Would you stay in an augmented reality?

Greater guest satisfaction or the demise of the traditional hospitality experience?

Arguments for and against the new technology are rippling through the hospitality industry. Considered the sister of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) is now being adopted by some large hotel chains that support the innovative trend, however others are concerned by the privacy, safety and maturity of the technology.

Augmented reality is defined as ‘a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.’ Technologists argue AR could bring about a revolution in many industries, with the technology used to engage customers, build loyalty, convert and increase consideration. Scepticism is warranted but in the 21st century, shifts that used to take years now routinely happen in months – e-commerce, a Facebook presence, mobile purchase apps are all good examples.

AR came to the fore for many when the Disney Movie Experience allowed children to include themselves in scenes alongside Disney stars. The most recent example of this is for the live-action adaptation of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with Microsoft and Disney offering fans the experience of bringing the movie to life.

The hospitality world is following suit and Hilton Hotels have begun by looking at the guest pre-experience. The luxury brand has teamed up with Reel FX VR and GSD&M to provide a virtual reality tropical experience of Barbados. The 360 tour is a good sign of the potential for AR and VR and the hope for Hilton is that it converts potential bookers into committing. VR allow guests to use the technology to explore the property, view individual rooms, and search for nearby attractions – all in an immersive and interactive manner.

The industry is highly competitive so many are looking to implement AR technology to distinguish their businesses as top choices for guests. This can apply for hotels, restaurants, food service and more. Visualising somewhere provides the guest with confidence and may increase their satisfaction by knowing exactly what their experience will include.

If AR can grow patronage and sales through delighting guests, then more may look to this innovation. However, at the moment almost all applications of AR technology require current location information. Users must provide this information and some argue that providing a location on a real-time basis is a privacy concern. As with most technologies of this type, there is also a concern of safety. As simple as if someone is concentrating on AR, they forget the real world around them and could have an injury.

Hotels appear to be leading the way in the industry despite these concerns. For example the luxury property The Mansion at Casa Madrona uses an augmented, printed brochure to effectively demonstrate and showcase their amenities and accommodations to potential guests. Smart hotel room technologies, such as that from Control4, allows guests to control media walls, indoor temperatures, lighting, sound, window coverings, the fireplace and more. In Heraklion, Crete, the Olive Green Hotel embraces smart technology that goes beyond room controls. QR-coded wallpapers featuring images of Cretan landscapes offer guests additional information about their destination, with distances to points of interest and other relevant details.

They are interesting moves and recently The Financial Express has stated that AR and smart technologies are bringing us closer to the ‘hotel of the future’. They argue that by 2060 hotels will embrace “augmented reality, artificial intelligence, morphing beds, robotics, touchscreen interface, hyper-connectivity and more.” The way guest’s book a hotel and also how people select a restaurant may therefore be dramatically different in the future.

Many technology experts ask how far the technology will be taken. Trends do come and go but at this stage AR and also VR do provide a different customer experience and this alone may see them adopted by more organisations. The industry is still a step away from part physical and part virtual hotels but AR will play a big role at some stage – the question now is when.