Hotel Design Trends – Smarter Rooms

In 1957, the House of the Future opened in Disneyland. The style was unabashedly modernist, with plastic used liberally throughout the four wings of the building that seemed to float above the landscape. Depicting a house as imagined to be in 1984, many of the then-unbelievable features are now commonplace – wall-mounted television screens, centralized climate control and microwave ovens are found in many homes today.

As technology evolved and grew, elements of automation continued to be included in home building, and by the 2000s, the concept of the “smart home” was no longer the domain of the rich. Today the home automation market is growing at a rate of 43% per year, and as people are becoming used to smart homes, they are expecting the same of features when they travel.
ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas uses a Control4 system to manage all the room automation features. A bedside touch screen serves as the control center to adjust lighting, music, temperature, window drapes, television and do-not-disturb status. Ready to pack it in for the night? Hitting the “Good Night” button turns out the lights, closes the drapes and turns the Axxess room sign LED to red, letting hotel staff know that you do not want to be disturbed and disabling the doorbell to ensure it won’t go off.

In addition to providing guests with cool features, hotels are using automation to become greener. Like a growing number of hotels, the Westin Grand in Vancouver utilizes occupancy-based controls for their heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems to ensure that empty rooms aren’t needlessly consuming energy. Studies show that occupancy-based controls substantially increase efficiency with little to no affect on the guest experience.
As travelers become smarter, hotels are designing their rooms accordingly. Ideo, the design firm behind the new redesign of Holiday Inn Express Europe, did extensive testing to see how travelers actually use their rooms with full scale models and focus testing. One surprise discovery? Business travelers overwhelmingly preferred to work while sitting on the bed rather than using the full size desk found in most rooms. Ideo responded by replacing the desk with a smaller table and comfortable chair, and added lighting, electrical plugs and USB outlets to the bedside, mimicking a business class airplane seat.

We’re still in relatively early days of smart hotel rooms, and as technology continues to improve we’re going to see more features become commonplace, particularly with mobile phone integration. For example, Hilton has started experimenting with unlocking rooms with a mobile phone app, the UK chain Whitbread allows guests to check in and out, set room temperature and lighting and even order room service via mobile phone. Expect to see more mobile phone integration as hotels keep looking to improve experiences for an ever more connected clientele.

As for Disney, they’re utilizing smart features that couldn’t have been dreamed of when the House of the Future was built. The Disney MagicBand, a billion dollar project that is only just beginning to be rolled out widely, customizes and enhances the guest experience in ways that, like the House of the Future, hint at what will become standard practice down the road.