Asia hotels go high on tech to lure guests

To remain competitive and drive productivity, hotels in Asia have been building their own apps and turning to various technologies like second-screen functions and telepresence to offer a more intuitive guest experience.
Written by Ryan Huang, Contributor on

Hotels across the region are leveraging a range of technologies to improve operations and guest experience, from beefing up the backend with IP networks to improving customer-facing interfaces.

ZDNet takes a look at some of the technologies implemented, and others in the pipeline, that hotels are deploying to stand out from the competition.

1. Build own apps for branding

The Ibis Hotel chain launched an Apple iOS app, called Sleep Art, which uses motion sensor technology to turn sleep patterns into a piece of digital art. After downloading the free app, the iPhone is placed on the mattress and set to run through the night, converting movements and sounds into a visual display minute by minute.

The hotel said this was part of its bid to take its promise of "happy sleep" a step further and transform it into a digital work of art. A competition is underway where guests can submit their entries via Facebook.

(A robot illustrating the concept during the launch of Ibis Hotel's Sleep Art app.)

2. IPTV and second screen

Mandarin Orchard in Singapore installed an advanced IPTV system, enabling movies on-demand and access to concierge and dining services over the television set. This includes an option for express checkout.

It also launched a second-screen offering, allowing guests to use their tablets or other mobile devices, to access functions on the hotel's IPTV system from anywhere on the compound, such as watching movies by the pool or at the restaurant.

3. IP telephony

To improve staff mobility and offer guests new room service options, Pan Pacific Singapore installed a converged Avaya Aura unified communications network with an IP phone system. This allowed the hotel to halve the number of phones in its backoffice to 150, as staff can now use their own mobile phones to make and respond to calls as they move around the hotel.

(credit: Pan Pacific Hotel)

They are now also supplied with iPod Touch devices to log on to the hotel network, reducing the need for more costly phone contracts and handsets.

As part of the IP deployment, guests can make in-room requests over an automated voice response application which then channels the request to the appropriate department. According to Pan Pacific, requests are now completed on average three to four times faster and the hotel is able to save 80 percent on customer service costs.

4. Telepresence

According to the JW Marriott in Shanghai, China, it's the only hotel with a telepresence meeting suite. This provides businesses without such facilities access at an affordable hourly rate.

The system was implemented by Tata Communication in partnership with China Mobile, and is connected to all Tata's private telepresence rooms and customers of other service providers with which the IT vendor has inter-connectivity agreements.

5. Online booking system with SMS functionality

Royal Plaza on Scotts in 2011 launched a Web site for its restaurant, Carousel. It features an online booking function which is integrated with the restaurant's table management system.

This move was in response to feedback from customers who said the reservations hotline was often busy, especially during festive periods. The booking process is also shorter for subsequent visits because customer profile information can be recalled from the database.

The Singapore-based hotel is in the process of setting up an SMS system to facilitate reservations confirmation.

6. Intuitive networked experience

In a glimpse into the future, Novotel tested a pilot room in France last year which featured a networked room experience supported by Microsoft technology. At the core is its Xbox 360 game console and Kinect sensor, which uses body gesture and voice recognition to control games and entertainment. The room also showcased a Sensorit mirror, also based on Kinect technology, where tags containing information such as time of day would appear on mirrors around the room. 

The Accor group also tested another concept room at the Pullman in Paris. It featured access to the room via radio frequency chip in a mobile phone or keycard, as well as a wall of glass with a see-through TV and shower enclosed with Privalight glass which could switch from clear to opaque.

A see-through TV at Pullman hotel. (credit: Accor)
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