Check into tomorrow’s HOTELS

Personalisation, more space and designs customized to generate the expected experiences of a target group are what will determine the inside of tomorrow’s hotels, says PATRICK MICHAEL
Kreon will be exhibiting at Light Middle East, Dubai, in May 2007

WHAT does our generation look for when they book a hotel? A clean room, a comfortable bed to sleep in and easy access to wherever they plan to be sightseeing or conducting business are the absolute, if bare, necessities.

Add a warm, hospitable ambience and decent service to that, and we are a satisfied lot. Of course, a little bit of luxury won’t hurt. Nor will a few conveniences that help us stay connected. In other words, we are a fairly easy-to-please lot.
Cut to Year 2020, when our Ipod-toting, plugged-in kids have grown up and are checking into hotels for business or pleasure. Would their expectations be different from ours? Will they be as easily pleased as their parents with what the hotels offer in terms of facilities and service? Or, growing up as they did in the era of technological innovation and rapid globalisation, will they force hotels to rethink their service philosophy?
“Yes, the accent will be on more personalisation, more individual experience. More space. Space and spaciousness is the treasure of the future,” says Rogier Van der Heide, global leader of Arup Lighting. As a recipient of the prestigious IALD Radiance Award, the Lighting Designer of the Year Award, an Edison Award of Excellence, two Edison Awards of Merit, three International Illumination Design Awards as well as a British Lighting Design Award, he should know.
Personalisation as we know it is set to assume new meanings in the hotels of 2020. From merely storing guest details and preferences in their central database, hotels will need to move on to a stage where the data is used to make a real difference to the guest’s experience, creating a “personalised home away from home,” as Van der Heide puts it. “A strong theme will be a hotel city that you don't need to leave during your stay; a hotel where the guests rediscover themselves through mental and physical relaxation is another one,” he says.
Industry experts believe that a strong trend for the future will be a merging of the physical and emotional experiences of guests, each influencing the other. What this will lead to is a revolution at the conceptual and design level, with the emphasis always being on the comfort and well-being of the guest.
In other words, hotels of the future won’t stop at creating more space, better beds and more luxurious furnishings – customer satisfaction will be linked to much more than the merely physical sense of comfort and convenience. This will also lead to more targeted services and segmentation, with hotels choosing to cater to the needs of specific types of customers.
“Form follows emotion. The hotel will be a place where one relaxes, works, interacts or discovers. Hotels will have to choose who they want to cater to. Depending on the target group’s needs and interests, specific designs will follow to generate the right experience. Design is the harmony between the guests and the hotel,” says Van der Heide. “Our kids will book hotels that suit their desires. In the future, we will not transform retail and hospitality, they will transform us. Our kids will depart from the hotel revitalised, inspired, relaxed or smarter than they arrived.”
Technology will be a major driver of the change in the hospitality industry of the future, marrying good design and function to create a hotel that is warm, personal and inviting. “Technological development will make the difference between today’s guest-rooms and those of the future,” agrees Kristof Pycke, Kreon’s head of product development.
“To give an example, it will make us possible to adapt a room to the personal mood of the guest. In the easiest, this can be done just by changing colours. But more advanced projects can be imagined. Right now Philips Lighting is working on the final development of a fluorescent lamp that has a colour temperature of 17000 °K. Even today's most up-to-date lamps can only generate a colour temperature of +/- 5500 °K. Academic studies have proved that this type of light brings people into a good mood and gives them that extra energy. Imagine that the light is turned on gradually before you wake up, it would feel like a tropical morning on an exotic island.
“And then we can start thinking of incorporating new and unseen functions into the guest-rooms — innovations that seemed impossible in the past because it would demand too much work, too much money or would look too strange. Just one example can be the incorporation of a kind of flat-screen television into a mirror without changing its thickness.”
And in this combination of technological development lies the last type of development, the user-interface development. A key factor deciding the success of the marriage of new aesthetics and technology will be a company’s ability to choose the technology that perfectly suits its own vision and service proposition. According to Geert Salomez, Kreon’s sales director (Middle East), user-interface development combines aesthetic and technical developments to create a new product, which can “range from simply a new form to a concept that has not only a new form but also new functions or a combination of both”.
So hotel guests of the future can expect technology to change almost every point of interaction with the hotel — be it the instant recognition and welcome at the reception, the mood and lighting in the guestrooms, the extra comfort in the coffee bars…
Which brings us to the next question: will technology reign supreme in the hotels of the future? Will the friendly concierge be replaced by a more efficient, if impersonal, invention of technology? Experts answer this with a vehement ‘no’, taking the discussion back to the point where it all started — personalisation.
“Technology is everywhere, and hotels benefit just as much from it as any other industry. It’s the interconnection that counts. A ramp onto the internet is useless as an improvement, if it does not add value to the hotel experience. If I can order flowers over the internet, it would be great if it could be charged to my room. But why replace the authentic concierge who knows everything in the city?” says Van der Heide.
The bottomline? No matter what hotels achieve with technological advances – and there’s no denying that will be a quite a bit – a human face and a personal touch are here to stay, at least as far as we can see.