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Robot staff, dreams on demand & virtual decor…
I’ve just been watching Babylon 5 (science fiction) and it’s intriguing how although humans develop telepathy, starships, hyperspace travel and massive space stations, the beds haven’t changed at all. And that’s as it should be, since we all know what a bed should be like…
Or do we? Travelodge commissioned a futurologist a while ago to produce a report on ‘The future of sleep‘ and it makes interesting reading.
Increasing stress makes us a sleepless society and insomnia is a growing problem. Not surprisingly, one 5 star London hotel has even come up with a special package for insomniacs; while other hotels have developed various sleep-friendly initiatives (including “anti-snore rooms”!).
The report’s author Dr Ian Pearson believes that hotels in the future will go even further. They’ll bring in technology to allow guests to personalise their experience by electronically enhancing the entire room; fabrics will be adaptive, mattresses will be configurable - in fact you may even be able to reproduce your home environment within the hotel.
All surfaces will be adaptable, so the whole wall could be used as a TV screen; you’ll even be able to change the colours of furnishings if you don’t like them. And air conditioning will evolve to offer a complete atmospheric service, so you can immerse yourself in a pine forest ambience with the fragrant scent of pine trees and the gentle sound of wind in the trees.
That’s an idea which should scare hoteliers, because it will destroy the value of their investment in furnishings and design. The hotel room will just be reduced to a box – its size might be important, but its contents won’t. Designers, I suppose, will be working on ever more complete and attractive virtual experiences under this scenario.
On the other hand it offers the possibility that guests can model their room according to their needs of the moment – corporate grey for a video conference, bright purple passion for a romantic evening; or even integrate the hotel room into the space of a computer game they’re playing!
And even the hotel bed will have changed dramatically. Instead of just collapsing on the bed, you’ll be able to choose how you want it; memory metal springs will let you dial up a soft or hard mattress depending on your taste, and fabrics will release scents throughout the night using pigments that change according to temperature or electrical stimulus.
Pillows may even contain devices that detect brain activity during sleep and can help adjust the environment to ensure a deeper, better night’s sleep (I’d also love a duvet that could spot when I’m getting too hot and automatically reduce the temperature).
The report even suggests that your dreams will become part of the hotel’s media offering – you’ll be able to choose your dream (which probably means 2035 will see a major scandal when an MP’s husband decides to use the paid-for porn dream option).
I’m not sure quite how seriously we’re meant to take all these ideas. Ian Pearson is a serious futurologist, so these aren’t just fantasy constructs out of the pages of Judge Dredd. But while the idea of a media-enriched room is interesting, I’m not so sure about some of the other themes.
For instance, replacing hotel staff by robots might work – at least as far as corridor cleaning and vacuuming is concerned, though somehow I doubt that an artificial intelligence concierge is on the way. And the idea of a teddy bear that talks to guests is really rather frightening.
Ignoring the scientific basis of the report though, there are three underlying themes that I think hoteliers need to pay attention to:
1. People want to get more and more use out of their hotel rooms. The report may be called ‘The future of sleep’, but people want to be able to use their hotel room for work, for meetings, and for entertainment too – so every room will need to do double service.
2. There’s growing demand for unusual experiences and escapism. Guests want something that will touch their imaginations, whether that’s a colourful and busy bar, a secluded Zen spa retreat, or a hotel room that’s a fantasy of baroque opulence. Even hostels have become more than just bed-and-breakfast providers, as backpackers demand lively bars and interesting activities. That’s led to the rise of the boutique hotel – but how much further will it go?
3. Technology is no longer an add-on, it’s part of the room itself. That means it’s going to have to become more integrated as the recently-opened Eccleston Square Hotel has shown; the air con, the TV, the phone and internet all need to work together and are no longer separate machines with separate controls.
It’s going to be interesting to see how many of these ideas make it into reality. But there are undoubtedly a lot of thought-provoking things there for hotels to think about – and they’ll need to work out exactly what their brands represent in the new tech universe.
Photo credits: Dr Ian Pearson’s website (Stillview Photography), Travelodge, Eccleston Square Hotel.