Self-service kiosks, ‘smartbeds’ and robots: The technology enhancing Singapore’s hotels

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SINGAPORE: Checking in at the newly established Yotel Singapore along Orchard Road is a do-it-yourself (DIY) process.

Instead of lining up at the front desk, guests can register and collect their room keys via the self-service kiosks located at the lobby. For those checking out, the same can be done at these kiosks equipped with touchscreens and magnetic stripe card readers.

This is just one of the many technology-driven offerings available at Yotel – a London-based micro hotel chain known for the creative use of technology within its properties. It opened its first hotel in Singapore, as well as Asia, earlier this month, touting an “innovative style of hospitality”.

Apart from DIY check-in and check-out kiosks, rooms in Yotel come with “technowalls” that have adjustable mood lighting and smart TVs. Each room also has a “smartbed” that reclines and transforms into a couch by pressing a button.

With a standard Yotel room being about 14 square metres, this helps to maximise space, according to the hotel’s Singapore general manager Brendan Daly. Automation in the check-in and check-out processes also reduces the time guests spend at the front desk, he added.

Given its emphasis on technology and compact room designs, the hospitality brand sees itself as a disruptor of sorts.

“Our cabins are compact but we offer facilities at a quality location that aren’t going to cost an arm and a leg,” said Mr Daly, referring to how rates for its 610 guest rooms start from S$164. “It’s about providing everything that people need but not making them pay for things that they don’t need, such as space.”

And despite its compact designs allowing it to squeeze more rooms into a given space, Yotel currently employs just 140 staff. It plans to increase headcount to 180 over the next three months but Mr Daly said the use of technology has helped Yotel to maintain a leaner workforce than traditional hotels.

A traditional hotel with the same number of rooms requires twice or triple that number of staff.

“The efficiencies are garnered at the front desk. Other automation include bringing in robotics to help support our guest services,” he told Channel NewsAsia.

“We are a technology-led brand and technology will always be something that we focus on.”

A customer tries out the self check-in kiosk at Yotel Singapore. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

THE RISE OF THE HIGH-TECH HOTEL?

Elsewhere, other hotels in Singapore are embracing technology as they attempt to court younger travellers amid the rise of Airbnb, as well as counter manpower challenges and other costs.

Singapore’s status as a key travel hub and the presence of a developed IT industry also attracted many players to test-bed their new initiatives here, helping the local market to stay “ahead of the curve”, said Mr Rudolf Hever, director of hotels at Savills Singapore.

Given the speed of technological advancements, many of these initiatives have leaned towards software, instead of hardware infrastructure that may risk becoming obsolete quickly. Hence, apart from faster Internet access, a paperless check-in process is something that many hotels have rolled out.

At the Hilton Singapore and the Conrad Centennial Singapore, guests have been able to use the Hilton Honours app to check in and select their rooms before arrival. The introduction of a Digital Key function within the app three years ago allows guests to also use their smartphones as room keys.

Regional general manager Peter Webster said: “How it works is it sends signals via Bluetooth so when a guest walks down the corridor, a big green button that says ‘Open Door’ appears on the phone, After pressing that, there will be a click in the door and it will open.”

“With a smartphone becoming a consumer’s remote control for many things, being able to use it as a door key is perhaps the next thing they’ll expect to have.”

Singapore was the first market outside the US to roll out the Digital Key. At the moment, it is used by about 15 per cent of guests at both hotels. While there have not been any visible manpower or cost savings, Mr Webster thinks it will eventually help to make queues at front desks a thing of the past.

“People are able to go straight to their rooms and avoid lining up at the front desk. There will also be less instances of people having their keys fail … All these will allow us more time with other guests.”

The “Digital Key” function allows guests to use their smartphones as room keys. (Photo: Hilton)

Over at AccorHotels, guests are allowed to check in online two days before their arrival. For check-out, guests can drop their room keys in the express box and opt for their bills to be emailed to them. At the Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay, this fast check-out service is available on the IPTV sets in the guest rooms.

Mr Adi Satria, vice president of sales marketing & distribution for Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, said the online registration procedure, which allows for room keys to be prepared in advance, has reduced check-in time by an average of 3 to 5 minutes for each guest. Meanwhile, the fast check-out process helped to lower printing and paper cost by about S$100 to S$150 per month.

Robots are also in the works, specifically at the newly opened Sofitel Singapore City Centre.

The 223-room luxury hotel, part of AccorHotels, will have its own droid butler “Sophie” by the end of the month. The robot, whose primary function is to deliver items, will be able to take lifts using a special Wi-Fi sensor and navigate its way to a guest’s room.

Savills’ Mr Hever said this is in line with the trend of hotels cutting down on manpower, especially at lobbies in roles such as receptionists, and leaning towards increased automation. Moving forward, hotels may tap on other technologies, including facial recognition, to know more about customer preferences even before check-in.

For Yotel, while its iconic baggage carrier Yobot would not be making an appearance in Singapore, the Orchard Road property will be getting its own room service robot.

“It’s about providing amenities to our guests in a fun way so innovation in Singapore will involve our guest service robots delivering items, such as water, towels, coat hangers or umbrellas,” said Mr Daly. “Their function is really on the customer service side but we’ve worked in some personality so these robots are going to be interactive.”

Yotel Singapore’s general manager Brendan Daly. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

Similar technology offerings will also be available at Yotel’s upcoming property at Changi Airport’s new Jewel development. YotelAir, which offers sleeping pods in airports such as Amsterdam, London and Paris, is scheduled to be ready in early 2019.

While Mr Daly declined to reveal occupancy rates at Yotel’s Orchard Road property, he said that demand has exceeded his expectations, with majority of its guests coming from other parts of Southeast Asia and between the age of 25 and 45 years old.

Despite stiff competition, Yotel is confident of its business model and ability to garner a slice of the local hospitality market.

“Singapore is the gateway market to Asia so to have a presence here means a lot. There’s a lot of confidence in the market, in terms of visitor arrivals, so Singapore is an easy choice,” Mr Daly said.

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