Hotel chains up the ante

By Shandelle Battersby

Hotels writer Shandelle Battersby looks at what the industry is doing to keep things fresh.
Social media powerhouse Matilda the Algonquin Hotel cat. Photo / Supplied
Social media powerhouse Matilda the Algonquin Hotel cat. Photo / Supplied

Like everyone else in the world of travel, hotels constantly have to reinvent their practices to stay ahead of the game. We spoke to industry heads to see what's on the cards this year in the hotel world.


This is the big one. Most of us now research and book our trips online, and as we become more and more dependent on our devices, so too do we expect connectivity everywhere we go. Wi-fi has long been a sticking point - it was too expensive for too long, but these days you'll find at least some free internet access in most hotels.

An increasing array of gizmos and gadgets are also on offer for guests, from robot butlers, known as "Botlrs" (as found at two of Starwood's Aloft Hotels in the US) to free smartphones preloaded with unlimited data and city highlights guides (such as at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong).

Personalisation via devices is also becoming more popular - at the Aria Las Vegas you can programme the curtains to automatically open, music to start playing and the room's temperature to adjust to your preference as soon as you walk in the door.

Australia's stylish Vibe Hotels, managed by TFE, have partnered with Guvera, a music streaming service featuring millions of songs, to create playlists to suit a guest's mood, all for free.

"These personalised touches are going to continue to increase along with our ability to connect with our guests on an individual level," says TFE group director of marketing Emma Fraser. "This seamless integration will only be furthered as the wearable [tech] trend picks up in 2016."

Though it still advocates staff having warm, personal contact with guests, Chris Sedgwick, senior vice-president of operations at Accor New Zealand, Fiji and French Polynesia, says the company has invested heavily in digital, and has developed its own app, mobile-enabling all guest interactions, "from reservation and check-in to ordering room service and requesting wake-up calls".

No technology

But some out there are resisting the hold technology has over modern life, and a number of hotels around the world are responding to this by introducing a digital detox policy.

"This ranges from having tech-free zones around the hotel to some even requesting guests hand over all devices at check-in to lock away until check-out," says Trivago's Bianca Delbao.

Some of the hotels practicing the policy include the Westin Dublin, Kimpton Monaco in Chicago, Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, and most JW Marriott hotels in the Caribbean and Central America.

Social media

Social media powerhouse Matilda the Algonquin Hotel cat. Photo / Supplied
Social media powerhouse Matilda the Algonquin Hotel cat. Photo / Supplied

Also on the rise are hotels specifically catering for social media aficionados in interesting and innovative ways. Delbao cites quirky boutique hotel chain Ovolo (Hong Kong and Australia), which has declared its Sydney hotel 1888 Darling Harbour an Instagram hotel thanks to its photogenic design features.

It offers complimentary stays for Instagrammers with a legitimate following of 30,000, and has a selfie frame in the lobby for guests to use. Sol Wave House in Mallorca, Spain, claims to be the world's first Tweet Experience hotel, connecting guests with its #socialwave; and Loews Hotels in North America allow guests to book rooms via Twitter.

And the resident cat at New York's Algonquin Hotel, Matilda, has her own Facebook page, which has double the amount of "likes" as the hotel's own page.


It's taken a while, due to the sheer scale of their operations, but major industry players are starting to get serious about being eco-friendly and incorporating sustainable practices into their business models.

"We're constantly looking at new ways of being ecologically sustainable and reducing waste. Saving on daily washing of towels, for example, is now a given and we're really proud of the work we do with [environmental education programme] Trees for Survival across New Zealand," says Accor's Sedgwick.

A number of Accor's New Zealand hotels are introducing solar panels to heat water and generate electricity, he says.

Its Novotel and Ibis Hamilton Tainui hotels have partnered with Might River Power to install free charging stations for electric vehicles, while its Novotel Queenstown Lakeside has four beehives on its rooftop producing honey for the breakfast buffet and for VIP gifts.

Focus on food

Another practice becoming more common is using local, sustainable produce in onsite restaurants. TFE's Fraser says the company's food and beverage mission for the year is to "pioneer inspiring hotel experiences that totally change how people think about hotel dining, bringing people together to create a community of raving fans".

She says local influences can already be seen at on its hotel menus, and cites Chifley's Bar and Grill at Hotel Kurrajong Canberra, Radius Bar and Grill at Vibe Hotel Marysville, Victoria. The new Adina Apartment Hotel in Auckland's Britomart precinct is to follow suit when its cafe opens next month.

Meeting the needs of foodies is a continuing focus for IHG hotels this year. Last year, its inaugural culinary panel, bringing together seven renowned chefs, including Theo Randall and Ross Lusted, developed a range of signature dishes for its hotels and resorts throughout Asia, Middle East and Africa.

"We've also noticed parents placing greater interest in ensuring their children enjoy healthy, as well as delicious food when travelling," says Karin Sheppard, IHG chief operating officer for Australasia and Japan, Korea and Asia, Middle East and Africa.

It has partnered with Nutrition Australia to develop a range of menu options for kids staying at Holiday Inn hotels and resorts in the region.

And a trend we'd like to see catch on: Freebies

Yep, extra service charges are on the way out at some hotels, with wi-fi topping the list. The aforementioned Ovolo Hotel chain also offers free breakfast, laundry, minibar and snacks, and a complimentary happy hour.

- NZ Herald

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