How one business handed control to the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Hotel company Bloc thinks that people expect control at their fingertips, so it has built tablets into its room design and into its business operations.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor
The technology goes beyond the use of a Galaxy Tab per room and extends to check-ins, energy efficiency and hooks into back-end systems. Image: Bloc Hotels

Bloc Hotels' use for the Samsung Galaxy Tab should eliminate at least one irritating experience for travellers. Instead of struggling to find the lights in an unfamiliar hotel room, and then having to work out controls for heating, blinds and TV, guests will have a tablet to manage the room — as part of an ambitious mobile project.

"Not having a clue how to turn things on or off certainly resonates with a lot of people," Bloc Hotels managing director Rob Morgan said.

"You walk into a hotel room and you don't know where to put your card to turn the lights on. You stumble around and find a remote control device that is either completely archaic or has got so many buttons on it you don't know how to turn anything on."

At the company's new hotel at Gatwick, UK, once guests open the door to their room, a passive infrared sensor detects their presence, turns the air conditioning to a default 20°C, the lighting to a mood setting and puts the television on with a welcome message.

This is where the Samsung tablet beside the bed comes in, offering guests intuitive controls for all aspects of the room, replacing the cost and clutter of traditional controllers and dials.

But the technology devised for Bloc by design and development firm Boxbuild goes beyond the use of at least one Galaxy Tab per room and extends to check-ins, housekeeping and energy efficiency — and even hooks into back-end systems.

Selling sleep, via cutting-edge technology

Bloc Hotels' underlying principle is modern design and competitively-priced rooms in locations where space is at a premium. Rooms are smaller than average but packed with what the company considers essential features. Bloc has also moved away from the traditional hotel model of providing food and drink.

"Our intent is to put Bloc hotels in locations where there's great infrastructure, there are bars and restaurants. You tend not to want to eat in affordable hotels and it's not the kind of business that we really want to get involved with," Morgan said.

"We're competing for overnight stays and we're competing against the high end of the market as well, because when you turn up to a hotel room, invariably as a business person you throw your bag on the floor, probably send an email, crash out, get up and just get on with your day. It's competitive. We're selling sleep in a way."

"When you reach your room, your smartphone can become the controlling device for all the elements of the room — the air con, the electronic blackout blinds, the television, the lighting."
—Rob Morgan, managing director, Bloc Hotels

"We're maximising the use of space and we have a big bias towards being cutting edge from a technological perspective."

The Galaxy Tabs are a central part of that approach, but guests can also encode their own NFC-enabled smartphones to unlock their room and then use a custom-built HTML5 mobile app to control its facilities.

"The journey is really fitted around a smart device, but also other electronic methods of communication. So you book your room, let's say on your smartphone, and you can receive a message on that smartphone that then turns your phone into a key," Morgan said.

"When you reach your room, your smartphone can become the controlling device for all the elements of the room — the air con, the electronic blackout blinds, the television, the lighting. All the aspects of the room are available to be controlled by one device."

The cost of using tablets as room controllers is not only roughly the same as traditional switches, but also fits well with the hotel's image in terms of technology. Furthermore, enabling guests to use their own smartphones as controllers also removes the problem of damage and theft.

"People taking the batteries and stealing remote controls and smashing them up — they tend not to do that with their own smartphone," Morgan said.

Locked-down, integrated tablets

Boxbuild head of technology Gary Holmes said the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 tablets run a custom build so they cannot be used for anything else.

"They can't really be broken into and cracked. We've locked down the tablets and they're secured into the wall so they're not really easy for people to walk off with. They're not sitting around," he said.

"This is not an item you can remove, and we know the moment they go offline because we've got monitoring across the system."

Holmes said the importance of the technology is the way it's integrated across the company and into key back-end systems.

"We're providing experiences end to end. It's technology right at the front end for the guest, through the back end down to maintenance and housekeeping, supporting and operating the infrastructure with the hotel. It's all integrated across Samsung devices," he said.

"One of the ways that this system is really going to optimise the operation of the business in the back end is that you will check out on your tablet when you leave the room."

"We're providing experiences end to end. It's technology right at the front end for the guest, through the back end down to maintenance and housekeeping, supporting and operating the infrastructure with the hotel."
—Gary Holmes, head of technology, Boxbuild

The moment guests check themselves out, the housekeeping department is informed that the room is ready for cleaning via an app on their tablets.

This instant communication allows the room to be turned around and available for another guest more quickly, which is significant because Gatwick is a day-let hotel where people will sleep for a few hours before getting a flight out.

"It's not someone who issues a sheet each morning and people with radios going round. Housekeeping have a tablet app that gives them a traffic light-based view of all the rooms: reds are dirty, orange ready for inspection, greens are available, blues are in use — it's really simple," Holmes said.

"It means people right across the business are hooked into back-end processes they are delivering a more efficient business, which costs less to run, generates more revenue because it gets rooms back out there and available more quickly and helps the hotel maximise its investment on its technologies."

The use of Samsung technology consists not only of tablets but also Samsung HA690 flat-panel displays and Samsung three-pipe DVM air-conditioning units. The integration of the room controls with the hotel's systems also helps with energy efficiency.

"We get the ability to look at what's being used in the hotel, make decisions and implement them across the technology, so we can do things to reduce the carbon footprint of the hotel if we want to, using the Samsung air-con system," Holmes said.

An industry-wide trend

The hotel industry is exploring the use of tablet technology and smartphones, he said.

"You see other chains trying to look at it but we are really 12 to 18 months ahead of everybody else at the moment because we are about to open the first hotel that does this, fully, throughout. All the rooms have been purpose-built to do it," Holes said.

The technology has been piloted at Bloc's Birmingham hotel and will be available throughout the Gatwick building, which opens this month.

"We are also going to be the first people who will give you control of your room on your own device with the hotel's own app. That's going to be quite a big leap," Holmes said.

"There is one company out in the Far East that will give you a phone when you arrive at the hotel and take it back when you leave. That isn't really aligned to how people use technology in their lives today."

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