Making smart moves

Hong Kong’s smaller hotels and boutique properties are catching up on digital transformation, rolling out automated solutions in areas from operations to smart rooms to enhance the guest experience.

Hotel Icon has rolled out tech-enable solutions since its inception

While major hotel chains are leading the charge in the adoption of smart technology in the hospitality sector, boutique and small independent hotels in Hong Kong are also making efforts to ride on the digital wave.

Hotel Icon, opened by Hong Kong Polytechnic University, has been a testbed for the latest innovation and technologies in hospitality since its inception. It debuted two robotic butlers to assist F&B and housekeeping for about six weeks in 2017, and will roll out a series of tech-enabled solutions (e.g. smart light switches) to bring enhanced comfort and convenience for guests.

Hotel Icon has rolled out tech-enable solutions since its inception

General manager Richard Hatter said: “With the increasing application of smart items in various industries, the international travellers’ expectation of a smarter lodging experience is unprecedentedly growing. Guests have expressed an undeniable demand for more digital experience (in hospitality), (amid) a culture of convenience and instant gratification.

“Though certain popular destinations and international hotel chains are aggressively promoting their smart image, Hong Kong’s hospitality industry, however, is still lagging behind other destinations in terms of offering a smarter hotel experience,” he observed.

“A majority of hotel operators or owners in Hong Kong may have focused heavily on the ROI of the application of smart elements and are often resistant to the implementation of new hotel technologies,” added Hatter, citing some challenges that prevent the greater adoption of smart solutions in the sector.

“Some less tech-savvy hotel staff are also less receptive to the launch of new smart infrastructure and new standard operating procedures which may affect their day-to-day routine.”

Under Madera Hospitality Management, Hotel Madera Hollywood has been an early adopter of hospitality innovation among the city’s boutique hotels. The property has since its launch installed a smart living system in its 38 one-bedroom suites to offer guests personalised in-room experiences through controlling the TV, blinds and lighting moods with the touch of a finger.

Madera’s head Lucas Lai said: “The initiatives enable us to deliver a speedy guest experience instead of traditional person-to-person service, leading to higher loyalty and satisfaction… Most travellers at the moment are not familiar with the operations of this new technology because it is not popularly implemented in the market.”

But Lai believes that digital transformation of hotels is a necessity. “We believe that leveraging technology from digitisation to artificial intelligence is not just a trend but gives us competitive advantages in the market in delivering a fresh guest experience,” he added.

For Ovolo Hotels, the provision of smart technology solutions is one way it can tangibly incorporate effortless living ethos across every aspect of the hotel experience for guests, according to group director of brand experience and culture, Amanda Cottome.

The group has implemented Amazon Alexa across all its properties to offer personalised in-room experiences, whether it’s greeting guests with a Happy Birthday upon their arrival or playing their favourite songs based on customer intel.

In the deployment of ideas, Cottome said picking the right technology that not only has longevity, but ready implementation without significant development investment, are major considerations.

She elaborated: “We’re not looking for ‘fads’ but instead something that is ahead of the curve in terms of predicting what our future guests will need and desire. It’s about creating an experience beyond what they have in their own homes and far greater than what they would expect.

“We also like to focus on technology that enhances guests experience and does not detract or replace human engagement or the high levels of customer service we guarantee,” added Cottome.

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