Trends for Futuristic Hotels

The world is undergoing a major change on various fronts. Hospitality industry is also poised to feel the effect of this change. Since this industry is extremely competitive it is necessary for businesses operating within this industry to keep track of the changes taking place and also to be savvy about the futuristic changes and trends that are inevitable in the industry. Keeping pace with the changing needs of the guests is one way of ensuring the success of the property. It is believed that the future belongs to the millennials and the Gen Z. Thus being aware of their tastes and incorporating the same in the property will be the future trend in the hotels. Ashok Malkani tries to gauge the trends that are likely in hotels in the future and how they are preparing for these changes.    

The only thing constant in the hospitality industry is change. One cannot talk about hospitality nowadays without talking about disruption. A hotelier has to constantly keep his pulse on the emerging new trends to avoid disappointing guests and falling behind competitors. The hotel has not only to increase the number of guests but also to improve their experience in order to make them visit the place again. A study conducted by Harris Poll and Eventbrite found that 78% of Millennials would prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than things. 

Domestic as well as international tourists are developing a tendency to mix business with leisure. According to reports 55% of millennials extend business trips for extra leisure time. So how does the industry intend to cope with the diverse range of clients and the desires of the millennials, who have been given the credit for inventing the word “bleisure”?

Fino Babu, Executive Assistant Manager, Crowne Plaza Pune City Centre declares, “With the steady influx of international tourists being a mix of both business and leisure travelers, hotels need to cater to a diverse range of clients on a day to day basis. Hotels need to be sensitive to the preferences of international guests including international cuisine, amenities, and language options. Travelers are also very interested in experiencing the local cuisine, local food, regional cuisines as well as locally produced ingredients and vegetables. Millennials are now mixing their business trips with leisure time – this is allowing workers to save money and transform what can be an inconvenient trip away into a pleasurable stay. In order to cater to this group of travelers we offer a variety of experiences during the stay including – a poolside Sunday Brunch at Mosaic our all day dining, a party hot-spot at our ambient sky-lounge – Evviva and a delicious healthy meals at the all new Fast N’ Fresh restaurant. 

“At Crowne Plaza Pune City Centre, we focus on creating a unique experience for each of our guests. We offer a variety of spaces within the property for casual networking as well as interactive co-working spaces within the lobby lounge. The open-air poolside is another area which offers an open ambient patio space which can be utilised for food & beverage options. We are adding to the stay experience by including fun activities during their stay.

“Crowne Plaza Pune, located within proximity of local city attractions, malls and tourist hotspots, has also designed special weekend packages, which includes poolside brunch dining options, yoga and health club options, shuttle services to popular shopping areas. The areas in the hotel also offer vibrant co-working spaces for a more interactive experience.

“International travelers also rely on review ratings for a more informed decision when booking their stays internationally. At Crowne Plaza Pune City Centre, we ensure that we are managing our online reputation for all reviews, as these really influence travelers.”

Girish Krishnan, Hotel Manager, Four Points by Sheraton Mahabalipuram Resort & Convention Centre, says, “Hospitality has truly gone global and to cope with the demands of the industry we work with internationally recognised Hotel Management Institutes where we hire associates that have developed the required communication skills that come into use when interacting with our international guests. With the advent and improvement of technology we are now able to come closer and share information with ease. Thus we are now able to understand our international guests better and provide our services effectively and be able to deal with the different profile of guests staying with us. 

“Today’s millennials, domestic as well as international, are well informed, and they know what they want. They primarily need basic and simple things done well. Speed is something that they appreciate, a no fuss product and service is what makes them happy. Technology offered must be advanced because millennials don’t wish to compromise on that. Marriott brand has customised the hotels’ services keeping their needs in mind. We believe that Millennials are the first ones to experiment and we are able to provide our services and offerings as per their likings, one of which would be to engage and make them understand the hotel, local traditions and offers.”
Sujeet Kumar, General Manager, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway, states, “With the increase in numbers of people travelling to India every year, many new hospitality companies have started expanding their business. New hotels with new concepts are opening in Tier 1 cities as well as major tier 2 cities, in order to cater to the needs of different tourists with varied requirements f r o m all over the world. Advanced systems and technology is also playing a big role in helping the hospitality sector in India channelising the increasing demand effectively.

“’Bleisure’ was not a thing in the past. It is very recently that people have started planning business and leisure together because of which hotels nowadays opt for planning services & facilities where both the requirements can be met. Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway offers staycation packages where the guests can indulge in various activities like art workshops, Shine spa signature weekend massage, fitness boot camp, parrot watching, longest brunch spread in town at Feast etc. Such activities help us rejuvenate after a hectic schedule.

