Smart technology is reinventing the hotel experience from the USA to Scandinavia, allowing hotels to cut costs and emissions, while guests customise their stay using ever-available smartphones.

By Leo Gullbring

Ever wondered what the future hotel will be like? Such as walking into the lobby and being met by velociraptor-lookalike androids, while robotic bellhops bounce around? Nightmarish to some, such futuristic hotels already exist. At the Hennna Hotel in the Huis Ten Bosch Park on the outskirts of Nagasaki in Japan, human employees are only deployed in absolute emergencies.

Worldwide, the industry standards for future robotisation are already in the making, such as with Pepper, a semi-humanoid companion developed by SoftBank Robotics. But worldwide, the first step in the smart technology transformation of the hotel experience centres on a technology far more familiar and at hand – the smartphone.

Britannia Lobby illustration

SMARTPHONE-CONNECTED

Remember the Lunar Hilton in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’? This sci-fi movie was perhaps our first popular-culture encounter with the dystopian agony of artificial intelligence (AI). And now in the real-life world, the Hilton chain is also the first operator to embrace the Internet of Things (IoT) – although with the more benign aim of empowering users to customise their stays at a touch of a finger using their smartphones.

“We are creating an extension of your mobile-centric self when you travel,” says Josh Weiss, Vice President, Digital Product Innovation at Hilton. He heads the Connected Room project that has been on the roll-out in the US since 2018.

“We give our guests the power to really personalise their stays with us. Over time, Connected Room will continue to adopt new features and functionalities, some that we haven’t even considered yet that pre-empt and meet our guests’ demands. It really has the potential to be a massive game-changer for the hotel experience,” he adds.

The Connected Room is a category of high-tech hotel rooms where guests can control all amenities through the Hilton Honors smartphone app that acts as an integrated control system. Apart from being a digital room key, the app can also regulate heating, lighting, air-conditioning and in-room entertainment, while also offering suggestions for leisure activities and taxi booking. Hilton believes that the smartphone will become your personal key to your entire hotel experience.

A similar concept has also recently been rolled out in Trondheim where a Siemens-designed smartphone app empowers guests to take control of their stay at the classic Britannia Hotel. Hotelier Odd Reitan acquired the Britannia Hotel in late 2015 and has spent a staggering NOK 1.2 billion on the renovation of the 13,000 square-metre classic edifice.

The glamorous hotel from 1870 has enjoyed a legacy as the city’s classy gathering point for merchants, politicians, high-society and royalty. Britannia Hotel will gain 257 new rooms and suits along with 6 restaurants and bars, a spa and gym, conference-facilities and a ballroom.

Odd Reitan, who also owns half of Clarion Hotel & Congress Trondheim and a considerable share of the city’s Scandic Nidelven Hotel doesn’t see such an investment as over the top.

“It’s hardly expensive if you compare it to people spending a billion on a painting,” he told Norwegian ABC-nyheter, “no one sees it when it’s just hanging on a wall. Instead, this hotel will be seen by the world.”

Odd Reitan knows that the investment is for the long-term and is dedicated to creating a destination for the next generation.

“My dream is that Britannia will once again be the grand salon of Trondheim. There will be lots of people here and lots of activity, I’m not creating a mausoleum!”

Managing Director of Britannia Hotel, Mikael Forselius, explains to GUEST magazine that NOK 15 million have been invested in various digital smart solutions.

“It’s hard to make a precise estimate on the gains of this investment. Our goal is primarily to give our guests an optimal experience, which is as pleasant and functional as possible. All our guests will have the possibility to download the app via a link in their booking confirmation,” Mikael Forselius says and adds, “we believe the customer experience will be enhanced with faster response to our guest needs as well as by giving them a broader choice compared to a standard hotel.”

And an app is an intuitive and future-proof technology to use, says Taofik Salhi of Siemens Building Technologies Division, who has worked on the system for the past two years.

“I believe we will have everything in our smartphones in 10 years’ time. You will get a link or a QR code for check-in and room access. There will be no keycards, just your phone. The room will have the right comfort level when you use it, other times it will go into energy-saving stand-by mode. The guests will be able to regulate temperature using the Bluetooth-enabled app, along with setting the window blinds, lighting, and such,” Taofik Salhi explains.

Smart technology will soon mean that the classic lobby reception will become as much of a meeting point as a service point.
The optimisation of heating in the different zones of Britannia Hotel is guided by algorithms developed by Siemens. The digital solutions give control over the consumption of electricity, heating and airflow in the building.

MINDSPHERE

The project at Hotel Britannia builds on Siemens’ cloud-based IoT operating system MindSphere, which connects systems, products and machines and provides operators with a wealth of data generated by the industrial IoT.

MindSphere systems are already operative within complex industrial settings, such as oil rigs, where they help engineers use advanced analytics to predict maintenance issues before they ever happen.

Using a digital twin of the real-world facility, the engineers can simulate changes and monitor efficiency, including energy-saving which is also a priority with the Britannia Hotel project. The optimisation of heating in the different zones of the hotel is guided by algorithms developed by Siemens.

“The digital solutions we are investing in will give us control over the consumption of electricity, heating and airflow in the building, which means that the building can be operated with great energy savings,” Mikael Forselius says.

On a technical level, energy optimisation at Britannia Hotel is already highly advanced, Taofik Salhi explains.

“Our present solution in Trondheim is focused on energy optimisation. Algorithms implemented in the system solution will learn to optimise the hotel operations. The AI components thrive on data like temperature change in different zones based on outdoor temperature, weather and such, which are compared on a timeline basis to the desired comfort level and CO2 values.

“The system learns how to optimise the necessary time to heat and cool various locations, regulating equipment in the various zones.”

MindSphere-optimised solutions are also set in the future to integrate with booking systems, allowing rooms to be occupied in clusters and thus reduce heating consumption further by closing off entire unoccupied floors or sections of a hotel to reduce heat bills and emissions. Indeed, the future is already here for the internet of things.