Gone are the days of hotel guests fumbling with door keys or access cards, or choosing amenities using the house phone.
Many hotels in Singapore are making over guest services, providing access to rooms and amenities with just a tap on smartphones and tablets. Increasingly, hotels are upgrading to cater to millennial consumers who are on their mobile devices all the time.
For instance, W Singapore Sentosa Cove lets tech-savvy guests unlock rooms with their smartphone or an Apple Watch.
Conrad Centennial Singapore allows guests to check in, choose the rooms they want and order comfort items to be delivered to their room by tapping on its apps.
At The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, guests can use an app to check in, check out and put in service requests.
DRAWN BY TECHNOLOGY
Some guests are actually very enthusiastic about the technology and came to stay with us just to try out SPG Keyless.
MR STEPHANE FABREGOUL, general manager of W Singapore Sentosa Cove, on the hotel's mobile app
Hotels are investing in such technology-driven guest services not because they want to trim staffing or costs, but to cater to customer demands, said Miss Lucy Ashenhurst, principal associate at technology law firm Olswang Asia.
"The millennial consumer expects to be able to discuss, organise, book and customise their life experiences on their mobile device at his own convenience," she added.
The app-based check-in and check-out services offered by The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, have proven to be popular with its millennial generation guests, said Mr Oscar Postma, the hotel's executive assistant manager of rooms.
"The millennials are coming to an age when they are starting to become our guests," he said, adding that such guests are on their mobile devices all the time.
W Singapore Sentosa Cove noted that most of its guests who used Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Keyless, a mobile app that lets guests unlock rooms using a smartphone, are aged between 25 and 35.
Mr Stephane Fabregoul, general manager of W Singapore Sentosa Cove, said: "Some guests are actually very enthusiastic about the technology and came to stay with us just to try out SPG Keyless."
He hopes to see half of W Singapore's guests use the SPG Keyless feature by the end of this year.
The smart guest services offered by the hotels here were first rolled out in the United States and many did not debut here until recently.
For instance, The Ritz-Carlton app was launched in the US three years ago, but was made available in Singapore only last August.
As a result, the experience is still relatively new here.
Mr Alvin Chung, 34, an executive director of a biotech company, loved using the two apps offered by the Conrad Centennial Singapore during his previous stay there.
He liked that he could customise the comforts of his room through an app, such as asking for a different type of pillow, before and during his stay.
"I can make these service requests even when I'm out at the pool or in the gym," he said.
Smart features will certainly be one key consideration the next time he books a hotel.
Check into room before arrival
Conrad Centennial Singapore
The Conrad Centennial Singapore, part of the Hilton hotel group, provides guests with two smartphone apps - the Hilton HHonors and the Conrad Concierge.
Guests have to become a Hilton HHonors member (membership is free) to sign in to both apps, which run on Android and iOS devices.
Launched last December, the Hilton HHonors app allows guests to check in and choose their rooms from a floor plan before arrival - similar to the online check-in service offered by airlines.
The app does not indicate what kind of view each room has. However, one can easily figure it out with a quick search in Google Earth or Google Maps.
The app also lets guests purchase or request for room upgrades, as well as ask for specific comfort items to be delivered to the room before they arrive.
The second app, Conrad Concierge, has been available here since June 2013.
This app does not let guests check in or choose rooms prior to their arrival and can be used only for Conrad Hotels. Instead, it caters to guests during their stay.
Via the app, guests can request for comfort items, such as a different type of pillow, a dehumidifier, toddler slippers and an anti-slip mat, to name a few. Conrad's four lines of bath items, including Tara Smith and Shanghai Tang, are also available from the app.
It also lets guests set wake-up calls, pre-order room service, arrange sightseeing tours, request for taxis and even book a private jet.
I tried out both apps and found them easy to use.
The HHonors app got me the room I wanted, and the amenity items I requested were in the room when I arrived.
Using the Conrad Concierge app, I put in requests for extra bath items and special items like contoured pillows. They took about 30 minutes to arrive.
Although the apps do not offer the eye-catching feature of allowing guests to use their smartphones as room key cards, they pack useful and relevant features.
They are also easy to use, even for non-techies.
One more thing: Guests at Conrad Centennial Singapore can also access over 1,000 newspapers and magazines using the PressReader app, which can be installed on their smartphones or tablets. This only works when the guest is using the hotel's network.
Smart features for business guests' comfort
Crowne Plaza Changi Airport
Many of the guests at The Crowne Plaza Changi Airport hotel are business travellers that go through Changi Airport. It is therefore no surprise that the hotel has targeted this group when it comes to implementing guest technologies.
In the hotel's Lobby Lounge is a "Mediascape Table" - a high-tech four-seater table that incorporates two 32-inch displays that allows plug-and-play connections of up to four mobile devices.
Available on a first-come first-served basis, it also lets guests toggle between their laptops, tablets and other mobile devices as they bring up presentation slides, charts and webpages during meetings.
The hotel's function rooms come with an "Eno" whiteboard. The whiteboards allow guests to print whatever they have scrawled on the board with the touch of a button. It is a great tool for business meetings or impromptu discussions.
The hotel also implements smart features that guests do not get to see but which benefit them indirectly, such as its Ezi-Maid Bed Lifting System and Optii Keeper.
