Imagine entering a room and saying, “Alexa switch off all lights, close the blinds, change the AC temperature to 24 degrees change the television channel to NDTV News” and all this happening with your voice only? Well this is not fantasy anymore but reality thanks to new age in room automation in hotel rooms. As hotels move to the next level and look for the key differentiator to give their properties an edge, in room automation will certainly be a key factor.
Guest room automation system enables hotel owners to provide their guests the convenience of controlling multiple functions in their room including lighting, temperature, drapes and audio/video systems using automated interfaces. Devesh Rawat, Hotel Manager, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway said, “from automated lighting that is switched on when a presence of the guest is detected in the room, to automated security systems that allow guests to enjoy their privacy. Even the method of placing orders with in-room dining can be further simplified through ‘All in-one consoles’ that give the guest master control over the ambience and experience in the room. Through automated linen change over and turndown service alerts to automatically replenishing guest amenities, smart technology in built into the room can revolutionize the overall guest experience.” Ashish Bakshi, Executive Assistant Manager, Hotel Royal Orchid added, “from what started with the guests being able to control drapes, lights, temperature, TV, and music has today advanced to welcome scene being activated upon guest entering the hotel rooms, with lights turning on, music playing, drapes opening, and the TV displaying a personalized greeting welcoming guests to the room. Similar to that there are customised wake-up scenes, request valet service, sensors detecting guest occupancy and turning off lights and set thermostats accordingly to reduce energy waste.”
Most hotels however restrict in room automation to light and climate control and in-room entertainment largely because of cost implications. Many hotels have already invested large sums of money on in-built smart and audio-visual equipment technologies and the cost implication of changing over the same would be quite high. “Other industries have embraced automation, manufacturing has massively increased its productivity thanks to machines, and Robotics Process Automation (RPA) led by companies such as UiPath promises to replace the repetitive, rules-based tasks present in many financial institutions, yet hotels seem to be free of such technology, despite the presence of many repetitive, rules-based jobs. This could be because of changing at both the front and back-end of our hotels. On the back-end, hotels employ staff who does a lot of manual, non-routine jobs, such as cleaning tables, cleaning hotel rooms, folding towels and tidying equipment. While these tend to be low paid, they are harder to automate than say the routine jobs found on the factory floor or accounting departments. That is the reason a lot of hotels shy away from automation because as guest experiences are highly dependent on the efficacy of such backend tasks,” opined Gaurav P Shetty, Managing Director, Goldfinch Hotels. However, today’s traveller is extremely specific in terms of needs and rooming requirements. “We have brought in certain automated systems to extend a comfortable environment to the guest and simultaneously, we also monitor the outputs. I do not see any reason so as to why one must not look forth to technological advancements and acquire as much as operationally feasible. However, at the same time, one needs to be careful about what one intends to offer. It entails a deep market understanding and gauging the pros and cons along with viability,” advised Ravi Rai, General Manager – Novotel Visakhapatnam Varun Beach and Bheemili Resort Managed by Accor.
The basics of in-room automation in terms of hotel profits or ROI is related to cost benefits and perceived value by customers. “In-room automation solutions enable high return on investment through improved operational efficiencies, effective management of resources, total guest comfort and convenience, and enhanced customer services,” opined Shetty. Incidentally, their first smart hotel under the Goldfinch Brand is being planned in Vashi, Navi Mumbai where they are likely deploy a lot of in-room automation. A viable investment in the near future would be on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) that uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. “The tags contain electronically stored information. Passive tags collect energy from a nearby RFID reader’s interrogating radio waves. RFID are in form of chips which are made into tags. These tags are attached with the linen. The reader of the RFID is in form a wand which can read the tags from a distance of 2 meters or more. The coding of the same is done in such a way that it can read each of the linen and can tell about the history of the product. The advantage of the same is that it is a one-time investment and can count the linen in one go, which will help in saving time,” said Rawat.
From smart thermostats, automated systems in lighting, ventilation, air conditioning and security, this is the age of automation. “For guest security, a particular floor can only be accessed with a valid key card issued by the Front Office. Going a step further, we have also introduced Single Lady Rooms which have an audio-visual facility. This ensures that the lady guest is absolutely sure while opening the door. Also, she may choose to interact with the attendants via the audio facility, should she be in an attire she is not comfortable opening the door in. While in bed, she may simply choose her mode of interaction and continue to enjoy her stay,” said Rai. Avinash K Gautam, CEO, Silvan Innovation Labs Pvt. Ltd. explained, “ability for guests to play content of their cellphone to TV is going to be the trend in coming years. Guests will move with their own entertainment. Our automation system will enable casting of their phones or tabs on the TV. Use voice commands to control devices when sleepy and easy access to television channels is also in. Some hotels in the US have started offering this voice enabled system and it is proving to be a big hit with their customers.” Recent trends that have picked up are personalized screen and videos for guests, some hotels also provide get on-screen control of the television. One of the most unique features which is trending is feature button labelled “Leaving Room” by the entry door that automatically places the suite in an energy-saving mode – with a single touch, it closes blinds, turns off lights and dials back air conditioners for energy savings. Faiz Alam Ansari, Complex General Manager, Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park said, “in Aloft Cessna Business Park, we have programmed our key system in such a way that it supports SPG keyless entry to your room. We upgraded our room locks, We also changed our key making software and modifications in the corporate mobile app.”
