What Alibaba’s ‘future hotel’ tells us about tech in hospitality

Is the Flyzoo Hotel a sign of things to come for tech in the hospitality industry?
19 December 2018

How will technology transform your stay? Source: Shutterstock

Advances in technology, be it robotics or artificial intelligence (AI), have vast potential to overhaul the hospitality industry when it comes to guest experience.

Imagine not needing to wait in line at the check-in desk after a long flight, or if you didn’t need to fish around for your access card late at night— and all your interactions, from ordering food to entering your room, were frictionless.

Launching what it calls a ‘future hotel’, Chinese tech giant Alibaba is doing just that. Its newly-launched Flyzoo Hotel in China’s Hangzhou City features a range of new technologies aimed at offering guests a next-gen experience.

That includes robot staff in the reception, bar and restaurant, facial recognition-based room access, and voice-controlled temperature, light, and appliance control.

Each room also features a ‘Tmall Genie’— an AI management system which will gladly order items guests desire (from the Alibaba-owned mega-retailer Tmall, of course), and anything else they need for their room.

The tech certainly ranks high on the novelty factor, but Flyzoo Hotel’s real aim is to act as a shop window for the technology’s potential to enhance the overall guest experience, improve efficiency and cut costs in the hospitality sector.

“The tourism industry is in urgent need of a digital transformation,” said Flyzoo Hotel CEO, Wang Qun. “We hope each business could see the direction of future digital travel from the hotel.”

While the hotels of the future may not feature robotic staff as such, we are likely to see increasing adoption of behind-the-scenes technology being integrated.

As a result of the AI system, for example, the 290-room establishment was able to operate with more than half the workforce expected for a hotel of its size, with the technology providing value-add services and reducing the need for repetitive tasks.

“We did not cut the number of cleaners and cooks,” Wang said.

These systems could be employed to ‘learn’ about guests during their stay and across consecutive visits. This could lead to personalized experiences, such as predicting ambient music taste, offering local restaurant recommendations, or even the contents of the minibar.

Facial recognition may not be the choice of every guest, given privacy concerns. But Flyzoo’s customers can also opt for a similarly seamless experience using the Flyzoo app, which they can use for one-touch check-in, room access, and other hotel services.

Similar technology is already being used elsewhere. The leading hotel chain Hilton last year rolled out its ‘digital key’ Bluetooth beacon technology which, on being activated the day before arrival following electronic check-in, provides guests with ‘straight-to-room’ access using their smartphone.

Despite the hype around virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), the technology has yet to really find its feet beyond some fairly specific use cases.

In the hospitality industry, AR signage could allow to staff to route individual customers from their room to certain locations, such as the gym or restaurant.

There is massive potential in newly-developed technology to offer hotels increased efficiency and their guests, extra value.

Of course, given the ubiquity of technology in our everyday lives, it may be that certain hotels of the future will enjoy success by offering guests a ‘detox’ from technology, and a ‘traditionally’ human experience in its place.