Hotels look to gadgets to woo guests

Hotels look to gadgets to woo guests

BEIJING - Today's travellers are more difficult to please than before. A lot of that comes from expectations.

People assume they can remain connected to family and friends wherever they go. For example, travellers get frustrated when Wi-Fi is an extra charge on their hotel bill.

And they want to use their own devices so that they don't have to learn and relearn how to use devices in every new hotel they stay in.

On top of that, people want Internet connections that are fast and reliable, with hotel support that is knowledgeable and friendly should they run into snags.

Those demands were the inspiration behind an international competition called Tomorrow's Guestrooms, launched by Hotel Icon, the teaching arm of Hong Kong Polytechnic University's School of Hotel and Tourism Management (SHTM), to solicit the best gadgets available specifically for hospitality usage.

The competition ran from January to February this year on its website, with 20 entries proceeding onto the prototype stage for consideration.

Eight winners were determined by a committee of judges, chaired by Mr Terence Ronson of Pertlink and coordinated by Dr Basak Denizci Guillet, an SHTM professor.

Students, professors and hoteliers tested the products to help determine the winners.

"This was our first competition and the response from the industry was overwhelming," said Dr Guillet.

The products were integrated into three guestrooms in Hotel Icon, which can be booked through the school.

The award-winning products are available for use in the rooms until the end of the year.

All of the winning products have been integrated seamlessly into the rooms to be as unobtrusive and intuitive as possible.

Upon entering a room, guests will be treated to a full explanation of how each gadget works by trained staff.

Mr Ronson said: "Tomorrow's guests are already here. Every person staying in a hotel wants to be connected and in control. The trends that we saw through the products started within the home and became part of people's lifestyle."

Said Mr Richard Hatter, general manager of Hotel Icon: "If guests find a useful product in a hotel room, they will mention it on TripAdvisor.

"We have already seen through TripAdvisor postings that guests love the design of our rooms and the overlay of useful technology.

One guest told me that he never turns on the TV set - he uses only his iPad. Guests want products that are intuitive."

Other things that travellers like include a familiar radio station from their home country or, at least, an Internet connection that can pick up radio signals online clearly.

"Hotels are behind the airline industry when it comes to gadgets," said Mr Hatter. "For us, start-up costs are big."

Hotel Icon's initiative helps operators to determine which gadget fits their brands and budgets, as they can test them out in a real-life, real-time environment, before committing to purchases.

Mr Ronson said: "For example, with the smart-fridge concept, we can see what guests like and fine-tune how minibars are stocked. We can determine how and when they empty the minibar, leading us to better understand guest behaviour."

At the end of the day, hotels are selling sleep, said Mr Hatter. The gadgets help make their stay more easy-going, enjoyable and homey.

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