Gazing into the crystal ball

Prashant Govindan, senior director, India & SAARC, Harman Professional Solutions reveals how audio, video and lighting technologies are redefining the world of ‘experience’ for a traveller.

It is said that a hotel is a home away from home, yet is a space for new experiences, indulgence and luxury. For business travellers, it is the place to return to after a tiring day. For leisure travellers, it is the perfect opportunity to indulge in some luxury, to pamper the senses, to tingle their taste buds and to carry back an unforgettable experience.

Technology as an enabler of experience in the guest room is often overlooked in favour of comfort and familiarity. What if we could provide that outstanding experience in an unobtrusive way? This is where experts at leading technology companies like Harman are finding newer ways to engage, entertain and enthrall in hospitality.

Let us look at the aspiring traveller. They are millennials – smart, technology savvy – with a short attention span. Their lives begin and end with technology. However, hotel rooms often look dated with virtually non-existent technology and entertainment limited to the TV. Armed with the latest iPhone, box sets of every conceivable movie in their hard drives, television series collection and with a game console in tow, it is not uncommon to find millennials seeking technology and often choosing hotels based on the gadgets available in the room.

The buzzword now is no longer convenience and comfort, but the ‘wow’ factor that is at the forefront for the tech savvy traveller, who looks at the entertainment system and hopes to catch up on the latest TV episodes streaming on Netflix or Hotstar or a way to hook up their gaming console to the slim UHD television. They expect nothing less than theater quality immersive sound, 4K picture quality and the ability to stream from their smartphones. Gone are the days when entertainment meant switching on the television in the room and hoping to find something interesting while surfing the channels. Harman International has been working on the convergence of the audio and video technologies and bringing in their expertise gained from over 70 years of designing sound for Hollywood studios into hotel guest rooms.

The new traveller is also looking for novelty. In terms of in-room automation, the regular bedside button panel no longer cuts it. Touch panels are also passé. The latest in the room is voice-activated automation. Imagine having a butler on-call who is able to fulfil your every command, all from the comfort of your bed. Harman has collaborated with IBM on their voice recognition platform, aptly called Watson – a virtual voice activated assistant. Integrated with the company’s suite of solutions, one can not only order their favourite dish from bedside but also turn on lights, draw the blinds, lower the air-conditioning or simply play their favourite movie or music. All this is now possible, without learning or navigating the control system but by voice commands.

Stepping out of guest rooms, spa areas are also seeing a huge change in the way technology is being seamlessly integrated into the spa environment. The systems are synchronised to adjust volume and lighting levels and play tracks as per the guests’ preferences as soon as they step into the facility. This is the level of personalisation now achievable through advanced analytics technologies that are being quietly integrated into the guest experience.

All of this technology is now possible due to the seamless digital experience that is now made available through advanced control and analytics technology, which reside on the cloud. In terms of standard background music and ambient lighting, which defines the immediate experience that the guest encounters as soon as he or she steps into the property, the music and lighting can be programmed to provide a soothing and uniform experience across all common areas. Colour changing LED lighting technology can also be programmed to automatically ‘follow the sun’ by changing colour through the day matching the lux levels outside and the time of the day to provide a smooth and refreshing ambience. All this can also be coordinated to the background score to provide the perfect sensory combination of audio and lighting.

In terms of façade, the same concepts apply by turning the hotel facades into an ever-evolving dynamic work of art. It is almost as if a new artist were to be commissioned each night to turn the otherwise staid walls into a dynamic mural. Modern LED lighting is able to do just that with colour changing ‘washes’, interesting patterns that are projected using specially engineered fixtures that have static or dynamic ‘gobos’; which are essentially stencils and filters that allow for a wide ranging combinations of effects such as moving water, desert sand, flickering flames or the crashing ocean to name a few. For special themed events and weddings, monograms and thematic elements can be projected as well.

In a nutshell, while consumer technologies have leapfrogged, technology in the guest room has remained more or less static in the last couple of decades. Technology, especially in the audio, video, control and lighting spaces can provide the much needed differentiator and competitive edge, especially to highly demanding tech savvy customers.

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