Hilton and Marriott this month each debuted laboratory-type
research and development facilities at their respective headquarters to test
and gauge reaction to proposed tech innovations, while InterContinental Hotels
Group (IHG) is in the midst of implementing a cloud-based reservations system
that will enable extreme product customization.
Hilton opened its Innovation Gallery on Nov. 13 inside the
Hilton McLean Tysons Corner next to its Washington-area headquarters. Designed
by Rockwell Group architects (New York Edition, Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace), the
4,300-square-foot space is being used by Hilton to show off innovations ranging
from a noise-cancellation/sleep-improvement device called Nightingale to a
digital-art concept, a real-time translation tool called Pilot and a
self-sustaining moss wall that absorbs humidity and odors.
The following day, Marriott announced its Internet of Things
(IoT) Guestroom Lab at its Maryland headquarters. Marriott, which is working
with Samsung and French infrastructure builder Legrand, built two guestroom
prototypes where amenities are being tested, such as individually customized
lighting, voice-activated room controls and a "virtual assistant"
service to organize the guest's activities.
Marriott and Hilton have opened such labs to their own
executives and brand leaders as well as to hotel owners and prospective guests.
While Marriott's IoT will be open for about three months, the Innovation
Gallery, which is housed in an old nightclub space, will be in use
indefinitely, according to Caitlin McKenna, Hilton's senior director of
strategic innovation delivery.
Gretchen Hartley, senior director of global design strategy
at Marriott, said, "We're building an experience and seeing how different
technologies can be integrated into one. We'll be collecting feedback over the
next couple of weeks."
Guest customization is also at the heart of what U.K.-based
IHG is trying to achieve with its Guest Reservation System, which it calls the
industry's first cloud-based reservation system.
Still in its test phase, the system is IHG's primary
technology initiative. The company said it will enable guests to further
customize their reservation searches with price and location preference (floor
number, corner room, lounge access, etc.), while the system will use past
reservations to tailor room and price offerings.
The hoteliers are all moving forward with their
technological innovations to complement their ever-expanding variety of brands,
many of which tout technology as a cornerstone and a differentiator. While
Marriott continues to integrate the 11 brands it acquired in its 2016 Starwood
Hotels & Resorts buyout, Hilton has debuted two new brands -- Canopy and
Tru by Hilton -- since last July, and IHG this year said the first hotel under
its Avid midscale brand will open in 2019.
Beyond amenities such as on-site robots and improvements in
mobile booking, the proposed advancements are being pitched by the hotels as a
way to balance evolving technologies and automation with the goal of providing
human-touch hospitality. IHG said its reservation system will enable the company
to focus more on "guest-facing technology that delivers unique, branded
experiences for our guests."
Marriott's Internet of Things Guestroom Lab at its Maryland headquarters.
Marriott echoed IHG's efforts to use technology to achieve
more customized experiences. For example, Hartley said, Marriott is testing
spatial technology that can produce a room with blue-hued lighting (for more
energy) and business programming on TV for a business traveler or orange-hue
lighting and a superimposed yoga routine on the room's full-length mirror for a
Hilton's Nightingale is an iPhone-sized device that emits
white noise that can be customized to nullify common disturbances such as
construction and lobby noise. Hilton's also testing a device called Pilot, in
which two people speaking different languages (a hotel guest and a concierge,
for example) can don a pair of ear buds that will translate as they speak.
The time frame for when guests can expect to experience such
innovations at a hotel outside of a laboratory environment runs the gamut. IHG
said its reservation system is already available at about 100 hotels and will
be used companywide by early 2019.
Some features emerging from Marriott's lab are being tested
at hotels, and the company estimates that its IoT innovations will be
integrated throughout the company within the next five years.
Hilton's McKenna said implementation of the Innovation
Gallery's product integration will range from immediate availability to five
years, depending on a product's stage of development and how it's received by
"We don't believe the space to be a static entity,"
McKenna said. "To keep it alive and fresh, we need to make sure it moves
with us into the future."