in an artificially recreated world.

A few years ago, Marriott introduced Vroom Service in conjunction with Samsung Electronics America. Hotel guests can request a Samsung Gear VR headset that's delivered to the room. The device is preloaded with videos called VR postcards that allow viewers to go on a series of mini-vacations around the world.

More and more, hotels (and other companies) are creating promotional VR displays that can be viewed at meetings and events.  


Augmented reality (AR)
AR is often mentioned in the same breath as VR but differs in that AR doesn't recreate real-world scenarios. Rather, it allows you to add virtual components to real-life environments. Think Pokémon GO.

This map in the London hotel, hub
by Premier Inn, uses AR to provide
local info
This map in the London hotel, hub by Premier Inn, uses AR to provide local info

At London's compact hotel, hub by Premier Inn, for example, you can open the camera on your smartphone and point it at a city map on the wall inside a guest room. The Explore app on your phone shows pop-up bubbles that contain details about local bars, restaurants, and attractions.

Similarly, meeting and event planners can use AR to give attendees more information about schedules and agendas at on-site venues.  


Self check-in
Face it, waiting in line sucks. Technology for skipping lines -- in hotel lobbies and at event registration desks -- is ramping up.

MGM's Murakami says the new Park MGM (which is replacing the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino) is phasing in self-check-in. It's a program Caesars Entertainment also has implemented. The process allows you to go online to find out if your room is ready. If it is, you have the option of checking yourself in at a kiosk than can generate a room key.

Self-service kiosks are also gaining popularity for onsite event registration, notes meetings tech expert Ball.


Facial recognition
The ability to unlock a device by verifying a person's ID from a digital image or video frame was rolled out to the public on Apple's iPhone X. How about using that technology for event-registration or hotel check-in, or in lieu of a key at your guest room door?

app

Facial recognition has gained a level of acceptance in China, according to futurist, speaker, and author Jack Uldrich. "It does have a level of 'Big Brother' concern attached to it, though," he says. "But if you think about the Las Vegas shooting situation, it can recognize and alert security officials on who's coming and going at hotels."


Smart rooms

A definition of the term "Internet of Things" (IoT) is inherent to a discussion of smart rooms. The IoT is the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.

Both the Hilton and Marriott hotel chains are experimenting with in-room technology that connects to an individual guest's needs and preferences. In a Hilton "Connected Room" being beta tested through 2018, imagine walking in and the TV greets you by name. Marriott is also testing rooms that will be able to anticipate guest needs.

MGM is revisiting its event spaces to look for new and creative ways to make them "high touch and high tech," says Murakami.

"Making use of the Internet of Things means placing sensor technology chips all over buildings and rooms," Uldrich says. "In smart buildings you will quickly be able to lower the air conditioning, change the lighting, and aim to lower energy consumption via the sensors."

At the moment, smart guest rooms and smart meeting rooms/function space are definitely on the innovation end of the Gartner Hype Cycle. It will make sense to circle back in two years to see where the technology has advanced. And 10 years from now, look forward to the possibility of smart rooms entering a plateau of productivity.
 
 
 
Questions or comments? Email [email protected]
 


This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.

5 Hotel Chatbots That Can Make Your Stay More Satisfying


Use artificial intelligence to enhance the attendee experience, courtesy of these hotel brands


If your thumbs have a closer relationship with your smartphone than your voice does, you're not alone: U.S. smartphone users send and receive five times as many texts every day as they do phone calls, according to mobile data tracking firm Informate, which says Americans spend approximately 40 minutes a day texting via SMS or chat apps, compared to 21 minutes a day on voice calls.

The reason that texting is so popular: Compared to voice communication, it's fast, it's easy, and it's convenient.

As it turns out, "fast, easy, and convenient" also is how many travelers would describe their ideal customer service interactions with hotels. Unfortunately, the labor required makes those interactions is prohibitively expensive for most properties. At least, it used to be. Now, thanks to chatbots -- automated messaging programs that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate natural conversations with human users -- hotels across the country and around the world can afford to increase and refine their communications in ways that enhance customer service and improve guest satisfaction.

For meeting professionals, hosting events at hotels with chatbots is a novel way to enhance the attendee experience while also creating a little extra buzz around the coffee urn. Here are five hoteliers whose bots will leave even the most aggrieved group guests feeling gratified:


The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

In January 2017, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas introduced Rose, a sassy chatbot that delivers customer service to guests via text message.

