Remember those big brass hotel keys from years gone by? It wasn’t so long ago that guests were wowed when they were handed pocket-sized plastic cards to get into their rooms. But get ready; a new wave of keyless access technology – along with a whole host of other innovations – are already breaking over the lodging industry.

As hotels labor to stay on top of consumer demand and ahead of the competition, guests are constantly encountering ingenious new technologies designed to help improve the customer experience, from smartphone-enabled check-in and room access to robotics and artificial intelligence.

For example by this summer, all 4,748 rooms and suites at the Wynn Las Vegas will have an Amazon Echo speaker, allowing you not only to play music but to control the air conditioning, lights, curtains and TV with voice commands interpreted by Alexa, Amazon’s built-in personal assistant.

Hilton has designed an app for your phone that can be used to check in and open your room door, while the Four Seasons Toronto has in-room iPads allowing you to order a burger and fries at midnight without having to speak to anyone. Lucy is the Virgin Hotel in Chicago app – tap the screen to request extra pillows, laundry pick-ups, meals or turndown service. At the Zetta in San Francisco, a new wellness program utilizes brain-sensing Muse headbands for guided meditation.

Here’s a selection of other hotels and brands across the US that are leading the way in the digitization of real-world environments.


1) Hilton McLean Tyson’s Corner, Virginia
Hilton’s innovation lab has earned a place in the limelight for its cute-looking robot concierge, Connie. Powered by artificial intelligence from IBM Watson, she can provide restaurant tips in multiple languages and answer questions about hotel amenities. But the McLean has much more going on than that.

Instead of having to call the front desk for toothpaste, you can send a text with Kipsu. Outside the Pantry is “RealSense by Intel,” an eight-screen installation that responds to human gestures. By the Tech Lounge you’ll find Amazon Lockers for deliveries. Ava by Irobot is the hotel’s mobile telepresence droid, which will act as your eyes and ears if you can’t attend an on-site conference.

At selected hotels, including the McLean, the Honors app acts as a digital key allowing you to choose your room in advance via a floor plan, check in remotely and unlock your room within five feet of it.

2) Aloft
Described as Starwood’s (now Marriott International’s) “tech forward incubator brand,” Aloft has introduced robotic butlers in its Cupertino and Silicon Valley hotels. The “Botlrs” work around the clock to deliver guests towels, newspapers, toiletries and bottles of water. They only accept tweets as tips and can pose for selfies.

At Aloft Santa Clara and Boston Seaport, meanwhile, the world’s first voice-activated hotel rooms have been unveiled. By speaking into an iPad, travelers can turn lights on and off with a simple “Good morning” or “Good night,” play music and fine-tune the air conditioning. Emoji room service arrived last year at select hotels – text the water droplet, pill and banana emojis to receive two bottles of Vitamin Water, some Advil and two bananas ($10). And at most Aloft hotels (as well as W and Element), Starwood Preferred Guest members can use the SPG Keyless app to open their bedroom doors with their phone.

3) M Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center
Described as a “travel innovation lab in live beta,” this 1980s hotel was transformed by Marriott last autumn, and now exists as an interactive showroom for testing innovations that could then be rolled out across other properties. Guests can give feedback by pushing Beta Buttons dotted around the property, with real-time approval rankings displayed publicly on digital boards.
At select hotels, not only can you check in and open your door with Marriott’s app but use Mobile Requests to order a toothbrush, champagne or flowers.

4) 1 Hotels
1 Hotels is a new brand that combines state-of-the art technology with sustainability (rooms have bins for unwanted clothes, hemp-blend mattresses and refillable bottles of shower gel), as well as nature-inspired biophilic interiors (living walls, air plants, terrariums and raw timber furniture). Even the reusable electronic key fobs are made of wood.

Not only is there free electric car charging, but access to a Tesla for free journeys within a 15-block radius. Gyms have self-powered Peloton Cycles and there are bikes (and recyclable helmets) to borrow instead of taking a taxi. These are available across all three hotels – one in Miami and two in New York. Upcoming openings will be in Sanya, China (2018), Cabo and Sunnyvale in California (2019).

