Rainforest on the roof

Voice-activated rooms, robot guides as well as a rooftop rainforest are some features hotels are introducing to entice travellers

WASHINGTON • When you check into your hotel room these days, you may be welcomed by a robot.

Hotel companies around the world have been racing to incorporate new innovations into their properties. Here is a look at some futuristic technology that may greet you during your next hotel stay.


You will never have to get out of bed again, promises Aloft Hotels.

Thanks to its Project: Jetson, guests at two of its properties can control their thermostats, lights and even music preferences with their voice.

At these hotels under Starwood Hotels & Resorts, if guests wake up hot at 2am, they can simply ask Apple's ubiquitous voice-powered assistant Siri to adjust the temperature on the thermostat by saying, "Hey Siri, cool the room", to their desired setting.

The voice-activated rooms in Boston and Santa Clara, California, will come equipped with iPads that guests can use to browse the Internet and check the weather forecast.

"Forget the phrase, 'At the touch of your fingertips'," Mr Brian McGuinness, global brand leader for Aloft Hotels, said in a statement.

"Today's traveller wants a level of personalisation unlike ever before and that means being able to control his hotel experience with his voice."


This year, Hilton Worldwide added a new staff to its roster: Connie, a concierge robot that can give restaurant recommendations and guide you to the hotel gym.

The robot, powered by IBM's Jeopardy-winning Watson computing system, uses a number of applications to greet guests and answer basic questions about hotel amenities, services and hours of operation.

"The more guests interact with Connie, the more it learns, adapts and improves its recommendations," said a Hilton spokesman.

Connie's friend Ava - powered by iRobot - often greets guests at the Hilton Tysons Corner.

She has served as a translator for foreign travellers and helped guests remotely sign in to meetings.

Last year, two service members dialled in from Kuwait and used the robot to "walk" around the American Red Cross' Salute to Service Gala in the hotel's ballroom.

"With Ava, we learnt things we never expected to learn," Mr Jonathan Wilson, vice-president of product innovation and brand services for Hilton, said in January. "That is an example of something we can use to make our customers' lives easier and more convenient."

At Aloft Silicon Valley, Botlr, billed as the world's first robotic butler, serves a similar role.

The robot, who wears a painted- on shirt collar, is likely to bring "razors, toothbrushes, smartphone chargers, snacks and the morning paper to any of the hotel's 150 rooms in two to three minutes", according to The New York Times.


If your real-life vacation is not as exciting as you had hoped, virtual reality headsets at Marriott International promise to transport you to somewhere a bit more glamorous - to Beijing or, say, Chile.

VRoom Service, which the hotel giant rolled out last autumn, allows guests at a handful of properties to borrow Samsung Gear VR headsets for 24 hours at a time. The devices are pre-loaded with three videos that follow travellers to destinations around the world.

"Virtual travel is another way to (meet the next generation of travellers)," Mr Michael Dail, vice- president of global brand marketing at Marriott, told travel research platform Skift. "We wanted to add a storytelling element because so many millennials are content creators themselves."

Other hotel companies have taken similar measures. Holiday Inn Express, Hilton and Best Western have all turned to virtual-reality videos to market their properties to younger customers.


The upcoming Rosemont Hotel in Dubai promises a number of over- the-top amenities: luggage-handling robots, digital waterfalls and a man- made beach atop the 53-storey building. But perhaps the loftiest part of the US$550-million (S$747-million) project is its plan to create a rooftop rainforest that spans 75,000 sq ft and includes a "prehistoric Jurassic- inspired marsh". The 448-room hotel, to be run by Hilton's Curio Collection, is slated to open in 2018.


At Marriott, executives are looking to guests for their innovative ideas.

Some of the hundreds of ideas the company has gathered over the years: neck pillows with built-in music, an app for selecting toiletries, free beer during check-in and vending machines filled with olives, dried fruit and other healthy snacks.

An initiative called, "Don't worry, your first bag is on us", would cover the cost of customers' luggage fees, while a room-service app would allow guests to order food using their smartphones.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'Rainforest on the roof'. Subscribe