Tech Serves as Catalyst for Personal Touch

We’ve been focusing a lot on technology lately: We just ran our Tech Innovations supplement and looked back at 25 years of technology in our June 21 issue, we feature our Tech Solutions supplement in this issue—and, of course, our technology department appears in every issue. And it’s not surprising there’s all of this tech talk, as it’s a hot topic in our industry—well, all industries—right now.

I just came back from Chicago where we held sister publication Hotel Business Design’s inaugural InspireDesign: A Sensory Experience event at the Art Institute of Chicago. And keeping with the tech theme, the topic for the night was virtual and augmented reality and their roles in enhancing design and client presentations, which was presented by SONNY+ASH and The Gettys Group, and experienced firsthand by attendees. There will be more on this event, complete with photos, in the next issue of Hotel Business (8/21).

So, while we were in The Windy City, I stayed in a hotel on Ontario St., right next to the newly opened Hotel EMC2, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection (in fact, Hotel Business featured it in the 7/15 issue). The 195-room luxury lifestyle hotel, developed and managed by SMASHotels and designed by Rockwell Group (interior design) and KOO LLC (architecture), mixes science and art to create this amalgam of imagination and curiosity with a dash of whimsy. Designed with a little left brain and a little right in mind—with lots and lots of books in between (think old European library)—technology plays a starring role in creating an experience. So much so, that in Nicole Carlino’s Tech Solutions feature, “Automation, robots and artificial intelligence: How will they shape the industry?” (see page 10A), Hotel EMC2 is mentioned in reference to robotics in the hotel industry. You see, this Chicago property has installed a pair of Savioke robots to serve its guests.

So here’s the interesting part. To me, at least. When I visited the hotel during my time in Chicago, I got to “meet” one of them, Cleo. I struck up a dialogue with the (real-person) front-desk employee and conversation ensued. What I learned was that Cleo was a rock star. Guests “forgot their toothbrush” or “needed another towel” just to get a visit from this 2017 delivery service with a cute name and persona. Cleo, apparently, is a very “busy girl,” running around the hotel and hopping on elevators to her guestroom destination—and surprising and delighting guests along the way. Half busy bee and half social butterfly, this “robot butler” serves guests’ needs and enhances their hotel experience.

Why am I writing this: Because so many of us are intrigued by, but justifiably skeptical about, a robot replacing a human and are worried about the loss of engagement, of interaction, of social discourse, especially in an industry defined by it. But at the front desk of this property, I saw and heard, firsthand, that Ms. Cleo actually increased guest interaction. Guests who normally check in and go to their room and pop out only to head to their next meeting or destination, suddenly want a “knock on the door” and then want to talk about it. To ask questions. Take pictures. Cleo is not only a daily conversation piece chatted up by guests but, as the front-desk clerk said to me, a catalyst for guests engaging with the hotel staff. And isn’t that what we all want?