Industry Update
Opinion Article30 May 2017

The hotel room of the future

By Stuart Pallister, Head of Academic Editorial Content at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne

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What will the hotel room of the future look like? Ecole hôteliere de Lausanne, which has been promoting blue-sky thinking on innovation and the future of hospitality, staged a contest last year and then produced an impressive video based on the two winning concepts. If EHL's vision on YouTube is anything to go by, we'll check into our room in 2033 and then be able to select – courtesy of virtual reality or VR – our preferred location, whether it's, say, Lake Geneva or perhaps the Seychelles.

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Nowadays, we have wi-fi, a telephone and probably a flat-screen TV. But as hotel guests become increasingly tech-savvy, they are likely to expect to have the latest technology on hand.

According to EHL strategy professor Achim Schmitt, hotel rooms all seem pretty similar these days: they have a bed, a bathroom, a TV and a small desk. However, he says, "hotel rooms are back as a source of strategic capability. Equipped with high-tech features and devices, hotel rooms slowly define the way we enjoy our stay."

"Under increasing cost pressures and the need for differentiation, hotel operators explore how technology cannot only help them streamline operations but also deliver a highly personalized and experience-driven environment."

For Cindy Heo, an assistant professor in revenue management at EHL, technology is critical for attracting hotel guests and building brand loyalty. "My research has found that specific room amenities affect guests' willingness to pay for rooms, which shows that hotels should use such room amenities to generate revenue, rather than these being given away as complementary elements."

"Since flat-screen TVs and wi-fi are now standard in most properties, hotels must try to differentiate themselves by focusing on outstanding service and unique amenities," she says. "Gesture-controlled interactive walls, the internet of things (IoT), and virtual reality are only a few examples. Your hotel rooms should embrace the future to surprise and delight your guests."

However, she points out that hoteliers also have to take into consideration the return on investment from new technologies and whether these can really enhance the customers' experience, as well as improve operational efficiency. "So hotels need to think whether it's really the right technology for them. And as for simplicity, the hotel room may look simpler, but it doesn't mean the hotel service will be simpler."

Heo is somewhat skeptical about the prospect of VR becoming reality in hotel rooms, even though it might make sense in spas which may not enjoy great views or a soothing ambience. "When we talk about tourists, they're already outside their routine life. They're already in the place they like to stay, so I feel that virtual reality doesn't really enhance the customers' experience. However (as for) artificial intelligence, it depends on how it's used, but currently I don't think there's such a system which is able to respond to customers' demands."

Technology has to be aligned with the overall hotel's strategic positioning in order to allow hotel rooms to deliver user-friendly and customer-centric service solutions, says Schmitt, adding that these in turn will then support the hotel's overall market performance.

"If a hotel room supports a certain type of positioning of a hotel in the market, then this is a good hotel room. So whether or not it should be high-touch or high-tech, I think it should be both in supporting the service positioning and service delivery of the hotel room."

EHL assistant professor Prashant Das writes:

The traditional form of hospitality will change, for sure. The only question is, how drastically? While traditional, brick-and-mortar hotel rooms are likely to continue to play an important role in the hospitality sector, their market share may dwindle over time, given the emergence of alternative accommodation.

In my imagination, the hotel room of 2033 is somewhat "fantastic", but who says we won't go "Back to the Future?" Companies are experimenting with cars that can drive themselves, robots to keep us entertained, and taxis which may soon be able to fly. An alumnus from my college in India is now running a company which plans to offer return-trips to the moon. Fantasy is now getting real.

I personally see the hotel of the future as a portable device rather than a static, brick-and-mortar asset. For personnel who are too busy to travel or for the physically-disabled, the hotel room of the future could serve as simulated real estate that provides sensory experiences almost comparable to any remote location.

If a surgeon can operate on a patient remotely, why can't business partners shake hands like that? Virtual touch has been a topic of research at MIT and Stanford for a while now. People at some Japanese universities are working on virtual smell and even virtual taste. As these technologies develop and become more accessible for commercial use, the virtual hotel of the future will become an enabler. It could offer a comprehensive sensory experience to those who cannot imagine enjoying them today. Yet, the core success-drivers will stay broadly unaltered: service, quality, ambience and infrastructure.

Dr Achim Schmitt is Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at EHL and is an Associate Professor of Strategy. He will also teach on the school's new online MBA in Hospitality program.

Dr Cindy (Yoonjoung) Heo is an Assistant Professor in Revenue Management at EHL. She will also be teaching on the MBA in Hospitality program.

Dr Prashant Das is an Assistant Professor of Real Estate Finance at EHL.

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Stuart Pallister

Stuart is Head of Academic Editorial Content. After working as a television journalist in Asia and Europe for nearly 20 years, mainly at CNBC, Stuart switched to digital content development at INSEAD business school and the National University of Singapore. He is currently the Head of Academic Editorial Content at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne and Editor-in-Chief of Hospitality Insights by EHL.

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