5) Yotel
Capsule chain Yotel certainly has hotels that look sci-fi. But its tech is pretty space-age, too. In its flagship New York property, a huge robotic arm lifts suitcases into storage units, while guests use glowing airport-style kiosks to check in.

Signature features include space-saving adjustable SmartBeds that fold 90 degrees to create a couch, Smart TVs and USB/UK/EU/US plug sockets. The 80-room next-generation YotelAir hotel at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport has a co-working space with tables fitted with USB charging points and the ability to print wirelessly for free wherever you are.

6) Peninsula Chicago
This luxurious outpost of the Hong Kong-based brand has implemented a number of innovations developed by the company’s dedicated R&D team. This means all tech found in Peninsula properties is custom-made and rigorously tested.

Along with its Beijing property, the Peninsula Chicago has the most up-to-date gadgetry, including bespoke digital tablets (bedside, desk and wall-mounted) for controlling all in-room functions (lighting, temperature, privacy, valet call and curtains), as well as displaying city guides and restaurant menus, in multiple languages. Flatscreen Blu-ray LED TVs have free HD movies, memory card readers and virtual surround-sound. The hotel’s Rolls-Royce and Mini fleets are equipped with free WiFi.

7) Mama Shelter Los Angeles
Part of Accorhotels, funky French brand Mama Shelter has installed Apple iMac computers in all of its 600-plus hotel rooms. There are six hotels in the group – the one in LA is a good example of how high-tech they are. The sleek 27-inch desktop Macs are installed with information about hotel amenities and free movies. You can also access TV, radio and Airplay. Reception will lend you a keyboard to type with. Take pictures with the webcam and (with your permission) they will be displayed on screens in the public areas.


Sabre Revamps GetThere for Business Travelers
Sabre Corporation has launched a redesigned mobile experience for its GetThere online travel management solution. The tool enables travelers to make better informed in-policy booking decisions with a consumer-grade interface that offers an optimal search, shop and book experience on mobile or desktop.

Travel managers have more options to use fare rules to identify out-of-policy fares and control whether certain flights are displayed within the search results. Business travelers will have the ability to access all available fares offered by the carrier beyond lowest airfare.

“Today’s business traveler wants the convenience of self-service solutions. Our new traveler-centric design in GetThere puts the user first,” said Wade Jones, interim president of Sabre Travel Network. “Travel managers and travelers will also have access to more content and the ability to differentiate various fare offerings from airlines including branded fares.”

Radius Travel Teams with mTrip
Radius Travel has announced a partnership with mTrip, a developer of mobile travel industry solutions, to create mobile apps for Radius Travel’s multinational corporate clients. Founded in 2009, mTrip specializes in technologies tailored to various segments of the travel industry.

“Mobile travel apps have to work for the traveler,” Melissa McMahon, senior director of product and marketing at Radius Travel said. “For many clients, our member agencies’ local solutions are the right fit. For clients looking for a global option, we wanted a solution that would give the corporate traveler the experience they’d come to expect from leisure apps. mTrip offered the right platform for us,” McMahon explained.

Travelport and HotelPlanner Debut Group Booking Tool, an online provider of group hotel bookings worldwide, and Travelport have announced a new technology partnership to offer HotelPlanner’s all-in-one Book-in-Block tool, exclusively with Travelport.

The tool allows customers to obtain custom group rates plus instant online booking capabilities for any number of rooms/room types through Travelport. Once a group negotiates a contract, the tool expedites the rate loading process and creates a consumer facing booking page, as well as a customized travel coordinator interface.

Through the interface, the travel coordinator can upload attendee lists, book live segments, receive instant confirmation numbers, manage room blocks and rates online, combine segments, bridge flight and rental car reservations and send booking information to travelers.