Choosing the right product as a right fit is usually guided by factors like guest comfort, differentiation of service value perception, User interface (UI) of the automation system and stability of the system as well as the back end usage support. Sourcing a vendor who has access to the latest technology and equipment in the market is key in keeping the systems updated at the property. The colour palette, shape, user friendliness, type of material utilized is considered while selecting the equipment. Vendors on the other hand are in touch with major hospitality brands and participating in various forum to inform about new age solutions for enhancing the guest experiences which will bring them both tangible and intangible benefits. “There are several deployments with the latest Voice Control systems in progress and new excitement and eagerness is seen by hotelier to deploy these. We also work with hotels for providing the customised solutions beyond the basic ones solving some pain points or some great feature they might be looking for,” said Gautam. Prashant Govindan, Senior Director India and Srilanka, Harman Professional added, “we have deployed a special Business development team whose role is to approach hospitality chains and educate them on the new immersive technology experience, give them demos and also show them the future of increasing the scope of loyalty programs with the analytic ability of the Watson IoT system. With Watson analytics – business intelligence can be drawn. One can take loyalty programs to the next level by providing personalization to each and every guest. Once your profile is loaded in the system, you can have a system giving you wake up call at your preferred time, take care of your entertainment preferences in terms of what type of music, which televising channel etc, so much that it can also change the whole in room dining experience, the mini bar can be loaded with the favorite sacks and drinks, the system can prompt you that last time you had something ordered would you like to try the same again.”
In-room automation systems have been one of the most popular systems in the recent times, providing benefits of real-time facilities and seamless integration of services for enhanced customer experiences in hotels. A majority of the automated systems are eco-friendly which saves fuel, man power, electricity and energy. “The climate control system in place is fitted with a dual purpose of energy saving as well as maintaining optimum temperature of the room. This system is activated only once the guest enters the room and inserts the key card in the designated slot. There are several automated room lighting system that are in place from the lighting in the room to the blinds in the washrooms and the in – built lights in the wardrobe are all programmed to get activated once the guest enters the room and utilizes the key card,” said Rawat. In-room automation undoubtedly helps save labour costs, to an extent and also catalyses the process of energy saving, which stands out as a great support in hotel operations. Sonica Malhotra, Joint Managing Director, MBD Group added, “in MBD Prive Collection, we have deployed high-tech lighting controls which work on occupancy sensors and detect activity within a certain area. It saves energy by turning lights off soon after the last occupant has left the space. This in turn is saving 2-3% HLP in guest rooms and via motion sensors in corridor lighting. As far as air conditioning controls, we are using advance technology Thermostat with energy saving mode which allows the guest to set the temperature as required with display on the screen near bedside. When the room is not occupied, the FCU fan speed automatically goes in slow mode and conserves the energy. We have installed most advance Technology Head Showers (Shower Tronic) system in our rooms which are equipped with different type of water flows which automatically allows setting the desired temperature and water flow.”
The in-room automation system at present are not integrated with the social media platforms and we see a strong obstacle in such integrations as this would mean either giving smart in-room automation on the smart phones of the customers for which the technological leap is huge in terms of integrations to various hand held operating systems or it would mean guest’s have to use the social media on the hotel platforms which in the customers mind leads to major privacy issues as the in-room automation systems are common platforms with ever changing users and most people are apprehensive in accessing social media on shared platforms or systems. Technology has become critical to retain guests at hotels and to achieve this, investing in a wide range of solutions provides an immediate thrust in customer engagement. “To meet guest expectations, majority of hotels spend extensively on technology like payment security, guest room technology, mobile engagement, etc. The trends observed in in-room automation began with a simple electronic check-in for guests. It has now aligned with the trend of guest personalization and curated automated system solutions,” said Saptarshi Biswas, Director of Rooms, Bengaluru Marriott Hotel, Whitefield. Intelligent automation is the future of hospitality trade and hotel guests are all set to be in a win-win situation.
This story appeared in the May 2017 issue of Hotelier India here: In room automation