RPW Design, responsible for the recent overhaul of The Marriott Park Lane and Fairmont St Andrews, dishes out the pros & cons of incorporating digital into luxury hotel design and how to strike a healthy balance.
From the initial enticement to explore a destination, to finally turning off the lights in your comfortable suite, digital touchpoints with guests abound. Designing the luxury hotel experience doesn’t solely relate to the obvious interior design features anymore. The hotel experience has evolved on a myriad of levels and as technology advances, we need to deploy technology to make the guest experience superior-particularly in the luxury segment.
With trend pieces flooding every news outlet and a myriad of apps clamouring for attention, “getting back to basics” is a great way to cut through the noise. When we design to exceed customer’s expectations, the luxury experience starts prior to check-in. So, with this in mind, the guideline for making digital decisions should be: Will it make the customer’s experience truly better and how?
“ The biggest challenge for the luxury hotelier is to not only meet, but exceed customer expectations ”
The biggest challenge for the luxury hotelier is to not only meet, but exceed customer expectations, every single time – that’s luxury defined – but a tall order for the hotelier to deliver, consistently to every guest. The divergence of technology-capable users is daunting – if you consider the varying age profiles of your potential customer base. While we pursue the millennial customer, we cannot forget about the Baby Boomer-they may be the ones paying for that luxury vacation. How do you accommodate extremes? How much tech is too much?
For the avid technology user, finding and booking your luxury hotel stay has never been easier. Conversely, for the hotelier inventing and presenting true innovation is getting harder. Making it “just right” for the customer or rather, “customising” the hotel stay as much as possible is a significant advantage in accommodating a guest’s desires, thereby solving unhappy guest experiences before they even start.
A booking engine dubbed MyRoomIn allows the customer to choose their exact accommodation, fitting most criteria a guest may seek. Interestingly, this enables to match the guest to the physical space and other USPs, rather than the other way around. While this engine’s reach is currently limited to Paris, I can see great potential for other markets and well within hotel brands.
“ Marriott has tested VR experiences in their London and Paris guestrooms ”
For the customer preferring human touchpoints along with technology, a travel consultant can now deploy Virtual Reality technology to entice the customer to book a destination. For the advanced tech user, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts already have the content readily available on their website, easy to download and experience with your own VR headset on the Oculus platform.
Marriott has tested VR experiences in their London and Paris guestrooms as part of their entertainment offerings, but as this technology continues to rapidly evolve the advantages for improving the customer experience is obvious. VR will change everything.
There isn’t much truly innovative product available as to gadgetry within hotel rooms. Not all hotel owners can realistically afford to pay for and more importantly, maintain content-specific tech offerings unless the property is part of a bigger brand. If offered, they must be upheld to the highest standards of relevancy and production.
Marriott partnered with Samsung to trial a virtual reality kit for its new VR Postcards
Stating the obvious, it is essential that the hotel provides for accessible and convenient charge points as well as connectivity-not only in the rooms but in all of the public areas. Bluetooth becomes the default to avail connectivity across many devices and their respective platforms for technology installed in situ, such as the TV. It begs the question for how long a guestroom TV is actually still required, given the ubiquitous use of tablets and smartphones.
Another “back to basics” guest experience enhancement would be convenient multi-country sockets. Sadly, they seem to be an unattainable luxury in many countries. This simple device could easily eliminate the traveller’s frustrations of having to deal with adapters.
Perfectly working Wi-Fi without an annoying extra charge is as important as featuring running water. Imagine the affront a 29 Euro per day Wi-Fi charge on top of a 700 Euro per night room rate causes to the guest? Reliable and stable Wi-Fi is especially crucial as the lines between business and leisure travel continue to blur.
“ Ever evolving room control technology can easily diminish a guest’s enjoyment ”
Ever evolving room control technology can easily diminish a guest’s enjoyment, as the hardware and software controlling lamp settings, temperature and window shading is often so complex that it is hard to figure out how to easily turn off all lights in your room. This is another “basic” of the guest experience that should be accomplished intuitively in order to convey a luxe ambience.
While some brand-specific apps are exploring the ability to control the in-room environment or check in with your own device, there are many hardware and software obstacles still to be overcome. Great service delivered by an enthusiastic team genuinely interested in their guests is still unbeatable-in all price points of hospitality.
When you read reviews on TripAdvisor, it is usually the human interaction that prompted someone to leave a positive review.
“ Technology should not own us; rather we should own technology to help exceed the customer’s expectations ”
Other hotel apps customising the guest’s experience are tempting guests to travel without luggage, shop to their heart’s content, eat a better airplane meal or to discover destinations the insider way. Apps that aim to combine this type of emotional attachments to the brand, e-tailing, and hotel specific functions are certainly here to stay.
A luxe hotel stay is about the entire experience: service, food and beverage, design and the magic of the location-wherever that may be. Technology should not own us; rather we should own technology to help exceed the customer’s expectations and create a bespoke experience-technology is just another new tool.
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