Imagine walking into a hotel and simply being directed to your room with just a few scans and taps on your mobile phone. No waiting in queues to check in or holding on to key cards safely. Your phone is all you need!
We aren’t talking about a distant utopian society or a sci-fi flick here. Smart hotels such as these are now a reality in China, thanks to partnerships with technology giants Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent.
Baidu used its annual Baidu World event to unveil a smart speaker, although it barely resembles a speaker in the conventional sense.
The Raven H looks like a stack of plastic squares, the top one of which is removable . The device is powered by the firm’s DuerOS voice platform - dubbed as “conversational AI” for allowing devices to communicate with each other, and users with their devices, with an emphasis on voice recognition and control.
Already InterContinental Hotels Group is working to equip its Beijing Sanlitun hotel with the speakers. The voice-controlled assistant would allow guests to adjust room temperature and order room service at ease.
Alibaba started off with facial recognition technology provided through Fliggy, its travel services platform. With the adoption of facial recognition technology, the check-in process can be completed in less than a minute. Chinese guests simply need to scan their IDs, take a photo and input contact details on a self-help machine. The intelligent device will then dispense room key cards after identities and booking information are verified.
Alibaba ran a pilot program in July 2018 with two Marriott International properties in China – Hangzhou Marriott Hotel Qianjiang and Sanya Marriott Hotel Dadonghai Bay.
Today, Alibaba’s very own FlyZoo Hotel (Fei Zhu Bu Ke 菲住布渴 in Chinese) is dubbed as being the first hotel in the world to support facial recognition with AI robot technology. Customers can check into the hotel by simply scanning their faces. The facial recognition system installed in the hotel also enables customers to use their faces as key cards to open doors and access other hotel services.
Users can also control the lights, television and curtains in the room via Alibaba's voice-activated digital assistant, while robots are deployed to serve dishes, cocktails and coffee. Hotel bookings and check-out can also be done with a few clicks through an app.
But while Baidu may have popular smart speakers and Alibaba boasts superior robots and facial recognition tech, WeChat is still the country’s most popular app, offering a host of functions including cab-hailing and gaming.
WeChat has partnered with InterContinental to enable a smart hotel in Shanghai that lets users book rooms, remotely check in, and use their phones as key cards — all without requiring human assistance. Once they’ve completed their reservation at the Intercontinental Shanghai Wonderland, travelers verify their identity at the hotel through facial recognition and collect their digital key card. Although the hotel is 88 feet underground, it’s connected enough to provide quick internet services.
WeChat and its parent company Tencent have been working on developing smart hotel experiences since 2014 - partnering with Caesar's LINQ hotel in Las Vegas, they showcased the first connected suite. By scanning a room-specific QR code, guests were able to connect to the suite and control various aspects of the room remotely through their phones via WeChat.
Unmanned Wi-Fi Hotels
The market isn’t unkind to other technology vendors either and opportunities abound - Smart LYZ, a Shenzhen-based company focused on developing AI technology and smart hotels, opened the first ever fully automated hotel in Chengdu, Sichuan. From there, the technology has been implemented in three other hotels including one in Shenzhen.
At present, the hotel relies on an automated system to complete the reservation, check-in and check-out. Passwords protect entry through each door of the hotel – right from the entrance. Upon receiving the password of the lobby through SMS, guests can perform the facial recognition procedure and ID card authentication in the self-service terminal. If the registration is successful, the system will automatically assign the room number and password and notify by SMS again.
Facial Recognition is a game changer
Traditionally, hotels in China require guests to pose for facial photos and to present government ID to be scanned and copied before they can enter their room. Tencent, by now adding facial recognition into the mix, has enabled faster identity checks.
In addition, through WeChat, travelers can also order room service, make payments, set air conditioning in the room, and adjust curtains and lighting. Breakfast vouchers are included in the customer data within the app, so by simply scanning their faces in the dining area, they can grab their meals. Similarly, check-outs are also done through the app.
Recently, Tencent also inked a deal with the Shangri-La hotel chain, so more hotel locations with these in-app capabilities are expected to open soon.
The widespread adoption of mobile technology has transformed businesses and services — this has had deep impact upon the hospitality industry. Smartphones have already become the "remote control" that guests can now use to control their room and aid in check-in and check-out. They can also help the guests with value added services such as room service or finding the local tourism information.
These improved functions now help improve efficiency and customer satisfaction, create new business opportunities and realize greater revenue for hotels in the longer run.