Few people probably realize that the tradition-steeped Peninsula Hotels is one of the world’s most forward-looking hotel chains in using technology to increase personalization and guest comfort.

The last time it showed its prowess was in 2012 when the flagship Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong unveiled a $58 million technology-driven renovation. The in-room innovations, custom-built and designed by the group’s own research and technology center in Hong Kong, still stand as cutting edge today — and still leave some competitors trailing to catch up.  The hotel turned 90 last year.

The ultra-deluxe group has now set up a technology steering committee with “a wide brief, including exploring and developing the hotel room of the future, looking at robotics and data analytics, and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Clement Kwok, managing director and CEO of The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, which owns Peninsula Hotels, giving his strategic review in the company’s annual results for 2018 last month.

In an interview with Skift, Kwok said the level of personalization that is expected at ultra high-end hotels has increased. Peninsula Hotels is even veering toward smaller developments in the future, aside from exploring technology, to meet this expectation.

The chain operates 10 hotels worldwide and has three hotels under development in London, Yangon, and Istanbul. It owns or partly owns all the hotels in its portfolio.

“Once upon a time, we have hotels that are more in the 350- to 400-rooms range. Now we’re finding that 200 rooms is the [ideal] size for us to personalize the product. Our GM [general manager] every morning goes through every arrival to see what the needs or preferences the guest has. You can obviously cope with only a certain number.”

“While it’s not policy, we are now generally looking at hotels that are more in the 200-room size… But it also depends on the opportunities available. We look for locations that are not only prime but special. For example in Shanghai, our hotel sits on the Bund, in Tokyo, right on the Imperial Palace, in London on Hyde Park Corner,” said Kwok, who has helmed the company for 17 years.

While it shrinks the hotel size, it’s enlarging the technology drive, although Kwok stressed that while technology transformations are exciting, they must all go back to the core fundamental of how they enhance experiences for both guests and employees.

One of the initiatives that has resulted from the new technology brief is a program to mentor luxury hotel technology startups, done in collaboration with Silicon Valley’s SRI International, and supported by partners including Samsung and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, which connects startups to technology stakeholders.

The program sees the legacy organization stepping outside for the first time to build connections with the startup community, starting at its home base of Hong Kong.

Two winners, out of 70 startups who applied for the program, have been picked for a 12-week mentorship program by the group’s executive team, SRI International, Samsung’s enterprise and hospitality teams, and other mentors that are tailored to each startup’s idea, experience, and business.

The winners, Neoma and ASA Innovation & Technology, are relocated to the group’s research and technology Center on Hong Kong Island so they can leverage resources and testing facilities to bring their innovation to life. They’ll be connected to venture capitalists, industry experts, and legal advisors to help them build and commercialize their product. They can then pitch their product to Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels for an opportunity to secure a pilot or commercial deal with the group.

The lamp that breathes

ASA produces the lamp that breathes, an air purification lamp technology that can be embedded and used within existing lighting designs. It detects indoor air quality and eliminates harmful pollutants using Ozone Catalytic Oxidation technology, giving guests better air quality indoors. Hotels in Delhi and Chiangmai facing choking pollution will welcome this right now — but that’s another story that’s coming up in Skift this week.

The other winner, Neoma, fields an Artificial Intelligence Platform called Gaia which sends instant recommendations to staff about a guest’s preferences so they can personalize the experience. Fully GDPR compliant, it puts guest privacy as top priority.

Francois Chabaudie, CEO of Neoma, said he came up with Gaia because he was let down by an experience as a guest of a luxury hotel in Taipei.

“I was excited to see a ‘Welcome back, Mr. Chabaudie’ message on the TV screen in my room. But I realized that outside of my room, I was treated like any other guest. The warm personalization from the room was not reciprocated outside of my room. I started to think how companies could help bridge this gap,” said Chabaudie.

ASA, on the other hand, started Air Luna in June 2016 after a mini-storage fire incident at a Hong Kong industrial building, which killed two firefighters and took 108 hours to extinguish.

“The smoke emitted from the fire contained hundreds of harmful substances. After the incident, we started researching for innovative solutions that can purify air and eliminate air pollutants.”

“In August 2016, we met Dr. Oscar K.S Hui who was researching the ozone catalytic-oxidation air purifying technology at City University of Hong Kong. Unlike traditional air purifiers that absorb contaminants, OCO technology decompose air pollutant to harmless substances, like carbon dioxide and water. A benefit of this is a longer filter lifespan of up to 10 years,” said Mui Kinoshita, CEO of ASA.

Air pollution is a growing global issue, she added, and while many are not as concerned about indoor air quality, luxury hotels enhance the guest experience by providing better indoor air quality.

“Our technology not only control and monitor levels of PM2.5, TVOC, and carbon dioxide. It is also a design-led solution that can be easily implemented within existing rooms and future room designs. We can also clearly demonstrate the improvement in indoor air quality to guests through a bedside panel,” she said.

Unique

Neoma, which has gone through several accelerator programs in Asia and Europe, said Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels’ Kaleidoscope Lab is “unique.”

“The main strength is their quick innovation process. In just a few weeks, they have gathered several departments, aligned their needs with our solution, and quickly implemented a proof-of-concept. We are supported by Sally Osborne [the group’s director of innovation] and Christina Shekerdemian [coordinator], who are working full-time with us in their lab.

“Apart from their support, the program also opens doors to different departments such as operations, rooms, guest relations, IT, and marketing, who are passionate and willing to help us improve our technology to better fit the industry.

“In addition to experts within the hotel industry, the program also invites valuable mentors to host workshops, such as SRI International, Tanner de Witt [legal firm], Samsung, InvestHK and Hong Kong Science and Technology Park.”

Whether or not Gaia and AirLuna will be implemented at Peninsula Hotels remains to be seen.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to projects that we are supporting, but the program has brought us into closer contact with startups. We hope to make connections and gain ideas from this community. To me, it’s a way of widening our resources so we can keep improving,” said Kwok.

“It’s important how we follow up, cooperate with the other finalists we didn’t choose, and when and if and when we have a second phase, what we’d do about that. As with all these things, you can’t say well, it’s done, and kick it away.”

Photo Credit: In-room technology is custom built and designed by the group’s Research and Technology Center. The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels