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Hilton’s Conrad brand sometimes gets lost in the luxury hotel conversation, overshadowed by Waldorf Astoria, its corporate cousin, along with other upscale brands with a greater worldwide presence.
In looking to make its mark in the luxury space, and to distinguish itself from the competition, Conrad is going all in on innovation.
John Vanderslice, global head of luxury and lifestyle brands for Hilton Worldwide, says that Conrad positions itself as the most innovative luxury hotel brand. He compares the technology-forward hotel group to “smart luxury brands like Tesla and Tag Heuer.” But he also stresses that technology is not meant to replace high touch service, but rather to complement it and make actual hands-on service more efficient.
He cites the example of the Conrad Concierge, the first service-enabled technology to be a part of a hotel management system across a brand portfolio. Introduced in 2014, and now integrated into the Hilton Honors app, Conrad Concierge allows guests to order room service or make housekeeping requests in 12 different languages, and it doubles as a mobile key.
In its quest to stay ahead of the curve, Conrad hosted a technology pitch day at Hilton’s new Innovation Gallery in McLean, Virginia earlier this month. Intel Capital brought in representatives from seven of its collaborations and portfolio companies to make Shark Tank-like pitches for products ranging from a wireless phone charging system to a wristband that acts as a personal thermostat. In the audience, the “sharks” included Conrad executives and members of Hilton’s Innovation Team.
Jonathan Wilson, vice president, product innovation and brand services for Hilton Worldwide said the team was looking for “innovation that manifests itself into an experience that impacts guest perception.”
First into the tank was Chargifi, a wireless charging network. Chargifi makes charging tables with no plugs required. Just set a device on it, and voila. But it doesn’t solely benefit the consumer. Indeed, Chargifi hotspots enable venues to gather customer information in exchange for offering wireless charging.
Next came Relay, a robot delivery system from Savioke. Relay can bring housekeeping items or room service orders to guests. Relay operates with a collision avoidance system, knows how to use the elevator, and doesn’t require a tip.
Another fairly simple product presented was the Embr Wave, a thermostat wristband developed by some geniuses from MIT. The co-founder of Embr Labs, Sam Shames, pitched it as “the Gore-Tex of temperature. Wearing it will allow your guests to personalize their own temperature, thereby enhancing the customer experience.” The Hilton executives didn’t seem thoroughly convinced of its viability for brand-wide hotel usage, although there were a couple of shout-outs suggesting it might be the perfect antidote for hot flashes.
Then, things got a bit more complicated, and, in the words of Wilson, “thought-provoking and a bit scary” (said in a ‘kidding, not kidding’ manner).
Location analytics systems are designed to track guests through the hotel journey. They help businesses gain insights into real-time venue data and create highly personalized experiences for customers. Knowing where the guest is when can help with premise optimization and service efficiency. For example, housekeeping knows when a room is empty, while the restaurant can offer incoming clients discounts and other enticements to order more.
Conrad was provided with two competing location tracking options. One, from LISNR, employs an ultrasonic inaudible technology; a communication protocol that sends data over audio. The technology uses existing infrastructure, like speakers, to track guest movements. Competing with LISNR in the guest tracking field– SAS, which has teamed with Cisco to develop a Real Time Interaction Management location-based analytics system based on tracking guests through their Wifi-enabled devices. According to Vanderslice, “We are still evaluating which products make the most sense to implement in our hotels, but felt having similar applications approached from different perspectives contributed to the overall competition.”
Sprinklr is also a tracking system, albeit one that “listens” to consumers by eavesdropping on social channels. Chris Osika, vice president of digital business solutions for the company, called it a “command center for an integrated social media platform, designed to reach, engage and listen to customers across any social channel to deliver better experience and to provide customer analytics.”
VSBLTY, yet another high-tech company missing its vowels, develops digital displays combining facial recognition and emotion detection with real-time cloud-based analytics to identify people in milliseconds. Like the Embr Wave, this product didn’t seem like a perfect fit, but according to Vanderslice, that was by design. “One of the criteria we are evaluating the products on is how drastically Conrad can impact the hospitality industry by introducing new technology. With this in mind, we invited out-of-the-box startups to disrupt the status quo, which is part of the beauty of innovation.” Caitlin McKenna, senior director for strategic innovation delivery, added “Some of the products, as first glance, may not have logical usages for us, but the team may be able to come up with new applications for hospitality. If not, at the very least, it helps our team think in new ways.”
The next step is selecting which products will be tested. According to Vanderslice, “The team will meet to compare notes and discuss which of the products will strike the perfect balance between disruption, sustainability and innovation, keeping in mind which we think will most enhance overall guest experience.”
The results are expected by early December. We will add a postscript to this article when the winners are announced.