To connect or not to connect

Having spent a significant part of my working life staying in hotels in the Caribbean, North and South America and in Europe, I have become accustomed to the varying, sometimes surprising, facilities and styles one finds in hotel rooms.

For example, I have been given a hotel room in Switzerland that promised ‘colour therapy’ allowing me to change the lighting in a way that it claimed would to enable me to adjust my mood – it failed; a hotel room in Brussels in which there was a bean bag and water bowl for my non-existent dog; and another, many years ago before tourism took off in a small, then forgotten Caribbean island, where the whole room was painted black, which my bill on check-out described appropriately as the suicide room.

I note this having spent the last week travelling in Europe during the course of which I stayed in two hotels that could not have been more different. The first in smart provincial Dutch town was simple, almost austere and calm. There was Wi-Fi, a high definition television and a modern coffee machine, but little more in the room other than one might more generally expect from any good hotel.

In contrast, I went on to stay in Brussels in what was the highest tech, most modern hotel room I have ever been in, with a level of connectivity that took me to the edge of my comfort zone. The offer was straightforward; by downloading a hotel app I could wirelessly link all my mobile devices from laptop to mobile phone and iPod to their network so as to watch my movies, favourite clips and see my photographs on their television screen.

The experience made me aware of the extraordinary growth now taking place in hotels across the world in guest-facing technology.

What emerges from a little research is that it is becoming more common for guests in some of the world’s leading hotel chains to be offered before arrival the opportunity to download an app onto their smartphone that will enable them to perform a wide range of functions when they arrive. These include check in and check out, accessing their room floor and their room, controlling in room facilities, for example by pre-setting and adjusting room temperature, lighting and music before arrival, and even pre-selecting their choice of favourite beverage for their mini bar. The same app on some properties is also used for ordering from room service, making bookings at hotel restaurants and more.

Beyond this, a number of Starwood properties are now equipped with beacons that can communicate with guest downloaded apps so that for example, front of house staff are able to greet guests by name or can inform housekeeping staff when guests are not in their rooms.

Much less attractively perhaps, other hotel chains are using beacons to send marketing messages to guests while on a property, for example about special discounts at a spa during quiet times, or to encourage them to use other facilities like casinos or restaurants. Some chains are also using uploaded information by guests to personalise subsequent marketing messages, and in some cases intend selling this on to marketing companies, a development that potentially raises issues of personal privacy.

More extraordinarily, one hotel chain is even making a virtue out of offering guests the opportunity to not have to interact with a human being unless needed, and the chance to self-store their luggage using a giant robotic arm.

According to those developing high tech applications for hotels, such facilities are likely to become particularly important as the baby boomer generation fades and millennials become the next highspending well-travelled generation, carrying ever more advanced smart phones.

How much of this technology will appear in Caribbean properties or will come to be expected by those visiting the region remains to be seen; but for my money a Caribbean vacation and a hotel are
locations in which to relax, offering one of the few chances to escape from the menace of total twenty-four-hour connectivity.