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Tech Talk

(January / February 2017) posted on Mon Mar 06, 2017

An ongoing tidal wave of technology is powering up mind-boggling additions to the toolkit designers can use to shape hotels.

By Matthew Hall

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The Four Seasons facility, dubbed the Research and Discovery Studio (R&D Studio), is decked out with graffiti-style artwork, communal meeting and work spaces and multiple areas for experimenting with design models and amenities.

The studio’s centerpiece is a space where the hotelier’s in-house team builds 3D guest room replicas entirely of cardboard. Designed to scale and customized with cardboard reproductions of FF&E and architectural elements, the modular room was created to give designers the opportunity to test unusual layouts and challenging room designs in a cost-effective manner prior to producing a model room.

“We use the R&D Studio to explore rooms that can serve multiple purposes—rooms that give our guests greater freedom and control to use the space as they choose,” says Dana Kalczak, the hotelier’s vice president, design. “A guest room used to have fixed features—you sleep here, you pour coffee there, you work in one corner and relax in the other. But mobile devices have changed this dynamic. You no longer need to sit at a rectangular wooden desk to ‘work.’ You can just as easily email and take calls from a sofa or from the bed.”

Four Seasons' R&D 
Four Seasons' R&D lab has plenty of space for designers to test out 3D versions of modular room designs. Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Meantime, last fall, Marriott Hotels (the hotelier’s flagship brand) opened what it dubbed the M Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center, a working hotel that doubles as an innovation lab showcasing the brand’s latest concepts. Those offerings include the LG Studio, the first iteration of a new partnership between the hotel and appliance brand that features an LG-equipped kitchen in the hotel’s meeting space, and the Flex Fitness program, which gives guests access to on-demand group and personal workouts via screens in the hotel’s fitness studio and guest rooms. After trying out those features and others, users can grade them by pressing a set of “beta buttons.” The information gleaned from that input is aggregated and presented in real time via digital screens, as well as online.

M Beta
At the M Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center hotel, the hotelier has installed a series of "beta buttons" to gauge guest response to new features. Photo: Courtesy of Marriott Intl.

“We are inviting guests to be part of the innovation and decision making,” says Mike Dearing, managing director, Marriott Hotels. (More recently, Marriott opened a pop-up innovation lab, with similar consumer feedback features for its Aloft and Element brands, in a tent adjacent to the JW Marriott at L.A. Live during the Americas Lodging Investment Summit.)

These incubators are just one of many ways that hoteliers are seeking to assess how advances in digital technology will impact hotel environments in the years to come. For the designers of such spaces, that means “innovate or die” is more than a catchphrase—it’s an imperative.


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