"Rose is a virtual VIP host with a witty personality that helps guests have a better time while they're in Las Vegas," Senior Director of Digital, Social, and eCommerce Mamie Peers told Successful Meetings in an interview last year. According to Peers, guests can text Rose to instantly receive restaurant and bar recommendations, have amenities like extra pillows delivered to their room, play games, or even receive guided tours around the resort.

"Whatever the guest wants is what Rose is able to deliver," Peers continued. "She fulfills needs quicker than it would take you to probably dial a phone number; it's one of the most convenient ways to get extremely fast service."


Mercure Hotels

AccorHotels' Mercure brand prides itself on creating properties that are firmly rooted in their local destinations. It launched its chatbot, Mercure Bot, in 2017 in order to help guests discover those destinations. Based inside Facebook Messenger, where it lives, Mercure Bot is a digital concierge whose conversations with guests help them discover local gems. Guests must first turn on location services from their smartphones, then search for "Mercure Bot" inside Facebook Messenger. From there, they can simply ask Mercure Bot what they should see or do nearby, at which point the chatbot will commence a conversation that helps them discover their surroundings.

"Offering a hotel experience anchored in a specific locality is the very essence of the Mercure brand and its venues. Everything from design to food is geared towards helping guests grasp what makes a city tick and providing inroads into the history and hidden treasures that form the identity of a place," AccorHotels explains. "But only a bot is capable of memorizing the full range of stories from so many places around the world."


Hotel Indigo
Another hotel brand utilizing Facebook Messenger for its chatbot is InterContinental Hotels Group's (IHG) Hotel Indigo. The "Neighborhood Host," as it's known, is available to guests after they book a reservation at participating hotels, at which point they receive an invitation to engage with the bot. Those who do can ask for details about their reservation, seek recommendations for hot spots in the neighborhood around their hotel, and make special requests for their stay.

"We want travelers to interact with Hotel Indigo the same way they do with their friends, so introducing our digital Neighborhood Host on Facebook Messenger was a perfect way for us to better connect with them through one of the world's most used platforms," explains Lara Hernandez, IHG's chief commercial officer in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa (AMEA) -- where three Hotel Indigo properties are currently testing the bot. "This chatbot technology strengthens and complements the existing personalized guest service provided on-ground at each of our hotels, allowing us to better anticipate, and meet the ever-changing needs of travelers today."


Aloft Hotels
Marriott International's Aloft Hotels brand tested a robotic butler called "Botlr" in 2014 as a way to help front desk associates respond more quickly to guest needs. Last year, the brand introduced a new generation of Botlr that takes the form of a chatbot instead of a robot. Called ChatBotlr, it's available via text message and allows guests to make service requests directly from their smartphones -- anywhere and anytime they have a need. Guests may ask ChatBotlr to have toiletries delivered to their room, to give them a wake-up call in the morning, to answer questions about the hotel's amenities, or to connect them to Aloft Hotels' #AloftLive music playlist.

According to Marriott, early findings show that two out of three Aloft guests are interacting or making requests with ChatBotlr, and that the service has a five-second response time.


Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Not all hoteliers are embracing chatbots. Case in point: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, which last fall launched Four Seasons Chat, a digital service that guests can use to send and receive instant messages with property teams before, during, and after their stay. Consider it the "anti-bot." Like chatbots, it allows guests to ask questions, submit requests, and otherwise interact with hotels via text message -- using the Four Seasons app, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, or SMS. Unlike chatbots, however, the platform is powered by humans instead of artificial intelligence.

"Human connection may be the single most important element of the Four Seasons guest experience," says Four Seasons President of Worldwide Operations Christian Clerc. "Four Seasons Chat ensures guests have access to our people at any time, for any need. We continue to evolve our service offering to incorporate digital enhancements that are powered by people, to facilitate and strengthen personal connections, and to ensure guest expectations are met and exceeded every day."

Four Seasons Chat is equipped to translate more than 100 languages efficiently and in real time, according to Four Seasons, which promises "best-in-class response times … in minutes, if not seconds." In a pre-launch pilot program at 30 hotels, it reports, more than half of guests introduced to Four Seasons Chat leveraged the service on their first stay, and most used it more than six times during a stay.


-- Matt Alderton