Hotels Of The Future
Virtual concierges, AI mirrors and robot bellboys – welcome to the suite of tomorrow.
Ask the average business traveller what they are looking for in a hotel and they might say: “A good bed, a hot shower, plentiful power points and free Wi-Fi.” But just in the way Mr Steve Jobs anticipated needs we didn’t know we had with the creation of the iPhone, the hotel of the future will cater to our whims in ways we previously hadn’t even thought of. Already in beta format – from voice-activated rooms to custom minibars – the innovations of today will be the norms of tomorrow.
Realising the importance of experimentation, many hotels, including 25Hours and Design Hotels, have set up internal think tanks to stay ahead of the game. Last year, Marriott launched the M Beta in Charlotte, North Carolina – the world’s first “live lab” hotel, where cutting-edge concepts such as smartphone keys and gyms with virtual personal trainers are offered to paying guests. This year, it opened a pop-up lab for its Element and Aloft brands in Los Angeles, to crowdsource real-time feedback from the public. “We’re pushing the envelope by testing, listening and learning in real time, gathering feedback on what works, and what doesn’t,” says Marriott. With the hospitality industry evolving at breakneck pace, we round up the four changes to expect from the hotels of the future.
Have you ever tried to close the curtains in your room and accidentally ripped them down? Or spent 15 minutes looking for switches to power off the lights only to realise they are controlled by the world’s most-confusing tablet? Soon, both will be things of the past. Thanks to the seamless integration of voice recognition, hotel rooms will become responsive to the things we say (yes, the shower will know your favourite song… and even sing along).
In Las Vegas, for example, guests checking in at any of the Wynn Hotel’s 4,748 rooms already have access to Amazon Echo speakers that dim the lights without you having to get out of bed, as well as change the temperature and close the drapes. Aloft hotels in Silicon Valley and Cupertino, meanwhile, have programmed Apple’s Siri to react to commands spoken to iPads. Google’s Home and Microsoft’s Cortana assistants are equally well placed to fulfil the job of virtual concierge.
According to a recent report by Oracle, 78 per cent of hotel operators say voice-activated controls for lights, air conditioning and room devices will be mainstream by 2025. In the not-too-distant future, expect mirrors to give you confidence-boosting affirmations, TVs you can chat to, and machines that will make you a green tea with a simple “Time to wake up.” AI will also be embedded in robot butlers that check guests in, deliver their luggage and bring their club sandwiches. Over in Chicago, the new EMC2 hotel has Leo and Cleo, two slimline, 3ft-tall droids who can bring you a spare toothbrush if you have forgotten your own. In years to come, lifts will be activated with facial recognition and tips will be given digitally, in the form of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.
As we move forward, great service will go far beyond, “Good morning, Sir”. Staff will know exactly who you are, what you do for a living, what your shoe size is and how you like your steak cooked. The willingness to exchange personal data in return for services will mean hotel companies will know many of your habits, desires and preferences in advance. Many brands such as Four Seasons, Oberoi and W Hotels are already monitoring our social media feeds to learn about our likes and dislikes, where we have travelled and how we spend our free time. SLH (Small Luxury Hotels) launched its new loyalty programme, Invited, in September 2017, rewarding high-spending customers with free tailored experiences and treats such as a yacht trip or a crate of their favourite champagne. Just in the way that Black Tomato can provide an expert drone pilot to film your holiday, hotels might screen short films of your dog on 8K video walls to make you feel more at home.
In the future, you won’t need to pack a suitcase. Alongside the Nespresso machine will be a 3D printer to create bespoke swimwear, ready for you to hit the pool, and your wardrobe will be filled with clothes in your size to borrow or buy (MR PORTER already has a partnership with The Ned hotel in London, which means you can order items such as white shirts and cufflinks and have them delivered in minutes). Minibars will be stocked with food and drink appropriate to your DNA profile (did you know there is a gene for gluten intolerance?) and, if you’re feeling lonely, the hotel’s in-house “companion” hologram will provide virtual comfort, informed by years of online dating preferences. (Rooms in Citizen M hotels may have iPads preloaded with free adult movies, but this will be PornHub 3.0.) If you need room service, there’s no need to call. Just place the Muse brainwave-reading headband on (this actually exists) and your grasshopper burger (a new sustainable source of protein) will arrive within 20 minutes of thinking it up.
Earlier this year, Hotels.com asked the Institute for Global Futures to predict what hotels would be like in 2060, and it forecasted that they would use nanotechnology to “self-assemble and morph from one design to another based on crowdsourced votes from travellers”. In doing so, they could “custom-design entire physical worlds”.
We won’t quite get there in the next 10 or 20 years, but new cutting-edge resorts are already pushing the limits of the possible. Due to open next year, the Rosemont in Dubai, which will be part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, will have an indoor rainforest complete with hiking trails, and a cantilevered, wraparound, outdoor infinity pool halfway up the 53-storey tower.
Outside Shanghai, Chinese developer Shimao is building a hotel in a 90-metre-deep, water-filled quarry. Also expected to open in 2018, the Shimao Wonderland Intercontinental will be set directly into the side of a cliff, with underground restaurants and a subterranean aquarium. Its roof will be covered in turf, while rooms will look out on to a lake and a cascading waterfall. Guests will be able to participate in extreme sports such as rock climbing and bungee jumping right on-site.
Even more outlandish is the long-awaited (and yet to open) Poseidon Undersea Resort in Fiji, which will be accessed via a lift which takes you below the waves to an underwater five-star hotel, said to be the “world’s first permanent one-atmosphere sea-floor structure”. Suites will look on to an artificial reef that you can light up to observe the tropical fish swimming by. With escapes like these, who needs VR?
As cities become ever more toxic and overcrowded, our minds and bodies will increasingly crave the great outdoors. Hotels will be built deep in forests, on the shores of remote lakes, out in the deserts and in the snow, far from the nearest towns and villages. Last year, the world’s most remote boutique hotel – the Whichaway Camp of six luxury pods in Antarctica – received a makeover with writing desks, a lounge and dining room, as demand for trips to the White Desert continues to rise.
Often silent, always without internet, they will be places to recharge, in the most untouched of locations. Without an address to put into Google Maps, properties will turn to innovative geo-location platform What3Words to pinpoint exactly where they are – GPS co-ordinates (64.1170° N, 21.2531° W, for the Ion hotel in Iceland, for example) are far too complicated to communicate, whereas “nabs.tidally.samosa” is easy.
Guests will live more simply, rising at dawn, cooking outdoors and without the distractions of TV or alcohol. Meanwhile, minimalist properties will be made entirely of sustainably sourced, natural materials such as hemp bricks, grasscrete, bamboo and reclaimed timber, in line with the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi (a world view based on the acceptance of imperfection and transience).
According to 2016 research from Ofcom, 15 million people in the UK have already chosen to take a break from the web for an extended period of time, with 30 per cent choosing a holiday that would limit their use of the internet in some form. As we have discovered, though, simply locking your phone in a safe isn’t enough to cure the addiction, and nature provides a welcome distraction.
Joining the likes of the Treehotel in Sweden and the Juvet Landscape hotel in Norway, the hyper-modern, snail-shaped Lofoten Opera hotel will be coming to a corner of the Norwegian Arctic Circle, an area known for its cold-water surfing and rugged mountain trails, in 2020. The 11,000sq m project will have rooms, apartments, an amphitheatre and a spa.
As urban hotels become over-technologised and hedonistic, wilderness rehabs will become the go-to option for restorative breaks for the soul, taking the idea of the “digital detox” to its extreme conclusion.
Illustrations by Mr Fernando Volken