When being tech savvy isn't cool

It is time hotels toned down the fancy-yet-impossible-to-operate light switches and curtains, Courtney Trenwith writes
By Courtney Trenwith
Mon 18 May 2015 11:19 AM

Sometimes technology can be more useless than it is helpful. Hotel rooms are the prime example.

Too many times in recent years I've had to phone reception to ask how to turn off the lights. And who hasn't struggled to figure out the TV channels. Even drawing the curtains can be painstakingly difficult when they will only operate via a chord so discreet you can't find it.

Telephones, alarm clocks, irons, kettles, a Nespresso machine and the latest gadgets seemingly in every five-star hotel these days, are all often far more complicated than they need to be.

Last week, during a business trip to Doha, it even took me a good, long minute to figure out how to turn on the shower, and then which way was hot and cold. I still think the colouring system on the one-handle tap was the wrong way around!

But it seems the era of all-too-fancy hotel room technology is perhaps coming to the end of its short life.

During Arabian Travel Market earlier this month, several hoteliers admitted they were re-assessing their in-room technology, having realised just how inefficient it is not only for frustrated guests but the staff who have to tend to calls for help.

“We're not interested in guests going into their room and not being able to turn the lights on and off,” Four Seasons regional president Christian Clerc told me during ATM.

“Technology has to be intuitive, it has to be comfortable and add to your enjoyment of the experience, otherwise it's just a frustration, just an added distraction.”

Exactly.

Some specific hotels are also increasingly making their check-in and check-out systems electronic, with the aim of making it more efficient, particularly for business and regular travellers or those who prefer not to have face-to-face interaction.

Accor Hotels, which includes the Sofitel brand, is trialling its new mobile phone welcome service in Dubai and India, which allows customers to avoid staff altogether if they chose.

“The development of my digital strategy is going to be faster in the GCC than elsewhere,” Accor CEO and chairman Sébastien Bazin told me in November 2014.

Ancillary information collected during the digital booking, such as which floor a customer prefers to stay on or whether they want a restaurant booking, sounds incredibly efficient and convenient.

But so did electronic curtains and touch lamps. But unless technology is self-explanatory it could end up backfiring.

At the end of the day, when I stay at a hotel, whether for leisure or business, I want it to be a pleasurable experience. Feeling dumb because I can't figure out how to turn on the shower does not induce a relaxed stay.

So hoteliers, be smart with your technology but not smarter than the average person.

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