HB ON THE SCENE: Hospitality Experts Talk Mega-Trends in the Industry

NEWPORT BEACH, CA—Last week, sister publication Hotel Business Design and Gensler hosted a Hospitality Talk event focused on mega-trends in the industry: technology, Millennials, the sharing economy and community building. Sponsored by Evolve, Global Allies, Littman Brands Contract, Grohe and Daltile, the session was moderated by Nicole Carlino, senior associate editor.

While technology is changing the hospitality landscape—with everything from mobile check-in and keyless entry, to energy management systems that also control the lights, TV and music, to apps and SMS services that allow guests to request amenities and services—the panelists agreed that, in practice, more caution is usually necessary. “We’re actually really careful about putting technology in our hotels because every time we get into something new, we get calls at the front desk that no one knows how to use it,” remarked Daniel Hyde, VP of design, development and construction, Pacifica Hotels, noting that the company caters mostly to leisure and older guests. “We actually dumbed down our thermostats—tried to get them as stupid as they can possibly be.”

“I agree—we have guests who can’t figure out how to turn the TV on,” said Rick Riess, managing director at Montage Laguna Beach. “We look at technology more in terms of managing guest data and preferences, and being able to deliver services, where it’s not really where you can see it; it’s more behind the scenes.”

Jay Pecotte, senior director project development, hotels & casinos – Americas, Hard Rock International, reflected on the balancing act that hoteliers have to play. “We’ve dumbed down our system so people can turn on the TV without having a bellman show up to help them,” he said, “but we also can’t ignore what’s happening in the world.” He noted that Hard Rock is currently working on a project with Gensler, and the companies are working to create “touchpoints that will blow [the]guests’  minds in one way or another throughout the hotel.”

Lorraine Francis, regional director of hospitality interiors, Gensler, noted that, for most guests, technology doesn’t necessarily need to be designed into the room, but augmented. “We’ve been researching systems and wireless controls,” she said, pointing out that guests don’t want to buy a movie for $19.99. They want “to be able to watch Game of Thrones on their own device—getting away from that revenue stream, but making that personalization for the guest.”

“When I ask designers [about technology], it’s like you can feel their collective pensiveness,” said Todd Wynne-Parry, EVP, acquisitions & development, Commune Hotels & Resorts. “They really don’t like technology in the room. If there is technology in the room, the guest shouldn’t see it.” He likened it to a faucet where the water just seamlessly flows. “That’s how technology should work.”

Bob Olson, CEO, R.D. Olson Construction, added that timing from conception to the hotel’s opening plays a big part. “We’ve been installing [keyless entry]hardware for three to four years now, waiting for it to come,” he said, noting that hotels can take multiple years to open. “You have to anticipate—where is this going? One area we’re looking at is how to unleash the front desk associate from being tethered to the computer.” He noted that during a recent hotel stay, a worker met him at the door with an iPad and checked him in, took credit card information and cut the keys right there. “And I’m still standing in the entryway,” he said. “They gave me two keys, walked me to my room and said ‘If you need anything, I can show you where it is.’ And that was it. Transaction was done at the front door, they took me to my room. I didn’t have to go through multiple layers so, in that case, technology really worked to create a better service. That’s where we’re trying to go and being able to have that, and be prepared. Because remember: two years out—how do you plan for that today?”

Pecotte added that not all solutions work for all hotels. “I had a recent experience like that, too,” he said. “They met us at the car, made our key as we were going up the elevator, showed us to the room. I think you can do that with a smaller room count. You can’t do that with 1,800 rooms or you’ll drive yourself nuts. There’s a fine line of where you can do that.”

While Hyde noted that many tech solutions can be more complicated than the average guest wants, the solutions that are coming out today “inspire us.” He also noted that, from an operational standpoint, automation makes sense. “Especially being based in California, where we have minimum wage going up, we’re looking at stuff like this too—how do you make it work? We study it, but we’re still always in the mindset of ‘Can the oldest of our guests understand it?’”

For more discussion on technology and other trends, be sure to check out upcoming issues of Hotel Business and Hotel Business Design for complete coverage of the Hospitality Talk event.