Designers say a balance of technology, simplicity, sensitivity and owners’ P&Ls is attainable when designing the hotel room of the future.
GLOBAL REPORT—The hotel guestroom of the future—or as panelists said, the guestroom of the very near future—will continue the trend of not allowing technology to overshadow simplicity and service.
According to sources at a panel and exhibit both titled “Hotel room of the future” at the Independent Hotel Show, the thinking into the design of new hotel rooms ranged from considerations of “rugs to rich teas, laminates to lighting.”
But the bottom line is critical, said Petra Clayton, owner and managing director of Custard Communications, one of the companies behind the launch. She said the main question being asked is, “How (can a room) generate more revenue and more loyalty?”
Technology is behind this push, but not in an in-your-face way, panelists said. Guests still prioritize simplicity and service, but the new room also needs to provide something a guest’s home does not.
“One surprise was that the mock-up room did not leap out at me as being radical,” Clayton said. “It is familiar, comfortable, and this is one of the key things we heard guests want.”
The desire of “digital detox” is particularly prevalent in the restaurant business, she said.
“Some (restaurants) will give you a discount on your meal if you hand in your mobile phone when you sit down,” she said.
Technology also has another fault, said Rodney Hoinkes, chief insights and innovation officer at exhibitions organizer Montgomery.
“All the technology in the world does not mean anything if it takes me too long to learn how to use it,” Hoinkes said. “For the guest coming into the room, it just needs to work. We’ve seen that even the light switches can be a challenge in this context.”
Clayton added that technology hiccups can leave a bad first impression with guests.
“Guests come in with expectations, and even if there is a wow factor on entering the room, that can be destroyed in one blip if the lights do not work or are complicated, or some other aspect is frustrating,” she said.
Hoinkes agreed those rooms that lose their sense of personality due to an onslaught of gizmos and technology attention are yesterday’s news.
“Rooms should have a good digital infrastructure, which does not mean every gizmo is present, but that it is capable of supporting all the devices guests bring in,” Hoinkes said. “Do not expect people to learn or have to learn your technology. Most (guests) are bringing their own devices. Why should they learn again? Using their own devices also means they will be less worried about privacy.”
Gilly Craft, partner and interior designer at Two’s Company Interior Design and president of the British Institute for Interior Design, said hotels will need to be prepared to invest in technology infrastructure improvements.
“We need to think about the future in different ways,” Craft said. “That could be prefabricated walls already installed with wiring, ready to go.”
An additional problem is that technology moves so fast it can make even the hippest design and construction redundant within months.
“It has been a whole decade now that mobile has ruled, and some countries completely leaped across the divide from no technology at all to the most cutting-edge mobile and touch technology,” Hoinkes said.
Hidden tech, visible charm
The idea is that a hotel room should be both different in that it surprises and delights guests and the same in that it comforts and relaxes them. Hoteliers put much work into creating this balance, panelists said.
“Where is the fudge made down the road, the local, beautiful landscape drawings?” Clayton said. “No one wants to have technology take (away) from personal service.”
Hoinkes said there’s a risk in giving guests too much of what they want and become forgettable.
“There is a sense that the room has to adapt to (guests) in exactly the way (they) want, but that guest might not come back,” he said.
The type of technology becoming more popular with hoteliers points to supporting guests’ devices and back-of-house operations.
“How do your rooms interface with the rest of your operations?” Hoinkes said. “Is it immediately evident that a guest has left their room? Do your application programming interfaces support sharing and connecting?”
Hoinkes said all hotel rooms of the future will have open API systems, which might restrict hoteliers for “a very long time, especially in an independent hotel with less spend.”
“Technology is just another of your building blocks,” he said. “They are installed by craftspeople who will do what you want. Think of tech like you would any material.”
Craft said a hotel’s budget will determine the level of investment in technology.
“That is the first question. What is your budget? And then what is achievable?” Craft asked.
“What is design’s return on investment?” Clayton added. “That might mean how Instagrammable is it?”
Speaking of a mock-up room displayed under the roof of the Olympia London events space, where the Independent Hotel Show took place, the three panelists spoke of materials that allowed rooms to be more quickly installed and are easier and quicker to clean.
“Rooms are often abused, and this room can take some degree of abuse,” Craft said. “Materials are capable of being used in all types of hotels from manor house to country house to new-build independents, materials that can be aged, or not, depending on the look you require.”
Hoinkes said he expects hotel rooms of the future to be similar but also have several subtle differences.
“The future will mean more variation,” he said. “Owner personalization is possible, as will be the analyses of data to personalize guest stays. More of that will no doubt come in the next refresh in five years or so.”
Rooms will have “sensibility to accessibility, sustainability, locality,” Clayton said.
“And also for those suffering from dementia, which if we do not start designing for, along with other mental conditions, we will very soon have a problem,” Craft added.