Hilton Marks 1000th Hotel to Feature Digital Key
The Hampton Inn Manhattan Grand Central in New York City has become the 1,000th Hilton hotel to introduce their Digital Key technology. The technology uses the Hilton Honors app to allow guests to check in, select their room and choose when to arrive – all from their smartphones. Digital Key can also be used to access the fitness center, pool and other hotel areas that traditionally require a key.

Since its launch in 2015, Hilton Honors members have opened more than 6.4 million doors using Digital Key. Hilton says it plans to have the technology available in 2,500 hotels by the end of this year including debuts in the United Kingdom, China, Malaysia and New Zealand.

Short’s Travel Management Adds Priceline Content
Short’s Travel Management has announced the expansion of its hotel rate inventory to offer Priceline and rates. The new offering will now give travelers booking through either of Short’s proprietary online booking solutions, Short’s Travel Online or FindIt, access to more than 540,000 hotels worldwide.

By pulling inventory from GDS and Priceline and content, this expanded inventory includes pre-paid, post-date and Internet rates and will allow Short’s to offer more hotel properties for its current customers. Now part of the Priceline Partner Network, Short’s can offer negotiated rates, GDS content, Priceline and content in one place.

American Express GBT Unveils RE-SHOP Tool
American Express Global Business Travel has launched its AIR RE-SHOP EXPERT tool that searches for lower air fares while minimizing traveler disruption with automatic airfare monitoring, re-booking and re-ticketing. The tool takes advantage of airfares that fluctuate frequently, creating significant savings opportunities if the prices can be closely monitored.

Using the standard booking process, the traveler books the ticket. Within the first 24 hours after the ticket has been issued, the search and re-booking process begins automatically. If a cheaper fare for the same flight, same cabin and same fare type is found, the seat is re-booked and re-ticketed automatically with no involvement from the traveler and no additional transaction fee, and an updated invoice is sent to the traveler.

AIR RE-SHOP EXPERT is currently available in the US via Sabre with access via Apollo launching in the next few months. Availability will expand throughout 2017.

Fox Rent-A-Car Acquires Car Sharing Platform JustShareIt
Fox Rent-A-Car, the fifth largest car rental company in the US, has announced the final acquisition of a car sharing platform developed by technology provider JustShareIt. The cloud-based and mobile friendly peer-to-peer car sharing platform allows individuals to rent or share cars directly from individual car owners.

Fox and JSI have integrated the two platforms to enable customers to reserve a car, bypass the rental counter and proceed directly to the car. Customers will then choose their vehicle and drive off. Initially, the new service is only available at Los Angeles International Airport, but it will become available in most Fox corporate locations within a few months.

Is a Textalyzer in Your Future?
Distracted driving has joined alcohol and speeding as a leading factor in fatal and serious injury crashes, according to the National Safety Council, and cell phone use is involved in more than a quarter of all vehicle crashes.

However distracted driving soon could be treated in the way same as drunk driving, with the Textalyzer, a new device that is the digital equivalent of the Breathalyzer, according to Rob Beneze, risk control consulting director at business insurance giant CNA. This new technology could determine whether a driver had used the phone to text, e-mail or any other action that is forbidden under hands-free driving laws immediately prior to an accident.

While businesses await the deployment of such technology, there are policy steps CNA recommends companies take to minimize the risks of employees driving while distracted.
• Issue a written policy on avoiding all distractions and cell phone use while driving for the company.
• Prohibit the use of cell phones when operating any vehicle on company business.
• Use cell-blocking technology for cell phones in company-owned vehicles.
• Require drivers to be legally parked if they want to use a cell phone from their vehicles.
• Implement a discipline program for violation of in-vehicle behavior and cell phone policies.
• Allow voicemail to handle calls.
• Allow a passenger in the vehicle to handle calls.
• Notify callers via voicemail if a driver is unavailable or behind the wheel and that the driver will return calls when it is safe.
• Have drivers inform regular callers of their driving schedules and when they will be able to talk.
• Urge drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road and their mind on driving.