Keyless check-in technology and robotic staff: IT is changing the hotel experience

As hotel guests around the world expect ever-higher levels of technology in their rooms and other areas of the hotel, the people responsible for IT take on greater responsibilities. Starwood Hotels’ Willem Both explained how IT is changing in the hotel business.

One of the leading hotel companies in the world, Starwood Hotels & Resorts has over 1,200 hotels in more than 100 countries worldwide. Asia Pacific continues to be Starwood’s fastest growing region where the company currently operates more than 300 hotels in more than 20 countries, with another 250 hotels under construction across all our 10 brands including St. Regis, W Hotels, Luxury Collection, Sheraton, Le Meridien, Aloft, Four Points by Sheraton, Element and Tribute Portfolio.

Starwood is forging ahead with its aggressive growth plan in Asia Pacific with recent new hotel openings including Element Suzhou Science Technology Town which marks the debut of Starwood’s eco-conscious brand in the region; Japan’s first Luxury Collection hotel, Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Kyoto and India’s first St. Regis with the opening of The St. Regis Mumbai.

What differentiates your establishments in terms of innovations and technologies? 

At Starwood, we consider ourselves to be an industry innovator and have continued to deliver industry firsts on digital technology and innovation. We believe that digital innovation and personalisation allow the company to better connect with guests and customers. In the last five years, Starwood has invested USD 500m in technology and efforts to personalise our guests’ experience. Recent gamechanging efforts include: SPG Keyless check-in, the industry’s first mobile, keyless check-in, which was launched in 2014.

we had guests booking and checking into our hotels just to try out the technology!

We are now in the process of rolling out SPG Keyless check-in across W Hotels, Aloft and Element hotels globally. In Asia, guests can already use this technology in many of our hotels including W Singapore-Sentosa Cove, W Taipei, W Hong Kong, Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral, Aloft Beijing Haidian and many more. In 2014, Aloft Hotels, the tech-forward, innovation hub for millennial-minded travelers, also became the first major hotel brand to hire a robot for front and back of house duties. A.L.O. is the hotel brand’s first Botlr and the first robotic butler in the hotel industry. A.L.O. is currently on assignment at the new Aloft South Beach and will soon be transferred to Aloft Manhattan Downtown in the Financial District.

What do guests expect in Asia in this respect that may be different to the rest of the world? 

Guests are expecting a more personalised approach to their travel. They want a combination of high-tech and high-touch to enhance their stay experience. With the growing presence of digital technology and social media, they also expect real-time information and interactive two-way communication. Many of our guests are also tech-savvy and like to share their experience with their friends. For example, when we launched SPG Keyless check-in at W Singapore-Sentosa Cove, we had guests booking and checking into our hotels just to try out the technology!

How is  your  work changing today compared to the past? 

The job of IT has steadily progressed over the years from a technical support function that was not understood but liked for its general helpfulness, to a compliance enforcement function that may not always have gotten full appreciation for the important task it fulfilled, to the current business partnership with the operational teams. Our IT managers report directly to the General Managers in recognition of the importance of IT as operations partners. Operations teams have realised the value of IT in recent years and request our input in the many decisions that need to be made. At the same time IT threats continue to evolve and with that requirements for compliance and skill levels. These often exceed what can be expected of an IT Manager so more and more often IT is not only a business partner but also a vendor manager. This shift from technician to business manager has made the job much more exciting and we are finding nontraditional applicants from operations starting to be interested in joining the world of IT