How Hilton sees digital today and in the hotel of the future

Imagine walking into a hotel room where your favourite TV shows, air-temperature and other preferences are already in place.

Well, according to Hilton, which is beta-testing a smart room where “the room knows you and you know your room” this futuristic-sounding experience could be available in its hotels by next year, along with advancements in in-room entertainment.

But this is just a glimpse of how digital, mobile, analytics and IoT technology is being used in the hospitality sector.

Hilton is among the vanguard of international hotel giants looking for increasingly creative ways to use technology in their bid to engage ever-demanding digitally-connected customers who seek to interact using apps, smartphones and tablets before, during and after their stay.

In a briefing to tnooz, chief marketing officer Geraldine Calpin says that in the past two years Hilton’s extensive research into trends within hospitality and the broader consumer space has identified several opportunities.

For instance voice-activation (which has already been introduced at competitor Marriott’s Aloft brand) could be used in the smart rooms or in other ways.

“We know voice activation is increasingly popular for consumers, and we are reviewing whether this technology can work well for our guests and hotel teams.

“We focus on the customer when planning innovations; based on what customers want today, what might they want next year and how we can be ahead of the industry in delivering that to them.”

One of Hilton’s success stories has been the introduction of a mobile app with Digital Key technology, which is being used across its North American portfolio and will be rolled out to about 100 UK properties by the end of the year, representing the largest implementation for the 5,000-hotel strong company outside the US.

The app allows guests to choose their room, check-in, pre-order snacks and pillows and unlock their door, gain access the fitness centre and so on without having to queue at reception.

“We know our customers operate in a digital world and we are obsessive about embracing technology that helps remove the friction points from our guests’ travel experiences.

“We’ve built a world of experiences at your fingertips with our app – you can check-in, choose a room, set personal preferences and unlock your door using Digital Key.”

The rate of Digital Key hotel installations has tripled since 2016 and Hilton predicts it will exceed its goal of 2,500 hotels across the 14 brands worldwide by the end of 2017.

Calpin adds:

“We know from feedback that guests love using Digital Key and we are the only hotel company offering the ability for you to check in the day before, pick the floor you want to stay on, all the way through to where you want to be on that floor to get your perfect view.”

An added benefit for the company is that the app helps to drive direct bookings as it is only available to guests who sign up to Hilton Honors, a free loyalty programme across the 14-brands that has notched up 65 million members globally.

In addition, the use of analytics and digital technology helps Hilton to add value by better understanding guests, tracking behaviour patterns, making recommendations and delivering on their preferences – as well as communicating with them, helping them to find local hot spots or flagging up offers in, say, the spa.

Calpin says:

“We continue to monitor the trends we have seen in the last 10 years, such as the rise of smart devices – be that a phone or wearable technology – to ensure that the hospitality industry and in particular our hotels, are able to compete in the digital world that we now live in.”

Of course, hospitality relies on human interaction, so how does this sit with technology? According to Calpin, it frees the hotel team up so they can concentrate on providing more personalised service.

“Even with continually evolving technology, it’s important for us to keep hospitality at the core of what we do and ensure our digital tools are not changing our long-term staffing strategy.

“We are in the business of people serving people and true hospitality, and our focus is always on welcoming and taking care of our guests…We hope that by putting these tools in our guest’s hands, we are in fact enabling our team members to have more personal and less transactional interactions.”

In today’s security-conscious climate, it’s no surprise either that Digital Key has been vetted by security experts. Calpin explains:

“Each Digital Key is tied to a specific phone and cannot be shared or placed on another device.

“Every time a Digital Key is requested under your account, Hilton sends a confirmation email to the email address in your Hilton Honors profile confirming that you requested a Digital Key.

“As the technology is tied to guests’ Hilton Honors accounts, it is important for them to select a strong, secure password to keep their information protected on their smartphones or other devices.

“Also, our latest app allows guests to use fingerprint touch ID security features to log in if they choose.”

Hilton’s commitment to innovation is underlined by the fact it has already invested $550m in global technology infrastructure that has enabled it to bring to market, at scale, these digital tools.

Calpin says:

“This infrastructure is extensive and includes all our mobile applications as well as many other major areas such as our websites, data centres, sales and revenue management, on-property systems, and corporate intranet.

“It’s a key differentiator for us since we’ve invested in the foundation and can now roll out new advancements on a broad scale – across our brands and in countries around the world.”

Related reading:

Combining concepts for the hotel room of the future

Written by Rosalind Mullen, freelance journalist.

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Rosalind Mullen

About the Writer :: Rosalind Mullen

Rosalind Mullen has worked as a freelance journalist for the past 14 years, specialising mainly in the hospitality and tourism sector.

She contributes regularly to The Caterer magazine and has also written for - among others -, the AA’s Intouch magazine, Visit England’s Quality Edge magazine. She has also written on other subjects for a number of publications including The Telegraph and the London Evening Standard as well as providing copywriting for websites.

Rosalind worked at The Caterer (then Caterer & Hotelkeeper) from 1994 and was features editor between 1999 and 2003.



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