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Automation solutions bring the home to the room

NATIONAL REPORT—The growth of automation technology is continuing its impact on the hospitality industry by innovating the guest experience—especially within the guestroom, an atmosphere that is increasingly resembling home.

“Guestroom automation has been steadily growing in popularity,” said Bill Lally, president of Mode:Green. “Most recently, hotels have been requesting more advanced lighting control, energy management and guestroom entertainment solutions that can incorporate personal devices and content.”

Through on-screen interfaces (which can be accessed via a remote, a touchscreen or a wall keypad), automation customizes the experience for guests by enabling them to open or close shades, adjust room temperatures and dim or brighten lights. “Smart scenes at hotels like Aria in Las Vegas greet guests the moment they step foot into their room—shades open slowly, music will come on, and they receive a customized greeting on the television, which enhances the guest experience and reflects the hotel’s five-star reputation,” said David Phillips, director of hospitality and MDU sales at Control4. 

Mobile devices have become commonplace in guestrooms. “When I check into a hotel, there’s an iPad on the desk,” said John Clancy, VP of residential at Crestron. Not only are property-owned devices growing, but the use of guest devices, as well. Brands have also been pushing their mobile apps more and more onto guests. 

“Guests can enjoy simple guestroom controls that set lighting scenes to create a more relaxing environment or [eventually]help them to recover from jet lag,” Lally said, speaking on growing trends in the industry. “Entertainment control that lets them stream their own content makes the hotel room act as an extension of their own home.”

Guests are becoming more finicky, and needs—or demands—are evolving. In many instances, hotels are having a tough time keeping up. The guestroom is no longer stagnant, unaffected by anything outside of its walls. “Guests want to see a hotel room as an extension of their homes when they travel, with access to technology and accommodations they’re accustomed to,” Phillips explained. “With more homeowners starting to use smart-home technology, guestroom-automation technology will become something that guests expect at every hotel they check into.”

These advancements in automation technology in guestrooms not only keep guests happy during their stay, but they also provide additional benefits to hoteliers—including increased efficiency within departments. “Hotel management can use these systems to coordinate better housekeeping routines by being able to know if guests are in their rooms, and also enjoy the benefits of reduced utility operating costs,” Lally added. 

For example, each room in 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York is equipped with a sensor designed to detect open windows. If it senses an open window, it’ll then turn down the AC in the room in an attempt to save the hotel money on energy costs. “This setup will let management know what doors are open in advance of a pending rainstorm, and allow the hotel to contact a guest who may have accidentally left their room in privacy mode when they left for the day, so they don’t return to an uncleaned room,” he explained. 

Additionally, “Hotel management is able to program pre-configured check-in/checkout default settings to maximize room efficiency,” Phillips said when questioned on the benefits of his company’s automation solution for the properties themselves. 

Hospitality groups are becoming more fascinated with how technology can complement a guest’s overall experience; brands are now more open to new ways of connecting with technology solutions—instead of hesitating because of concerns. “Now it’s mature enough where I think a lot of those issues have evaporated,” Clancy said, noting Crestron’s hospitality business is one of the fastest growing portions of the company. 

Properties have been posing more questions about ease of use and accessibility. “It’s important for automation technology to be accessible to every guest and not require a steep learning curve,” Phillips said. The reason for this? Guests have been asking more from properties—insisting on having more control over their entire hotel stay and experiences. 

Oftentimes, properties start by inquiring about a particular automation service. From there, automation companies dive into comprehensive solutions in an attempt to show how it’s all connected to one another. “It’s a collaborative effort between the construction and design teams to integrate the complete system in the guestrooms and public areas,” Lally explained. “For example, the lighting design has to be coordinated with our technology team so the automation and dimming systems can be properly configured.”

Automation has also been indirectly helping properties move forward with green initiatives. “We are seeing less use of printed materials both because of a hotelier’s desire to be more green and because of the advancement in automation technology,” Phillips explained. For instance, there’s no reason for a property to have door cards printed when guests can digitally inform housekeeping of when rooms should be left undisturbed. 

Successful automation solutions are built upon existing framework—acting more like enhancements to already functioning features. “Automation itself doesn’t necessarily become antiquated; the value of the smart thermostat is always there, just other features and how well the technology works changes as it advances,” Lally pointed out. “And it’s becoming more common. In the past, having an automated thermostat or doorbell was top-of-the-line technology in a guestroom. Now, simple solutions have become more widespread, laying the groundwork for far more advanced systems.”

“In the next five years and beyond, hotels will start to make automation technology standard in an effort to differentiate the customer experience and also increase operational efficiencies,” Phillips said. “Lots of hotels are looking at emerging solutions like automation technology to make their room rates as affordable as possible.” 

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