Marriott Hotels Technology

"Any time the customer has to fight with technology, you've failed the customer."

People are on the move today more than ever, and technology is making travel more accessible, efficient and convenient. As Marriott is finding, the key to the future of travel is a digital one. We speak to Brian King, chief global digital officer for Marriott International, about how the hotel brand is providing high-touch personal service through high-tech-connected rooms.

Big picture: What's the future of tech and hospitality?
"Voice activation is growing at such a rapid clip year over year. We're looking ahead and asking: What does that mean for lodging in the future? When you think about it, people's personal digital assistant needs to travel with them. One of the ways we're starting to build that into the structures is the Internet of Things.

"We have a model room in headquarters, where [we're experimenting with a few things]. Say we know you like to get up at 7 a.m., and we know you like to do yoga. We're going to have the screen on the television wake you up at 7 a.m. and start your yoga class right in your room.

"Even think about all your artwork at home or pictures of the kids and the family. You can load those images onto the Marriott app. Then when you walk into the room, you'll open the door and the pictures can be right on the TV.

"I like to say: your stay, your way.

"At the W in Austin, we're experimenting with voice activation. You can talk to the in-room voice assistant and ask for the best barbecue place in Austin. At the LAX Marriott, we're experimenting with the ability for the guest to control the climate from their phone. If you have a Nest at home and you want to set the temperature to 72 degrees, why can't you do that in hotel rooms as well?

"The other big thing is Apple Business Chat. If voice is the next big thing in the future, chat is the big thing now. When you chat [with us], it's a real human being answering back."

What about devices that aren't smartphones?
"Don't underestimate how the television is changing. It is going to be just a piece of flat glass without a brain. It will be used for projecting all the content you already carry with you. Screencasting is definitely something we're digging into hard and fast. My dream is that your in-room entertainment experience is just as good as it is in an AMC. Great sound, great picture. It should shake, but not enough to wake up the guy next door."

All that tech sounds great —until someone doesn't know how to use it.
"Digital is hospitable. It has to be completely intuitive and completely frictionless. As we're designing the guest experience, the execution of the technology cannot get in the way of the guest experience.

"Any time the customer has to fight with technology, you've failed the customer. It's the responsibility of hoteliers [to make sure] the UX is elegant and human-centered."

How long do some of the changes take to implement?
"Some things you can do relatively quickly. We're enhancing our mobile app all the time. But any time you touch the hardware of the hotel, its cabling, its mirrors, things [involving] the Internet of Things, that will typically take longer.

"We like to test with consumer anywhere from 30 days to six months before we [release new products], depending on the complexity. Something that's moving along at a steady pace is keyless entry. We have a million door locks that we need to change. We're moving along at a steady pace, but that doesn't happen overnight.

"With the mobile check-in and mobile check-out, we were able to deploy that end to end within six months."

Marriott is working with the World Economic Forum's Known Traveller Digital Identity project. How do you see that changing future travel?

"This is not a Marriott point of view. This is a travel point of view. We want everyone to travel the world freely and be a borderless society. But if you're a bad person, governments are going to catch you and make sure you do no harm. How do you balance that?

"The benefit is: You have a digitized passport so you can get through border security more quickly. Marriott is partnering with various lodging, travel and airline companies. [We are] coming up with a universal record that's consistent around the globe. So if you're a known traveler, we're going to make it easier for you.  

"It's not just a Marriott play; it's an industry play. We think it will be good for the world at large to have more global travelers."

Elva Ramirez is a freelance travel journalist. Follow her on Instagram at @helloambianceuse