The Ezi-Maid is a motorised lift that is operated by infra-red remote control, that lifts the bed off the floor to waist level.
It eases the housekeeping chore of changing mattresses. It also lets housekeeping staff vacuum under the bed to keep the room cleaner.
The Optii Keeper is a mobile app. It predicts, manages and optimises housekeeping schedules.
The app runs on iPod Touch devices that are issued to housekeeping supervisors and staff.
Supervisors use the app to assign duties, while housekeepers use it to indicate the completion of cleaning chores and to notify their supervisors.
Optii Keeper also alerts the housekeeping staff of the guests' departure time or when there are specific housekeeping requests. This way, guests' demands can be quickly met.
Go to your room and check in with tablet
The Shangri-La Hotel Singapore
Tablet PCs are an important part of the guest experience at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore.
Arriving guests can choose to check in at the lobby lounge using a Windows tablet - a Samsung Slate - provided by the hotel.
Or, if they wish, the hotel's service staff can take them straight to their rooms, where they can do the checking-in and sign on the dotted line using the tablet.
This tablet option supplements the hotel's usual paperless check-in process, whereby guests use a 12-inch Wacom tablet at the front desk to sign their check-in forms.
According to Mr Reto Klauser, vice-president and general manager of Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, guests appreciate the paperless process as it saves time and offers more convenience to them.
Guests also like the fact that it saves paper, said Mr Klauser.
Besides doing away with hardcopy forms, the hotel sends bills by e-mail to guests, instead of issuing printed invoices.
In addition, guests can access newspapers and magazines using the PressReader app - which can be installed on their personal smartphones or tablets - as long as the guests are within the hotel's Wi-Fi network. This is similar to the service provided at Conrad Centennial Singapore.
App attends to event planners' requests
The Ritz-Carlton, Millennia Singapore
Since last August, guests at the Ritz-Carlton, Millennia Singapore have been able to use a mobile app to access a range of services, including checking in and out of the hotel.
Launched in the US three years ago, the Ritz-Carlton app is available to anyone who enrols in The Ritz-Carlton or Marriott Rewards member programme, both free.
The app lets guests indicate their arrival time, so that their room key cards are ready when they reach the hotel. Guests can check out using the app and save the hassle of having to visit the front desk and return their key cards.
They can make service requests, including asking for extra towels or bath items, luggage pickup or housekeeping service.
The app has information on restaurants, events, tips and special offers. It also an Instagram-like "travel poster" feature that lets guests add graphic effects and emojis to photos that they take at the hotel. The photos can then be shared on their Instagram and Facebook accounts - with a Ritz-Carlton hashtag added to each post.
However, the app does not allow guests to choose their rooms prior to checking in, or order room service during the stay - something the Conrad Concierge app can do.
The Ritz-Carlton has another app for those who have booked its facilities for meetings and seminars.
The app is called ((chime)) and can be accessed through smartphones and tablets via a Web browser. The app lets event organisers request tweaks such as changing the temperature in a conference room. It also lets them call for support from hotel staff to, say, adjust the audio or video equipment settings.
By tapping on the options in the app, Ritz-Carlton staff will receive an SMS about the request.
One fan of this app is Miss Valerie Krumholz, a meeting planner, who used it during her stay at the hotel.
"Having the ((chime)) application readily available right on my phone was very convenient because I knew that with this tool, everybody in the hotel team was immediately informed of my requests, and within a very short time, my requests were taken care of," she said.
Keyless system opens doors to smooth check-ins
W Singapore Sentosa Cove
W Singapore Sentosa Cove probably has the most fancy guest technology among the hotels featured.
The centrepiece is a feature called Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Keyless, which lets guests unlock their rooms with a smartphone. It works with both Android smartphones and iPhones.
It even works with the Apple Watch via the iPhone.
Guests have to first enrol with the SPG membership programme. They then need to download the SPG app into their smartphone and log into the app with their account. A credit card is needed to book a room. In addition, reservations must be made through Starwood booking channels. W Singapore Sentosa Cove is part of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts hotel chain.
Once those steps are done, guests will be issued their room numbers via the app after they check in at the hotel's front desk.
Besides being able to unlock doors, the app also lets guests check in, confirm their reservation and choose their preferred payment method.
I tried out the feature with my Apple iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch and found it works well.
With my phone connected to the Internet and with Bluetooth turned on, I was able to unlock my room door by holding my phone
or Apple Watch in front of the door's lock pad. As the Apple Watch is an extension of the iPhone, guests just need to make sure their Apple Watch is connected to the iPhone that was registered to the SPG Keyless account.
It was a fascinating experience, albeit a slightly unnerving one when it came to using my Apple Watch. This was because I had to place it extremely close to the lock pad for it to work, which had me worried about scratching my watch.
If I were to lose my phone, I simply have to alert the hotel and the SPG Keyless feature will be deactivated. I would then be given a regular key card to use.
Guests can register only one mobile device for one room. So, if you are travelling with your family, they will have to use key cards.
I travel overseas alone for work
a lot and can remember the countless times when I forget to take along my key card when leaving my room. The SPG Keyless would have saved me much hassle during those instances.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Hotels get smart to attract millennials'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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