Guestrooms of tomorrow on display at hotel companies' labs

Hilton's Innovation Gallery inside the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in northern Virginia.
Hilton's Innovation Gallery inside the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner in northern Virginia.

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'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 leisure traveler.

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 hotel owners.

"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."

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