. The Meetings Hotel of the Future | Successful Meetings

The Meetings Hotel of the Future

What wondrous services will we enjoy at tomorrow's hotels?

Hologram by NH Hotel Group

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

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
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
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.


Bots and More
Robots, especially chatbots, will soon be seen in hospitality jobs that are simply transactional, say trend-watchers, freeing human team members to apply their intelligence where it's needed more. Artificial intelligence (AI) has proved it's no longer sci-fi, but mainstream, with Amazon's Alexa being the poster girl. Bots with AI can have fairly sophisticated conversations with guests. The Commodore in Las Vegas has its chatbot, Rose, engage in quick-witted repartee with guests via text message. Other hotel companies are moving carefully into this area with so-called concierge robots. Last year, Hilton Hotels tested a robot designed in collaboration with IBM's Watson project.

Holographic projection, a staple of Star Trek in the mid-1960s (and glimpsed in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz) is finally here at some meetings hotels. The NH Hotel Group has gone into this in a big way. Holographic projection technology that creates a full-size, 3D telepresence is available at select hotels in Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. The projector, audio, curtains, and lights allow meeting planners to beam in a virtual representation of a VIP or to have a product unveiling of, say, an automobile, right before the attendees' eyes.

Other whiz-bang tech includes virtual reality, which is not likely to play well in hotel meeting rooms. The trouble is, that technology is too immersive. It shuts other people out of the reality -- the opposite of what meetings try to achieve. But its cousin, augmented reality (AR), is expected to be used more widely in the future. "It adds on another dimension to what you're already seeing," says Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, a consultant on using technology in meetings. "[AR] can be used in a collaborative setting to allow you to work together on projects."

Next step beyond virtual reality is sensory augmentation. "Already people are experimenting with delivering taste and touch sensation via your device. For instance, the oPhone lets you transmit smells," says Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future. "So I should be able to smell the bath products, taste the food in the restaurant, and feel the bed linens, all via my device prior to booking."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the April 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.

Buzzy Concepts
Here are a few hotel tech concepts that industry watchers suggest keeping an eye on:

• Savor this F&B. In a decade, 3D-printed food may be commonplace, maybe even at large events. James Spellos, president of Meeting U, foresees 3D-printed banquet food for attendees who need a special meal. "Maybe a food 3D app can deal with dietary or health restrictions in a way that a large-scale kitchen can't," he says. Or maybe a gizmo like the Foodini could give guests more food choices in their rooms. Meanwhile, in the bar, robots will be pouring the drinks.

• Come on, baby, light my badge. People want to meet people. A significant proportion at an event want to build their network. Bluetooth low-energy signal beacons are available from several providers to help them do just that. Attendees can wear a two-way beacon on a badge, and when two people with similar interests approach, their badges light up. Other smart badges interface with heat mapping technology to help event planners track where people are roaming and see what is gaining attendee interest and engagement, says Jennifer Hsieh, Marriott's VP of CX innovation. Beacon technology has to be built into the facility, but she says "it's not that difficult."

• Brands, brands, and -- really? For the past decade, hotel companies have introduced new brands with head-spinning frequency, adding so-called lifestyle brands that were "curated" to create a sense of experience. Where a brand once meant uniformity and an 800 number, those attributes and advantages are now gone, says Dr. Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor at the NYU School of Professional Studies, Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. And in the future? "There will be new brands," he says, but they will be simply "… a way for hotel companies … to continue to have a family of offerings so the hotel companies keep the revenue coming in to them. They do that by finding new messages, new positioning, slightly new models, and this will appeal to that one guest who has that one need this week."


Bots and More
Robots, especially chatbots, will soon be seen in hospitality jobs that are simply transactional, say trend-watchers, freeing human team members to apply their intelligence where it's needed more. Artificial intelligence (AI) has proved it's no longer sci-fi, but mainstream, with Amazon's Alexa being the poster girl. Bots with AI can have fairly sophisticated conversations with guests. The Commodore in Las Vegas has its chatbot, Rose, engage in quick-witted repartee with guests via text message. Other hotel companies are moving carefully into this area with so-called concierge robots. Last year, Hilton Hotels tested a robot designed in collaboration with IBM's Watson project.

Holographic projection, a staple of Star Trek in the mid-1960s (and glimpsed in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz) is finally here at some meetings hotels. The NH Hotel Group has gone into this in a big way. Holographic projection technology that creates a full-size, 3D telepresence is available at select hotels in Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. The projector, audio, curtains, and lights allow meeting planners to beam in a virtual representation of a VIP or to have a product unveiling of, say, an automobile, right before the attendees' eyes.

Radisson RED, Minneapolis, targets
Millennials with its tech-forward
meeting spaces
Radisson RED, Minneapolis, targets Millennials with its tech-forward meeting spaces

Other whiz-bang tech includes virtual reality, which is not likely to play well in hotel meeting rooms. The trouble is, that technology is too immersive. It shuts other people out of the reality -- the opposite of what meetings try to achieve. But its cousin, augmented reality (AR), is expected to be used more widely in the future. "It adds on another dimension to what you're already seeing," says Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, a consultant on using technology in meetings. "[AR] can be used in a collaborative setting to allow you to work together on projects."

Next step beyond virtual reality is sensory augmentation. "Already people are experimenting with delivering taste and touch sensation via your device. For instance, the oPhone lets you transmit smells," says Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future. "So I should be able to smell the bath products, taste the food in the restaurant, and feel the bed linens, all via my device prior to booking."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the April 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.