Hotels are curating experiences, especially for millennials. Social media engagement activities are being premeditated, f r o m activities around the welcome experience to check out. 

Sunil Shetty, Director of Sales and Marketing at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park, avers, “Our hotel has always had a mix of Indian and International guests, given the large number of MNCs around the hotel. As a hotel, we have always had a balance in product and service to cater to the needs of all nationalities. Hotels have to accommodate or even tweak certain experiences to better fit the needs and requirements of all their travelers if they want to stay ahead of the game.
“Millennials usually prefer to spend money on experiences rather than a product itself. While looking for hotels, there is always an added effort to look for something unique to break the monotony of work-life. Here, at Aloft, we offer our travelers just that. The brand by itself is specifically designed for the fast paced, young traveler. The hotel is designed completely unlike any other business hotel in the city. The lobby is bright, vibrant and colourful with no walls so as to not limit our guests to a certain space. The lobby has a pool table for guests to use, a buzzing bar with karaoke sessions and our unique brand program Live@Aloft which encourages young and upcoming musicians to perform acoustic sets twice a week. 

“The vicinity in which our hotel is located is primarily a business district with tech-parks spanning miles on either side of the hotel. The business week is usually a Monday to Thursday and with millennials usually wanting to extend a few days to explore the city and do things on their own we have introduced Weekend Package which perfectly caters to such needs. We have also introduced a new ‘Saturday Sundowner’, a high energy vibe party by the pool, with food and beverage options to match, perfect for this type of traveler. 

Eco-friendly Practices 

While Gen Z is still a rising economic force, this generation is highly aware of environmental effects and is more concerned about the ecological balance. Most of these guests are looking for sustainable authentic experiences. The hospitality industry, to attract these guests, has to adopt practices which will meet the expectations of Gen Z. How is the industry geared up for this? 

Girish states, “We are working towards the various aspects of sustainability, this is a work in progress and a lot of things are already being implemented while the remaining will be done by mid 2020.”

Sunil disclosed, “As far as we are concerned, I would like to state that Marriott International have gotten rid of all single use plastic items at the hotel and have replaced them with alternate biodegradable options wherever possible. Plastic straws are something that has been completely done away with in favour of the paper alternative. As a hotel, Aloft follows quite a few sustainable practices like clutter-free meeting spaces and the use of bubble-top water instead of plastic bottles in meetings and event venues. Moreover, the use of paper has been drastically reduced at the hotel migrating towards digital based applications to get simple practices in place like gate passes, vendor forms, work orders, refund approvals – bank transfer, service requests etc.” 

Fino avers, “At Crowne Plaza Pune, we focus on sustainable practices. All our hotels at IHG use the IHG Green Engage system, an innovative online environmental sustainability system that gives our hotels the means to measure and manage their impact on the environment. The hotels can choose f r o m over 200 ‘Green Solutions’ that are designed to help them reduce their energy, water and waste, and improve their impact on the environment. Guest can participate in these environment friendly practices such as reusing towels to help in conserving water. We have also discontinued plastic bottles as well as straws. The hotel is also regularly involved in numerous Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives including the Earth Hour – switching off the internal and external lights in the public areas for 60 minutes, cleanliness drives in popular tourist locations in the city.” 
Sujeet says “At Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway, we have minimised our environmental footprint by sustainably managing our energy and water use, reducing our waste and carbon emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy. This year, we have been very actively involved in trying to eliminate the use of single use plastic. We have also switched to glass bottles f r o m plastic bottles in all our Food & Beverage venues.”

Technology Advancement 

The younger generation being tech savvy would like the introduction of advanced technology. How are the properties prepared to satiate their demands? How can “a smart room” be described at present and what technologies are likely to be introduced in the future?

Sujeet states, “Several properties/brands are already implementing advanced technology and the use of AI for executing certain tasks in the hotels. Ipads are being placed at reception desks for easy and fast check in. In room tabs are being used for the guests to adjust lighting, order food, watch TV etc. In the coming years the concept of on screen menu is bound to take over the Food & Beverage space.
“Smart room is basically where a guest can easily control anything in the room with just a clap or voice. f r o m lights to doors, the guest can control curtains, & water. Air conditioner can be switched on with the use of an app so that the guest can enter into an already chilled room after a tiring day. With the recent introduction of smart voice search options like Alexa and Google Home, every hotel with a smart room can be possible very soon.

