As technology continues to be an integral part of travel, some hoteliers and design experts are placing more importance on touchless technology and design in guestrooms and public spaces.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Touchless technology features will continue to be important to guests, and as a result, additional enhancements and trends could emerge in both guestrooms and public spaces, hoteliers and designers said.
Shawn Jervis, GM of Yotel Washington, D.C., said in an email interview that today’s traveler is even more connected to technology than they might have been pre-pandemic.
“Regardless of your industry background, we all relied on some form of tech to get us through our daily lives,” he said. “Our 2021 travelers will now expect that same level of connectivity in everything from their hotel say to their restaurant experience. We’ll see more advancement of tech capabilities throughout the hospitality industry.”
Timothy Osiecki, president of AWH Development, said the shift to less porous surfaces and touchless design has been a discussion point among hotel industry designers, architects and owners in anticipation of what can be done to make guests feel more confident with sanitation.
He said hotel owners generally are willing to invest in enhancements that offer solutions for their guests, but many owners and brands might want to wait until post-pandemic.
Suzie Hall, founder and president of The Cornerstone Collective, said contactless/touchless design in hotel guestrooms is a major talking point, especially if an owner is in the early stages of a project. But at the core, “no one is the expert, we are all doing our best to anticipate and respond.”
She said going touchless either requires a product change or a technology change if it’s already embedded in the design.
“At the end of the day (most of the conversations are) … what’s the cost and the design change? Whereas, if there’s anything with technology that we can do, that might be a better solution because it’s more holistic,” she said.
New trends that could emerge
Osiecki said some owners are also discussing touchless faucets in guestrooms.
“Touchless faucets today are a brand standard in any of the (major) upscale brands … as it relates to public areas. They’re all motion sensitive touchless faucets,” he said. “Are we ready to introduce that same technology now into guestrooms to further enhance the touchless features that guests can enjoy and experience?”
He said this technology works pretty well in public areas “and there’s no reason that it can’t work in a guestroom environment.” However, it adds recurring cost and maintenance, he said.
Jennifer Dwyer, director of design at Kraemer Design Group, said in an email interview that private bathrooms may soon feature touchless or automatic faucets and restroom accessories.
If implemented in guestrooms, the technology would most likely appear first in upper-upscale and luxury hotel brands due to the costs involved, Osiecki said. Tech-centric boutique hotels that emphasize technology experiences could also be early adopters.
“(Touchless faucets) would be a big brand initiative to adopt, and I can see most owners pushing back on that or at least saying ‘OK we can phase this in … post-recovery.’ But I don’t think that’s going to make a buying decision difference for a customer if it’s got a touchless faucet or it doesn’t,” he said.
Dwyer said owners with existing projects hope the pandemic will end in the near term “and infrastructure changes are not required.” But as new hotel projects are currently being designed, Kraemer Design Group “is being more cautious on reducing points of contact for guests and staff.”
“To create a healthier room, most features will incur more cost to the owner and will be implemented in the upper-scale luxury hotels first. Some trends, such as integrated technology, were already required in upper-scale luxury hotels, but it will be marketed as touchless now. Robotic delivery room service is another trickle-down service offering,” she said.
Osiecki said electric or automated doors at a hotel’s main entrance are lower-cost items make sense to implement.
“I think the hotels that don’t have that will probably need that or be required to have that, and it will likely even expand into secondary hotel entrance locations,” such as to the parking lot, he said.
While this isn’t a topic of conversation yet, he said it could also make sense in the future if there were a cost-effective way to implement an automatic guestroom door.
“Besides the comfort of knowing it’s touchless, I think the reality of the convenience—just like we want to have electric doors at the front of the hotel—people that come to a hotel come with baggage, literally, (don’t want) to manage and maneuver doors,” he said.
Hall said a lot of hotel owners are curious about new touchless technology and design trends, “but with all the vendor sales pitches they’re hearing, it’s difficult to make a decision amongst all the noise.”
She recommends her clients put more trust into long-standing companies rather than those that have emerged in response to the pandemic. If a brand has a list of criteria they’re looking to achieve, she suggests they do side-by-side comparisons of products. Then, a design professional can assist in reviewing it.
“With anything new, there’s a lot of information that floods the market, and it’s sometimes hard to get to the real information,” she said.
Where current trends stand
Osiecki said some of the major brands already had mobile app solutions in place prior to COVID-19 that gave guests control of guestroom lighting, temperature, motorized window treatments and more through their mobile phones. He anticipates in the future more in-room controls will soon be available on the brands’ mobile apps.
“You open up that app and you can open your door. And in the future, you will absolutely be able to control the TV. You’ll have the ability to throw content from your smart device up onto the TV. … That’s definitely on the horizon along with controlling lights and those other things,” Osiecki said.
Dwyer said integrated controls through a guests’ smartphone will become more mainstream in hotels, especially for new-build upper-upscale properties.
Hall said even after the pandemic, there will be lingering psychological effects and travelers will remain hesitant to touch things. They will be much more comfortable doing so from their own device, she said.
Jervis said Yotel is continually looking for ways to enhance its existing high-tech, low-touch experience to help guests feel both safe and connected during their travel journey.
“In addition to current offerings, such as self-check-in kiosks and mobile casting onto our TVs in our cabins, Yotel Washington, D.C., will also launch a new app in the coming year that will allow for mobile check-in and keyless entry as well as more elevated mobile ordering platform for our restaurant, Art and Soul,” he said.
Osiecki said voice recognition as a solution for contactless in-room amenities is not fully realized yet.
“Most hotels, especially in gateway cities that have international travelers, somehow (its devices) are going to have to learn 50 different languages and dialects besides the right voice commands,” he said. “And last, but not least, is it’s Wi-Fi dependent so it has to run on the internet’s backbone … it’s high maintenance. Nobody’s really running yet to voice recognition for touchless.”