Smart technology is nothing new to hotels, but it’s getting smarter every day and dramatically changing the guest experience. One of the newer offerings are interactive guestroom mirrors that provide services normally handled by a human concierge. It's the next level of Internet of Things.
At the BDNY conference in November, Mirror Image Hospitality announced a partnership with Keypr, a cloud-based management platform, to create Remi, a “smart mirror” that doubles as a TV, a virtual concierge platform and, when turned off, a traditional mirror. While hotels have embedded TVs in bathroom mirrors for years, Remi says it is different. “We wanted a full-length mirror that doubles as a TV rather than something small in the bathroom,” said Paige Neugarten, co-founder of Remi. The finished product can hang on the bedroom wall with its wires hidden, indistinguishable from a traditional TV or a classic mirror, depending on the frame.
Each hotel using the product can customize it to suit the property’s specific needs, Neugarten said, adding apps for guests to order roomservice, be entertained, learn about the weather and news, make special requests, search local maps and find recommendations for things to do. At night, the Remi mirror turns fully off with no computer-esque glow to keep guests awake
It's also a revenue generator. The apps in the mirror allow the hotel to promote mark-up services that catch a guest’s eye, like discounts for the bar or special activities that they might not have otherwise considered. According to Neugarten, guests are responding. When the product was presented to a focus group in its earliest stages, she said, attendees who claimed to never request roomservice said that they would feel comfortable ordering in-room dining on the device.
Remi mirrors currently cost $1,800 per unit, and the full suite of programming costs $2 per night per room. The complete package includes the mirror, an accompanying mobile app, in-room tablets and a keyless entry system for the door.
Last year, Everett, Wa.-based Electric Mirror launched the Savvy SmartMirror, which comes in both a touch- and voice-activated model. “We see our mirror as sort of the informational hub for all things that are connected via WiFi, Bluetooth and internet in the hotel space,” said Electric Mirror CEO Jim Mischel. “You walk into the hotel room and you see a welcome message. You can touch the screen and the controls for the entire room can pop up. You can talk to your mirror and ask it questions about the pool hours or the local restaurants, or you could ask for room service or [to get extra] towels. And the mirror also can measure things like room occupancy and temperature, so there's a lot of ROI for the hotel.” Savvy is available in both a 10.1-inch and 22.5-inch interactive touch-screen display with DuraMirror copper-free or IRIS disappearing mirrored glass.
The first hotel to use the Savvy mirror will be the Sinclair Hotel, a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, in Fort Worth, Texas, opening this summer.
Remi mirrors are supported by Keypr, a cloud-based platform that started out supplying keyless entry systems for hotels three years ago and has since expanded into virtual concierge services. The time is right for this kind of development Keypr CEO Robert Stevenson said, thanks to the current intersection of downward pressure from hotel companies looking to build platform technologies for themselves and upward pressure from guests expecting more from each hotel stay.
Setting up a virtual concierge program varies from property to property, Stevenson said. “Some properties have a spa, some properties emphasize F&B, some have a focus around the minibar and things in the room that you can buy and do.” All of them, he added, are just looking to drive revenue—and that’s where a digital concierge can prove its worth. The restaurant can update its menu instantly with professional photos of each daily special, encouraging guests to place an order and get some add-ons as well. According to Keypr, hotels using the service have reported a 20- to 35-percent increase in in-room dining requests, and more than 90 percent of guests engage with the platform on the current in-room tablets. With the mirror on the wall, that number is likely to rise.
The Savvy mirror, meanwhile, is supported by its own in-house technology, leaving fewer people to handle the information. “We wanted to maximize control over our software platform,” Mischel said. “In the hotel industry, there's a lot of unique customization that goes on and we wanted to really control that.”
While Electric Mirror does have WiFi-based products, the Savvy SmartMirror is powered over an ethernet cable—which Mischel recommends all products that need to share large amounts of data do. The platform is supported by servers that Electric Mirror controls, so each hotel does not require its own dedicated server (and on-site technicians) to manage the service. “It's all done in the cloud,” Mischel said. “There's no actual onsite server needed.” This also makes the installation simple, he added, and each property can decide to power the mirror through a normal 120- to 220-volt electrical system as well as ethernet, or to power it through the low-voltage ethernet cable alone.
Security concerns also drove the company’s decision to not partner with a third party and to not require a personal log-in for the guest. “You don't give your credentials to anyone,” he said. The company has also implemented “a number” of hardware measures to prevent hackers from breaking into the system, including hardwiring the mirror through ethernet rather than WiFi.
The appeal of these kinds of devices comes down to guest choice, said Bjorn Hanson, a clinical professor with the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. “Guests feel entitled to more choices,” he said. More importantly, one guest may want different things on different days. When checking out of one hotel, a guest could want to use an in-room device, but might want the convenience of a paper invoice from the front desk at another property. “The complexity for executives in planning hotel technology is that the guests may change their preferences minute to minute,” Hanson said.
“Some guests will find smart technology amazing, a real wow factor.” But, he cautioned, if the technology becomes too difficult for a guest to figure out quickly—including guests who are not tech-savvy—the feature can go from a cool perk to annoyance. “I don’t want to have to read a manual in order to change the temperature,” he said. “If it’s user-friendly or optional, it’s great, and younger guests will pay a premium for a special experience.”
The wow factor also extends to social media, he added, and designers and hoteliers alike should consider the “Instagrammable” factor of any high-tech guestroom addition. “It’s a great form of social-media marketing,” Hanson said.
“When you have digital technology, you don't really miss a beat,” Stevenson said. For example, he imagined a hypothetical roomservice request using both the phone and Keypr. If the restaurant is busy when the call comes through, whoever takes the order may be eager to get to the next call and therefore forget to suggest ordering a glass of wine to go with the meal. On the flipside, a guest may feel uncomfortable about his or her order requests when talking one-on-one with the restaurant staff. When the whole transaction is automated, the program will not forget to suggest revenue-driving extras, and guests don’t need to worry about social anxiety.
The mirrors can also share information about what’s available at the hotel for guests to spend money on. For example, Mischel said, the screen can display open spa slots as they become available, encouraging guests to book last-minute appointments that can bring in extra revenue.
Apart from encouraging guest spend, the technology in these mirrors can also help a hotel save money by controlling room temperature and lighting, Mischel added, and remotely managing how much energy each room requires.
Virtual concierge services offer another benefit to hoteliers in not reducing staff, but freeing the existing staff to focus on the guests more directly. While the tech-savvy guests use the mirrors and tablets, hotel staff can help those who don’t want to engage with a screen. “There's more time allotted for those people by the customer service representatives at the property,” Neugarten said, adding that a computer program cannot replace the wisdom or experience of a trained concierge. “It allows more time for the people who are highly aware of what's local to spend time with the guests who don't want to [search] for themselves,” she said.
Mischel, meanwhile, expects human and virtual concierges to work together. “There are a lot of unique things that a concierge may do as far as what's the local hip restaurant that everyone needs to know about—and the concierge [now] has the ability to send that information to everyone in the hotel. I see them working together—the concierge and this product—and it really expands upon what services the concierge can provide.”
Ultimately, guests who already use Yelp may not want to hear a human concierge’s recommendations on where to go for dinner, Hanson said—but they may need a concierge’s connections to get a reservation.