An in-room TV, iPod dock and a high-speed internet connection are no longer enough to meet many luxury travellers’ technology demands. With upscale operators offering everything from exclusive apps to touch-screen technology, guests are used to having the ability to control everything about their stay – from lighting to room service – with the touch of a button, and accessing personal content in an instant, just like they would at home. Technology is not the main reason people visit high-end hotels, though, and they certainly don’t want to be bombarded with it.

Be discreet

"Technology should complement the luxury experience," says Jeremy Ward, senior vice-president of IT at Kempinski. "You cannot inundate a guest with technology; it should be part of the overall experience, but it should not be the experience itself. It’s important to get it absolutely right and make sure it’s subtle and non-intrusive."

Mark Campbell, CIO of luxury hotel group Dorchester Collection, agrees.

"We don’t believe in technology being on show unless it absolutely has to be," he emphasises. "Even if you go back ten years, hotels like ours were trying to hide TVs in closets, cupboards and armoires; that has now evolved, but technology is still typically hidden or discreetly placed within furniture."

For Campbell, it’s all about choice. "Customers should be able to choose how they engage or interact with both the bedroom and the staff," he explains. "So, in properties like 45 Park Lane and Hotel Bel-Air, where we’ve invested in a lot more technology than we had in the past, guests can choose to book through room service in the traditional manner, or they can pick up their in-room iPad."

When it comes to controlling the room, they have still more choice, thanks to Dorchester Collection’s relationship with Control 4, which provides automated systems allowing guests to control lighting, temperature, TVs, music, drapes and concierge services with touch-screen devices. "At 45 Park Lane, guests can control the lighting on the touch telephone in the room, from the touch panel in the wall as they walk into the vestibule, on the TV via the remote control or on the iPad," Campbell remarks.

Personal touch

This level of choice is becoming almost standard throughout the upscale sector. "Today’s guests demand high-tech and easy-to-use systems that can tailor the in-room experience to their preferences – from lighting and air conditioning to TV channels and music," believes Michael Wale, Starwood’s president for Europe, Middle East and Africa. "These systems also need to be able to connect guests with staff at the touch of a button, be that front desk, concierge or room service."

Crucially, however, systems such as this should not be the only way guests can interact with the hotel. "Technology should complement what a guest knows and understands," Ward advises. "When a guest wants to turn a light off, they look for a switch, and, although we are adding the ability to control the lights from an iPad, we won’t remove the switch."

The same goes for F&B. While luxury hotels will never do away with the traditional wine list, many are enhancing the experience of wine selection with iPad sommelier apps. "You can provide much more detail, including tasting notes and photos, and you can do this in multiple languages," says Ward. "We can also extend this to cigar menus, and in China we’re looking at tea menus too."

Of course, these added extras are only effective if they are enhancing an experience that works on the most basic level. "It’s important to get the simple things right, like having good high-speed internet wherever you are in the hotel; it must work every time," Campbell confirms.

Luxury operators are also becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that guests want to stay connected both to their own content and their friends and families. In the bedroom this means ensuring that there is sufficient bandwidth for internet access and that guests have the ability to easily throw content from a guest device to the in-room TV system.

"This is relatively new in the industry," Ward says, "but it’s something we are doing in our new hotel in Vienna. And we will certainly be keeping a close eye on the emerging standards for sharing guests’ content on TV systems as it’s something that will become more ubiquitous within the immediate future."

The approach is clearly working: Palais Hansen Kempinski in the Austrian capital won the Best Technology prize at last year’s European Hospitality Awards. At Dorchester Collection, too, Campbell is working on providing guests with ways of viewing or streaming their own content on hotels’ TV screens wirelessly, rather than by using cables. This will not only enhance the experience for guests; it also has benefits from an installation point of view.

"The traditional method always brought challenges in terms of ensuring it worked consistently, as well as in terms of the aesthetics of the room," he says. "Changing that technology to wireless will make it a more robust solution."

Appy customers

Beyond the bedrooms, guests’ connectivity can be further enhanced with smart, hotel-specific applications, such as Starwood’s W iPhone app, which enables guests to post insider tips to each other while on the road, or order anything to be delivered to a room at any W Hotel worldwide. Applications such as these mean each guest’s luxury experience – during, pre and post-stay – can be heightened, as social media teams worldwide are monitoring what they are looking for.

"It means we can develop a deeper, emotional connection with them and provide personalised experiences," explains Wale. "For example, through our ‘Surprise and Delight’ programme, a guest at one of our Westin hotels tweeted that he would miss the Westin Heavenly Bed when he left and returned home. This was picked up by our social media team and by the time he arrived home, a set of Westin pillows was waiting for him as a reminder of his stay.

Offerings like this only serve to emphasise that technology cannot be used to replace service; rather it is an effective tool to enhance it. And this is equally true in hotels themselves.

"Technology can never replicate a personal handshake or the thrill of seeing a new destination for the first time; delivering personal face-to-face service will always be a priority for us," Wale stresses. "But, clearly, technological advancements can improve systems to make previously manual processes substantially more efficient."

For example, using a housekeeping product that allows each housekeeper to track their allocated rooms using a tablet or smart device can significantly improve housekeeping efficiency.

"This may be something the guest doesn’t realise, but if they arrive early at the hotel and are able to check-in because the housekeeping function has been improved, it’s a bonus," says Ward.

Guests’ in-room control systems can also be designed to interact with smart housekeeping systems, replacing the traditional sign hung on the back of the door or the flashing light outside the room that could take hours to be noticed. And for Campbell, this can improve the guest’s experience beyond the swift delivery of a pillow: "If the guest orders a pillow or a towel via a smart device, this might trigger other emotions or allow the guest to see other things that could further enhance their experience, which they hadn’t yet thought of."

These systems also benefit hotel management teams by providing accountability back of house.

"At any given time, the management can see how well the guests are being serviced," Ward notes.


Staff efficiency is by no means the only way luxury operators can benefit from the careful choice of top-of-the-range technology. Choosing the right products can also reduce costs and impact their environmental performance.

"We look at ways to stay green while keeping the luxury experience," says Ward. "Solutions such as intelligent lighting and HVAC systems are important, but even the introduction of iPads helps as we’re no longer printing thousands of pages of directories in the rooms."

At Starwood, technology has also contributed a great deal to the group’s goal to reduce energy consumption by 30% per available room and water consumption by 20% by 2020.

"For example, we already use occupancy sensors for in-room lighting, dual-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads to reduce water use, as well as new irrigation technology to monitor soil moisture and track weather in our hotel grounds," Wale says.

At the group’s sustainability-centred Element brand, Starwood has even introduced Google-mapped ChargePoint electric car charging stations that allow guests to charge their electric vehicles, not only enhancing the hotel’s green credentials, but also adding a little something extra to the luxury experience.

For today’s luxury traveller, technology must be ubiquitous – from lighting control to room service, and from wine selection to travel tips. The use of technology even increasingly extends beyond the hotel stay. Even the most IT-savvy guests do not visit a hotel just for the latest innovations, though. As the industry’s leading luxury brands clearly demonstrate, state-of-the-art technology is most effective when it is being used to enhance, rather than define, the modern luxury experience.