U.S.-based hotel chains continually aim to one-up the competition in order to attract customers—particularly younger ones—to their properties and loyalty programs. Now Hilton is surging ahead with its “Connected Room” concept, which allows guests to personalize and control many aspects of their experience using their smartphones.
Guests will be able to use the Hilton Honors app on their smartphones to manage most in-room functions such as controlling room temperature, lighting, window shades, and TV. Hilton is working out agreements with popular streaming media providers to allow guests to seamlessly access their favorite programming on in-room TVs in Connected Room hotels.
And that’s just for now. As the technology evolves, guests will be able to use voice commands to control in-room functions, access their online content, or even upload their own photos or artworks to display inside their rooms. The app will remember guests’ preferences for future trips to other Hilton properties.
Hilton has begun beta-testing Connected Room at the Hilton Garden Inn Memphis at Wolfchase Galleria. A handful of additional hotels in Memphis, Dallas, and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area are currently being equipped with the new technology, according to Joshua Sloser, senior vice president at Hilton. The company plans a broader rollout throughout the Americas beginning this year.
The company points out that its loyalty program members already can use the mobile app to check in, to select a room, and to open their room’s door rather than using a card key. To date, the company has clocked some 34 million digital check-ins, 4 million room key downloads, and nearly 19 million doors opened. In October 2017, a Hilton room door was unlocked using the smartphone app every 1.5 seconds.
What about guests who are not Hilton Honors members, or who simply do not want to use the smartphone app? “Any guest can stay in a Connected Room and enjoy its benefits, which is why we have streamlined the room’s remote control for ease of use,” Sloser explained. “But Hilton Honors members will receive an enhanced experience, as well as personalized guestroom environments based on preferences they share with us.”
Hilton’s in-house team is designing and building the Connected Room technology from the ground up as a natural extension of the Hilton Honors app’s existing capabilities. The beta version uses a physical remote control to manage the guest experience. By the time it is deployed to hotels across its portfolio, the Hilton Honors app will replace or supplement in-room remote controls.
“At Hilton, almost all digital products are born out of necessity and shortcomings in the marketplace—and Connected Room is no exception,” said Sloser. “The technology we put in hotel rooms has to be intuitive, simple, and quick to pick up because guests typically spend a limited amount of time in their rooms. We want our guests to spend that time enjoying the experience instead of adapting to new technology.”
Connected Room is expected to help Hilton keep pace with rapidly changing technology. Instead of having to update thousands of rooms with new hardware, the company will be able to update the Connected Room software to create new experiences and offer new features. As a bonus, the new platform can help conserve energy by allowing guests to sync air conditioning with their schedules. Reviewing and analyzing data collected through the platform will help Hilton obtain better insight into guest preferences.
“Innovation has been in Hilton’s DNA since entrepreneur Conrad Hilton purchased the first Hilton property and pioneered the hospitality industry nearly 100 years ago,” said Christopher J. Nassetta, Hilton’s president and CEO. Hilton pioneered airport hotels, central reservations systems, air conditioning and television in every room, and even claims to have invented the piña colada.
Technology innovation is just one of the ways that hotels and resorts are trying to lure customers from competing properties and disruptors like Airbnb, which is on track to become the world’s biggest hotel business. Over 30 percent of Airbnb customers, according to recent reports, have used this service for business travel. The hospitality sector is responding to this development with a wide range of new offerings, from culinary kitchens to exclusive concert access and even urban “glamping” adventures.
Hilton has the bottom line in mind with its innovative platform launch. “Through the Connected Room technology,” Sloser explained, “we’re looking to design a solution that will deliver a return to hotels within two years, due to a combination of energy savings, operational efficiencies, and increased guest satisfaction.”