Editor’s note: with many avid, international travelers among the aftermarket ranks, this week’s Herman Trend Alert may grab your attention as major technology changes are beginning to transform the hotel industry.
Located in the city of Hangzhou, 170 km southwest of Shanghai, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. sited its first futuristic hotel. Called “FlyZoo,” the leading-edge property is within walking distance of Alibaba’s headquarters. The name derives from a pun in Chinese for “it’s a must to stay here.” The 290-room FlyZoo, which formally opened to the public last month, is an incubator for technology, including artificial intelligence, which Alibaba wants to sell to the hotel industry.
Check-in at kiosks
The lobby has softly-lit white paneled walls reminiscent of spaceships in films. Guests may check in and choose their own rooms at kiosks that can scan their faces, passports or other ID. Visitors with Chinese national IDs may scan their faces using their smartphones to check in ahead of time, like the apps for Marriott and Hilton.
Using facial recognition to keep guests safe
To reach their floor, elevators scan guests’ faces to verify their appropriate access, and hotel room doors are opened with another facial scan. Not only can guests check in and get into their rooms in record time, they also feel safer knowing that no one else is able to enter their rooms.
Technology in the rooms
Once in the rooms, guests use Alibaba’s voice command technology, called “Kimo Geni,” to change the temperature, close the curtains, adjust the lighting, operate the television and even order room service. For the time being, the Echo-like device only recognizes Chinese, however.
Robots deliver towels and mix cocktails
Furnished in a minimalist style, rooms have hardwood floors. Gliding silently throughout the property, eight black disc-shaped robots about a meter in height deliver food or drop off slippers or fresh towels. Alibaba says their robots significantly reduce labor costs and eliminate the need for guests to interact with other people. At the hotel’s bar, guests who order one of 20 different cocktails may watch a large robotic arm mix their cocktails. The robots’ facial recognition cameras add charges to the room rate automatically.
Ready to check out? Simply press a button on the app after which the room locks and through Alibaba’s online wallet, you are automatically charged. Once checked out, the guests’ facial scan data are immediately erased from Alibaba’s systems. Moreover, data are saved in the cloud, not on local servers.
Privacy issues not a big deal to the Chinese
The hotel also is an experiment to test consumer comfort levels with digital commerce in China – a country where intrusive data-sharing technology is already accepted – often enthusiastically. There seems to be a greater attraction to advanced technologies involving personal data, like facial recognition, in China where regulation is minimal, and “the government has rolled out public surveillance projects that use biometric data.”
One answer to the shortage of hospitality professionals
For guests unwilling to have their faces scanned, the lobby does feature a human “service ambassador” to assist with conventional check-in procedures and issue electronic key cards. The property does employ humans, as chefs and cleaners, though Alibaba declined to say exactly how many.
Normal for a high-end hotel room in China
Room costs start at 1,390 yuan ($205 USD) per night – not expensive for Shanghai, but probably on the high end for Hangzhou. In spite of the “wow factor” of the hotel, guests are clearly paying a premium to interface with this leading-edge technology. We suspect that Generations Y and Z will happily pay the difference.
The shape of things to come?
Alibaba is still working on advancing its capabilities, however there is no doubt that those of us who love embracing the future will be drawn to properties with these kinds of technologies. And the good news for hoteliers is that they will be able to function with fewer human employees while delighting the younger generations who enjoy interacting with machines.