Indie owners, designers push conscionable hotel tech
Indie owners, designers push conscionable hotel tech
20 DECEMBER 2017 1:13 PM

Hotels require a certain level of technology, but independent properties are increasingly receiving feedback from guests who are looking to escape life’s social media intensity.

LONDON—The hippest, most social media-oriented technology is a must for many hotel guests, but not for everyone, and not for all younger guests either, according to sources who own, operate and design independent hotels.

At some properties, overdoing it with technology can send a confused message to guests—just as much as having too little technology will disorient guests at hotels where it’s expected, sources said.

The right amount of tech
Tom Bartlett, founder of architectural and design firm Waldo Works, said in general much of the thinking in regard to hotel technology focuses on the extremes.

“The two streams of hospitality are either that guests want high service or not to talk to anyone at all,” he said. “There are some guests who are told ‘this is the switch that …’ and you see them thinking ‘oh, my goodness.’ On the other side, technology also dies very quickly.”

Bartlett added that getting the tech mix wrong or jumping in with both feet can prove very expensive.

Bee Osborn, interior designer at Osborn Interiors, said it’s also important to remember that hotels now have different uses throughout any one day, which means technology must be flexible.

“Today, hotels are multifunctional spaces,” Osborn said. “Any space might be a workspace during the day but far more relaxed at other times. The lighting and atmosphere changes, and, of course, technology is used to do that.”

One example is new technology that uses pressure padding on floors to dim the lights when a guest steps off the floor and into bed. Osborn said that guest backlash against technology—and other quick trends—can be swift and merciless.

“Often clients we work with do not want any sign of tech to be visible, so it is about hiding it,” she said. “But isn’t that the same with the traditional ice machine?”

Other properties prefer to limit all technology.

“We want people not to use technology as much as possible,” said Justin Salisbury, co-founder of United Kingdom boutique hotel chain Artist Residence, which has four open properties and one in the 2018 pipeline in Bristol. “Obviously, they bring gadgets with them, and they use those. If they want to watch a movie, they use their iPad.”

He said guests are interested in a hotel experience beyond the latest technology innovations.

“There is no pressure on us to add technology,” Salisbury said. We try and create places with good design and F&B, as guests do not come to use because we have great (televisions). We are not interested, and I do not think our customers are. Ultimately, if you cannot get on the internet, you are basically at step one.

“I do not think technology is that important. More, the question is how do you fill your hotels and have spaces that are used all day? Airbnb has no vibe. You book a nice place, some of them being better than some hotels, but they come with nothing.”

He noted that all of his assets are in nationally listed buildings, which limit what can be done to the spaces in terms of adding technology.

Sight unseen
Sources said it’s important to get the design and F&B right, and most guests will work around the technology, be it good or bad.

There will be some who bemoan the lack of the latest gizmos, but many people now come to hotels to escape the social media world, whereas not so many years ago they came because hotel technology was deemed cool and usually unavailable elsewhere, sources added.

The best of both worlds is hotel tech that enhances a guest’s stay whether they notice it or not.

“Look at systems that work with (property management systems), things such as key fobs, little chips that turn down lighting, etc.” Osborn said. “When the guest leaves the room, everything goes back to the original settings for when they return.”

Osborn agreed there is a definite trend toward hiding good technology.

“I have seen at Artist Residence, old lamps and telephones that hide new technology,” she said. “The trend is to have interiors with conscience and authenticity, very much because you can find everything on the internet. Design now is about finding cool pieces, and the difficulty is creating and adapting them.”

Booking bytes or basics
Bartlett said technology definitely has had a major effect on how people look at and book hotels, and hotels need to show themselves to be right for potential guests, but Waldo Work’s designers do not fall into the trap of designing around technology.

“We design spaces for imagery, which might sound bizarre, but what we are selling to the majority of people is an image of a bed,” he said. “We could get in a situation that we are selling too deep, and that is concern.

“It is easy to create a place that is always singing and dancing but lose sight of it needing to be a place in which paying guests can relax.”

Osborn agreed, reiterating that designers are being asked to provide acceptable interiors.

“Energy flooring, eco-friendly paint, windows with solar panels—it is moving in that direction,” she said. “It is slow coming, but it is coming.”

Bartlett said fireplaces are making a comeback in design, and Salisbury said designers constantly struggle with making something look “timeless.”

“If you play the design game, you will always lose,” he said. “It’s a suckers’ game to design for millennials, as, let’s face it, millennials do not have any money.”

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