Science Fiction Hotels Already Exist

Not so long ago, telephones had chords. And not long before that they had wind up handles with people talking on party lines where several people in the neighbourhood had to share the same number and others could listen in to your call if they wanted to. If you wanted to record a movie, you needed a shoulder-mounted apparatus the size of a bazooka. And if you wanted information about the Korowai tribe in Papua New Guinea, you had to sit in a library and dig for it. Our modern digital devices and global information networks seem miraculous by comparison, and indeed they are—but that doesn’t mean they won’t meet with the same fate. The forward march of technology is relentless. What seemed like science fiction yesterday is reality today, and will become the dinosaur of tomorrow.

It’s also happening faster as time goes by. Some scientists and mathematicians believe that technological advancement will eventually find itself accelerating at an inconceivable pace, resulting in all kinds of scary sci-fi scenarios. But we’re not going to go there. We’re going to hope the Matrix trilogy has taught us all a valuable lesson, and that technology, as fast as it does progress, will do so at a rate we can all handle.

In terms of hotels and the hospitality industry (which this blog is about, after all), I’m here to tell you that science fiction is already here. We’re not talking about checking in with your phone or hailing room service from your laptop, useful though these features may be. We’re talking about a lot more than that.

The newly opened Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas is a striking example. Because every room in the complex is fitted with its own fiberoptic connection, room automation is robust and reliable. When you unlock and open the door, the entire room responds. Curtains open, music or television comes on, and the cooling system gets to work (important, as you’re in the desert). All of your in-room features are controlled with a touchscreen remote (or an app, or the TV), and it all goes into a master database that tells the hotel what you like and what you want; so that when you come back for a return visit, the room knows you.

The hotel also gives guests the option of registering their phone with the hotel and allowing location services. Essentially, the hotel knows where you are. It sounds scary, but there are practical benefits. If you’re near the poker tables, for instance, you can get notifications about empty chairs. If you’re near a restaurant, a digital coupon can be delivered instantly.

The Aria also has sophisticated touchscreen slot machines that can be changed at will, depending on what games are working with players and what games are not. Digital menus and information kiosks are everywhere, issuing dinner reservations with the touch of a button and analyzing what people like. If something on the menu isn’t working, the hotel’s central nervous system can replace with something that does.

The crown jewel, and perhaps the most disturbing feature, is facial recognition software that allows the hotel to identify individual guests. This makes it easier for the hotel to deliver a personalized experience, but of course it also has security applications. That infamous Las Vegas “eye in the sky” is more powerful than ever, and although it remains to be seen how comfortable people will actually be with facial recognition technology, it’s hard to imagine other Las Vegas resorts not following suit.

  • There are other hotels and resorts around the world that boast some of these incredible features—in addition to other unique ideas.
  • The Upper House in Hong Kong has motion sensors in every room to prevent housekeeping from opening the door when you’re inside.
  • The Nine Zero Hotel in Boston makes use of iris scanners instead of room keys to grant access to individual rooms. That’s right—the door unlocks after scanning your eyes.
  • The Wit Hotel in Chicago has scanners that detect body temperature and adjust room climate accordingly.
  • The Aloft Hotel in Cuptertino has a robot butler that delivers snacks and towels to guests.

Gimmick or reality?

Much of the technology hotels are using today is geared toward a more personalized experience. Some of it saves energy and resources. Other features seem more novel than practical. Can we really not be bothered to open the curtains manually or adjust the thermostat by hand? As guests, do we want hotels sending push notifications according to where we are in the building or city? What about hacking concerns? Will privacy and personal data be comprised by hotels with central nervous systems that are becoming more and more automated?

All of these questions merit careful thinking. As owners, managers and investors, we must consider each technological stride from multiple angles. Hopping on the bandwagon could add meaningfully to the guest experience. On the other hand, you could be left with a very expensive wind-up telephone with everyone listening in. Carrier pigeon anyone?


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