Hotels could change beyond recognition in the next few years, says Sarah Baxter – but will travellers miss the human touch?
What the 13th century wayfaring folk of Wiltshire would make of this, heaven only knows.
As I swayed, slightly seasickly, in Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles, staring into a 3D fantasy that responded to every swivel of my head, I wasn’t sure what I made of it.
Was this the future of hotel entertainment? Was it what future travellers would demand? Was I about to fall over?
Best Western offers 281 hotels in Great Britain. Within its portfolio is the oldest purpose-built hotel in Europe, which has served Salisbury sightseers since 1220. In 2015, Best Western wants to have the most modern hotels too. The chain is an enthusiastic embracer of technology – it was the first hotel brand to introduce free Wi-Fi.
But looking around its Inspiration Hotel – a series of tech-packed showrooms created for the chain’s annual conference – Wi-Fi seemed very last century. Think instead: Li-Fi, Mi-Fi and coffee machines that remember how you take it.
The display aimed to demonstrate how the latest technologies can benefit both hoteliers and guests, from check-in to check-out. It was also quite a lot of fun, and involved quite a lot of mind-bending.
The biggest buzz was around Li-Fi – sending data wirelessly using the light in the room rather than traditional Wi-Fi routers.
A sensor, attached to a laptop, communicates with detectors fitted to existing lighting via rapid changes in light intensity, invisible to the naked eye (Are you still with me? Good.).
A hotel could fix detectors, offering dense, fast connections throughout. An advantage for the user is security. If someone in the lobby wanted to steal your data, they would need to hover between your device and the light. An advantage for the hotel is that they know where you are. “As the user moves through the hotel, you get very precise location information,” explained Nikolai Serafimovski of pureLiFi.
“Things could activate when they need to, only for that user – doors might open automatically, relevant adverts might open…” I blanched at the thought of being virtually followed around a hotel, harangued by spa ads if I passed within pummel distance of the masseuses. But was I being naïve?
“Look at the tech you’re using. Every telephone company knows where you are right now. If you are not already suspicious of technology, you should be,” said Richard Lewis, Best Western’s CEO. “Plus it’s all about choice – opting in, opting out.”
The video table – like eating off a giant iPad – was more my thing. Not least because it was loaded with menus, and I could design my own burger, sliding lettuces into buns. Simple pleasures.
Tables like these might be installed in hotel restaurants. You would tap to send your order to the kitchen; via Orderella, you’d pay by phone. There was no mention of a mobile then serving your meal – but, through all this finger swiping, might we be losing the human touch?
Again, it comes down to choice, said Lewis. “It’s about what you’re looking for. You don’t want to wait in line, don’t have any questions – if there’s tech that does what you need, it speeds up your experience. For others who want the personal touch – by using tech, you’ve just allowed more time for the staff to look after them.”
All these gizmos looked grand in the showroom: the table that wirelessly charges your phone; check-in kiosks that zap QR codes; interactive video walls; the virtual jukebox, great for anonymously inflicting your musical tastes.
But how many are travellers likely to see soon? A hotelier with a threadbare carpet will struggle to justify those Oculus Rift headsets but, as traveller expectations grow, some hotels will decide they need some of this stuff pronto.
“There’s the possible and the cost of the possible,” said Lewis. “But I would love every Best Western right now – and we could do it within a week – to check-in a guest in a foreign language.” SpeechTrans, an advanced translation product that can translate 44 languages with no need for voice recognition training, is ready to roll.
“You might not be able to chat quantum physics but for basics, it’s 99.5 per cent accurate. It sends a message to all guests: you’re welcome,” Lewis added.
Will all hotels be full of this stuff 10 years from now ? No – but some will.
Do you need a coffee machine to remember you like two sugars? No. Does it fill me with Wall-E-style “humans in hover chairs” dread that all this tech means we’ll no longer have to stand up to close the curtains? A little. But then, 10 years ago I never imagined I would carry a device in my pocket more powerful than my last computer.
The tech will come in baby steps. But it will come. And much of it – once we’ve gotten our heads around it – will be pretty useful.
“I love change,” concluded Lewis. “Every now and then, you have to look in the mirror and reinvent yourself.” And don’t worry if that sounds difficult – there’s probably an app for it.
For more information, see: bestwestern.co.uk
This article was written by Sarah Baxter from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.