“In the near future, the concept of smart hotels would entail virtual reality experiences. Robots will be used for delivering food and beverages to the guest rooms. Mobile room keys will take over the key cards. Smart valet parking options will be open for the guests which will reduce the waiting time. Guest data will be used to automate guest interactions throughout their stay, reducing friction points and labour costs.”
Sunil asserts, “Tech savvy is a core brand value of Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park. The hotel was the first hotel in Asia Pacific to introduce and successfully function with a keyless room experience. The hotel has a function called the ‘Mobile Key’ where a guest can use his mobile phone as a room key. The hotel also has a mobile app as part of the Marriott International brand, where real time feedback can be taken f r o m the guest during his stay to better improve his overall experience.

“Smart Rooms are picking up speed in a few hotels, with tools like Alexa / iHome being used to implement these experiences. Keeping in mind the mindset of travelers to the country, and also the high bar we have set for ourselves in terms of guest service and hospitality as a country, hotels have to be very careful with what they implement in terms of technological guest services.” 
Fino too is of the view that, “in today’s world delivering hospitality is about much more than a comfortable room and a great restaurant. It requires cutting edge technology. This is being implemented by the best and brightest tech professionals in the world at IHG (InterContinental Hotel Group) to enable it to deliver an industry leading guest experience. Brands are now offering a variety of digital innovations including mobile check-in & check-out, mobile room key technology and the IHG translator app for apple technologies.”

He continues, “Some of the trends in the industry are leading to great improvements and savings for hospitality industry companies. These trends are developing and to be successful, in today’s landscape, one must be open to using a wide variety of tech-disruptive tools to ensure satisfaction and approval in both leisure and business travelers. IHG, as a multinational hotel brand, offers multiple technological advancements including the IHG translator app for apple technologies.”

Girish, however, believes that “we must keep the hotel simple, ensuring the room and public areas have good internet speed. Some of the key new introductions that we are implementing at our hotel include mobile check-in and check out.”

Automation or Human Touch?

With the advancing technology the days of automated hotels is not far. Henn na Hotels in Japan are pioneering this concept with robots as receptionists. Would robotics be the future of the hospitality industry? And, it robots are introduced, would the term “hospitality industry” need to be changed, since hospitality involves a touch of human element to be hospitable?  
Fino declares, “Robotic technology in the hospitality industry is fast emerging across numerous brands. The element of personal touch, however, will always be an added advantage with guests which in-turn creates a memorable experience. A smaller segment of guests will appreciate this development and be open to exploring the experience. Human touch is the corner stone of the industry and will always be an important factor in hotels. 

“In the hospitality industry especially, human touch is important and can go a long way for your hotel’s customer service. As self-service technology continues to evolve and gain popularity, it can be tempting to jump on the tech bandwagon and give your guests free reign over everything f r o m check-in to check-out. However, guests desire and require various levels of automation and personal touch throughout their stay journey, making it important to strike the right balance and mix between automation and hands-on, interpersonal interaction. Human touch is the epitome of guest interaction.” 

Girish asserts, “I do not find robotic operation in hotels to be interesting. Few things like vending machines etc can be used but the human touch is very important. Human touch is something which is at the heart of the hospitality industry and will always remain. Our associates make all the difference and our ‘spirit to serve’ program helps us in training and nurturing this culture in our hotel.”

Sujeet maintains, “In my opinion, the element of personal touch should not be eliminated f r o m hospitality industry. Robots for sure reduce the workload but till a certain level. After gathering some information on Henn na hotel in Japan, it was known that they already reduced more than half of its robot workforce as it created a lot of issues and the skeletal staff, in return, had to work overtime to meet the needs of the guests. Henn na is a classic example of how human touch is an absolute part of our industry.
“Hotels can be achieve both – introduce new technologies & continue to value human relationships, by not completely eliminating people with robots and automated systems. Hotels have already started implementing the use of advanced technology and robots to make small tasks efficient and to save long run costs. The mix of both technology and humans is the perfect combination for efficient and effective working of any hotel.”

Sunil states, “Robots and AI is a great idea to help hotels increase efficiency and even save on manpower for certain tasks. A few of our hotels in the USA and China have already implemented this in the form of robot butlers, etc. Having said that, India as a market with its value of ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ might find it a challenge to execute this, as lot of emphasis is given in the subcontinent to the element of personal touch.”

He added, “There is always a danger of over-using technology to such an extent that a guest doesn’t feel valued at the hotel. Hotels need to find that balance so as to make a guest’s stay convenient but at the same time make him feel appreciated and welcomed. In a country like India, drastically moving towards technology might not be ideal as our guests are used to being pampered and cared for as it is part of Indian Hospitality for which we are so well known across the globe. A little bit of technology can never hurt as long as the guest doesn’t suffer.” 

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