Luxury hotels need a bit of fun at times and Hilton McLean Tysons Corner, in Virginia, is certainly providing that. Its new concierge Connie, named after Conrad Hilton, is an IBM computer – see her above, and to the left. She is Watson-enabled, and by tapping into WayBlazer’s travel domain knowledge, powered by Watson, she can help with local knowledge. Interestingly, the more guests interact with Connie, the more she learns. As Hilton‘s VP Product Innovation and Brand Services, Jonathan Watson, told the gal – and others at the Hilton ITB party last week – by tapping into innovative partners like this, the company is wowing guests in the most unpredictable way.
At ILTM Cannes last December, Brand Karma showed off Virtual Reality (VR). This will change travel, says Brand Karma‘s Mario Jobbe, on the left of the image. How? Travel advisors, travel agents and consultants can literally show off the world. Far-off places become next-door neighbours. Hotels can offer virtual walk-throughs from anywhere and you can study a room as never before. And, says Mario Jobbe, smartphones will be transformed to VR devices – Samsung Gear VR leads the pack, but Sony and HTC are close behind. Right now, I can testify that trying a VR set is highly disorientating, partly because you cannot see your arms, but I am told that soon that will be rectified so that you, or at least your arms and feet, are part of ‘the reality’. See the video below: it takes you across Asia in virtual reality, including the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, underwater off the coast of Cebu, and amidst the night buzz of Taipei – Mario Jobbe says if you do not have a VR headset, watch the video in the YouTube app on your tablet or smartphone and move it around in all directions to “discover” the different parts of the scene (on a laptop, drag the video to see different sides).
Let us look at some more technology. Gradually even the most senior Peninsula hotels are evolving to be able to give you all you need in a room, in the language of your choice (11 are available so far). You do not actually have to make any choice. What happens is that at check-in, when agents see your passport, they automatically key in, say, Korean, and then all the electronic signage in your room, like what light switch controls which light, appears in Korean – what happens if a Greek speaker has somehow got hold of a Korean passport is not quite clear but, being Peninsula, they can sort that out. Up in the room all controls are on easy-read and easy-control tablets. But Peninsula Paris, like all its siblings, is not only about useful technology. Some of it, like the electric fingernail dryers in bathrooms, are outright useful fun. The hotel also has bigger elements of fun. Strung outside the rooftop, high overhead an inner, open-topped courtyard next to L’Oiseau Blanc restaurant is a lifesize replica of the biplane in which WWI aces François Coli and Charles Nungesser were attempting, on 9 May 1927, to cross the Atlantic ahead of Lindbergh. Below, on one wall, as if combining the 20th century today, a six-foot diameter convex mirror by Ben Jakober is displayed.
Yes, luxury hotels can be high-tech, but they must be fun. There are lots of good ideas from eternally-young hotelier Paul Jones – the Mauritius-based one, not the newly-arrived GM of Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, who is also young for ever. Paul Jones heads the LUX* brand. He believes in getting rid of hotels’ front desks and replacing them by coffee counters, with real roasting going on in what was the ‘back office’ behind – imagine the aroma! Another Paul Jones invention that I love is putting old-fashioned English telephone boxes in his resorts’ gardens. Each contains a proper telephone and, thanks to VOIP, you, staying there, can call wherever in the world and for as long as you like, for FREE. Now that is innovation.