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March 18, 2019

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Digital technologies a boost for travelers

Hospitality industries are taking on a new look with the adoption of digital technologies as Internet giants move quickly to offer tailor-made solutions for hoteliers.

Fliggy, the online travel affiliate of Hangzhou-headquartered e-commerce giant Alibaba, launched a “smart hotel” called FlyZoo Hotel in a bid to set up a prototype of how hotels would look like when combined with the latest technology.

This “future hotel” was made possible by the e-commerce giant’s personal identification solutions and artificial intelligence-powered robotic services.

Located in the Qin Cheng Li shopping center near Alibaba’s Hangzhou campus, the hotel opened in December last year. It has 290 guestrooms, all with electronic appliances that can respond to voice commands.

The rooms also have Alibaba’s voice recognition assistant Tmall Genie to help control lighting, temperature and the curtains.

Facial recognition is used at check-in and to unlock the doors, while elevators can respond to guests without them having to press buttons.

Fliggy says the FlyZoo Hotel offers not only a comfortable stay, but also seeks to provide industry partners with a clear view of what can be achieved by using its technical capabilities and solutions.

Currently six robotic assistants help deliver dishes in restaurants and take items to guestrooms. Concierge staff are still available in the lobby to assist guests who prefer not to use smart assistants or to solve problems that cannot be handled by digital systems.

An internal management system to timely reflect the status of the hotel is also deployed by using Alibaba’s smart algorithms, and its operation efficiency is 1.5 times compared with normal ones, according to Wang Qun, the hotel’s CEO. A hotel of similar size would normally have about 20 financial personnel while FlyZoo Hotel has just three financial staff.

Guests can be exempt from paying a deposit if they have a good rating score on Zhima Credit, a private commercial credit service system developed by Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Financial Services Group.

Some guests have complained, however, that the facial recognition system sometimes has glitches and others suggest the rooms aren’t worth the minimum price of 999 yuan (US$148) per night.

Alibaba and its business affiliates are also using technology to upgrade services for other hoteliers.

Ant Financial’s credit rating function has already been in use at nearly 200,000 hotels and more than 20 million guests have used it since its 2015 launch.

It saves time at check-in and check-out as bills can be sent automatically to users’ Alipay accounts.

Its facial-recognition technology is also deployed at a number of hotels in China through smart kiosks at front desks.

WeChat, the social networking, messaging and payments service, is also offering solutions for hoteliers.

Shenzhen-headquartered smart home furniture manufacturer Orvibo has been offering a smart hotel management solution for domestic hotels that integrates smart door locks, security sensors, sanitary ware, audio and visual systems as well as a check-in and check-out process based on the WeChat platform.

Guests will be sent a two-dimensional barcode to be scanned at hotel room doors, and the control center is also integrated with WeChat so guests won’t have to download a separate application.

Its payment and facial recognition tools are also used to help hoteliers adopt a more consumer-centric approach in everyday operations. By identifying frequent guests, hoteliers can offer tailor-made services through these online channels.

Guest management has always been key for hoteliers wanting to encourage guests to return, and now digital platforms are making that easier by connecting payment information with the customer management platform.

Hoteliers have been actively responding to travelers’ preferences in the digital age by working with industry partners to offer inventive guest experiences.

InterContinental Hotels Group upgraded its loyalty platform through a mini mobile application on WeChat in December last year through which it can target its IHG Rewards Club members in China.

Customers, both Android and iOS users, can access the booking and search procedure without an extra mobile app.

Guests can also use a 360-degree virtual lens on their smartphones to take a look inside and around a hotel.

The newly launched IHG Rewards Club WeChat mini program aims to provide Chinese members with a more convenient user experience in a number of online processes including searching, booking, payment and management of membership benefits, commented Wang Lin, chief marketing officer of IHG China.

“As the rapidly evolving mobile technology in China is revolutionizing the way our guests travel nowadays, we continuously design and innovate to meet their travel needs,” she said.

The company said it believes that true hospitality and smart technology experience are the leading pillars to drive the industry’s development and will continue to refine hotel services and facilities.

Since November 2017, it has been integrating Baidu’s latest artificial intelligence-backed smart speaker Raven H at dozens of InterContinental Hotels and Resorts properties in China and offering smart services that incorporate guestroom ambience settings, search engines and entertainment. Housekeeping, concierge and dining services can also be activated by voice commands.

According to a joint report by mobile data platform TalkingData and Tencent’s culture and tourism team, travelers are favoring high-end hoteliers for their facilities and comforts during their stay and are also seeking a more personalized traveling experience.


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