How the hospitality industry is using AR, VR for the guest experience

In the hospitality industry, the experience economy is king. Travelers seek more than a place to rest their heads—they want unforgettable experiences. Hotels are responding to this demand by transforming themselves into gateways to adventure.

Hotels are creating unique, immersive guest experiences like themed rooms designed to transport guests to different worlds, surprise and delight pop-up events or collaborations with local artists to create a sense of place.

What really sets these experiences apart, however, is the technology powering them. More and more, the hospitality industry has turned to augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and digital signage to create interactive, engaging and unforgettable experiences. This industry’s ultimate goal? Using this technology to redefine and elevate hospitality to exceed even the most discerning guest’s expectations.

The rapid evolution of IoT technologies, including VR and AR, has the potential to revolutionize the guest experience, and hotels have taken note, seizing the opportunity to reimagine how guests interact with their properties from the time they confirm a reservation until the moment they check out.

VR Use Cases

The rising demand for data-driven personalization is reshaping hotel services. Leadership has recognized data’s value and is using it to proactively address guest needs, analyze customer data for targeted marketing and recommend tailor-made, in-room amenities and services. VR’s data collection capabilities are driving these nuanced adjustments.

Hotels have employed these technologies in several ways:

  • Digital check-in and check-out, where patrons can use their smartphones for either process, thus eliminating the need to wait in line at the front desk.
  • Smart room amenities, with IoT-enabled devices controlling the room’s temperature, lighting and other features, helping guests personalize their stay and save energy.
  • Personalized recommendations allowing hotels to use data gathered by VR or AR to track guests’ preferences and make personalized recommendations for restaurants, activities or other amenities.
  • Staff training enabling hotels to educate team members on new procedures or provide a better understanding of the hotel’s facilities, which deepens employees’ knowledge and facilitates their ability to deliver a higher-quality guest experience.

Hyatt Hotels uses VR to invite guests to remotely tour properties, explore rooms and check out amenities. The company also uses a gamified VR app to give potential employees an idea of what a career in the hotel industry might involve. Hilton uses its new VR training program, Hotel Immersion, to teach empathy to its corporate, financial and marketing team members. Customer complaints dropped more than 70 percent—and customer satisfaction increased—after Best Western incorporated VR into its employee training program.

AR Use Cases

Sitting at the forefront of personalized guest interactions, AR technology facilitates stress-free wayfinding and satisfying experiences and can help hotels provide more interesting, impactful stays with elements like:

  • Augmented environments, including conference and guest rooms, hallways, lobbies, restaurants and workout facilities with dynamic information overlays to enrich and deepen guests’ insight into their current surroundings.
  • Beacon technology, which uses a Bluetooth-based interface and allows users to receive information when they’re in specific areas. The hotel industry also uses this technology to enable wireless smartphone connectivity for its guests.
  • Gamification, like treasure hunts or magic quests for younger visitors who can use a smart device to visit a virtual platform and participate in an adventure.
  • Interactive hotel rooms where guests can learn more about the hotel’s history, artwork and artists and more.
  • Maintenance updates, informing guests via an app to find out about areas, like pools or gyms, temporarily closed for maintenance and when they’ll reopen. The apps can use beacon technology to send updates to guests within close proximity, too.
  • Translation assistance, especially in areas frequented by visitors unfamiliar with the local language. Guests can point smartphones at different texts, guides and even the hotel menu to access the information they need in their language.

The Hub Hotel in the United Kingdom uses AR to provide guests with additional information about local places of interest. By pointing their smartphones at a wall map, guests can see AR content highlighting nearby restaurants, shops and attractions. The Holiday Inn offers a fun, novel, interactive on-property experience by inviting guests to point smartphones at an image and see virtual depictions of celebrities who’ve also visited the hotel.

The Singapore Tourism Board offers a library of AR ideas local hotels use. For example, guests can use their smartphones to scan a room and find hidden items. Each item offers a reward, and if the guests find everything, they can unlock presents, including discounts on their room service.

Space-as-a-Service Gets New Life

While not a new concept, SPaaS hasn’t been a major strategy the hotel industry used until recently. This approach weaves AR, curated music playlists, digital displays, scent marketing and VR to tell dynamic stories, enhance brand experiences and redefine best-in-class guest experiences.

Digital signage and responsive maps have transformed how hotels communicate with their guests by replacing or complementing traditional signage, providing guests with real-time information and personalized services. In short, these customizable interactive maps have made it easier for guests to explore their surroundings and find what they need more efficiently, as well as allowing guests to explore local attractions, find nearby dining options and easily navigate the surrounding area.

Digital innovations create convenient, personalized and visually appealing spaces for all travelers. Other benefits of this technology include:

  • Improved guest communication, as operations can quickly update digital displays to share real-time information about conference room changes, traffic conditions, future events and even weather updates.
  • Personalized service, with guests accessing these maps to make restaurant reservations, book spa treatments or schedule a cab.
  • Enhanced aesthetics, with hotel properties offering more visually appealing and inviting spaces to provide a world-class “home away from home” guest experience, like changing video display walls featuring breathtaking area landscapes or local must-see attractions.

For example, the Cambria Hotel in Washington, D.C. has transformed its elevator bay from a vast, open space into an immersive, LED experience. The W Hotel in New York City uses digital signage to display dynamic content like weather forecasts, news headlines and upcoming events, keeping guests informed and entertained. Singapore’s hotel operator, Accor, uses elegant digital displays in lounge and café areas to showcase menu items, see prepared dishes and access ingredient information.

Also elevating the SPaaS experience? Scent marketing and curated music playlists. Smell influences our emotions 75 percent more than any other sense, and studies have shown that appealing scents improve our moods by as much as 40 percent. Hotels pump signature scents in shared spaces like their lobbies. The goal of these scents is to subtly manipulate the environment, whether to create a sense of safety or relaxation—or even inspiration.

Music, meanwhile, creates ambiance—whether it’s the dulcet sounds in the hotel spa, toe-tapping tunes in its vibrant restaurant or lively melodies welcoming guests in the lobby. The right music can capture guests’ attention, evoke positive emotions and create lasting memories. Its subtle power influences customer behavior, making guests feel more relaxed and comfortable, which can lead to more positive interactions between guests and staff.

Music’s not just reserved for guests, either. It can have a profound impact on the wellbeing and motivation of employees. Uplifting, energizing music played in staff areas—like breakrooms or locker rooms—can create a positive work environment, boosting morale and productivity.

The hospitality industry is undergoing a paradigm shift as hotels embrace and leverage technology to deliver more immersive, unforgettable guest experiences. The previous hospitality tradition focused on providing guests with basic amenities and services. This new era, however, creates experiences that aren’t merely functional but engaging, memorable and transformative.

Jaime Bettencourt is senior vice president, North America Global Services Sales at Mood Media.