Contactless Living in the Home Away from Home

By Elizabeth Briggs

COVID-19 hasn’t just caused the hospitality industry to turn on its head in the short term. Operators are now analyzing how the working traditions of the industry will have to change to facilitate a future which will be completely different to the one we envisaged a year ago.

As well as introducing strategies to ensure survival during a period of economic uncertainty, hotel owners will have to accept the fact that the pandemic has changed the mindset of its users, potentially for the very long term. There is now a need to reduce the number of physical interactions between guests and staff, to reassess movement around a building and to minimize touchpoints of surfaces and doors.

The rise of the ‘contactless society’ was already accelerating before the coronavirus became part of our lives, which manufacturers were readily responding to with technology and automated controls which created more efficient, high-tech experiences in hospitality. In one of the few silver linings of the COVID-19 period, the demands of the pandemic feed into this trend and as such, can be more swiftly integrated into the sector to change how we live, work and meet within these environments.

Hands-free technologies can play a vital role in reducing the number of touchpoints for hotel guests, while various access control systems can better facilitate social distancing and limit the number of people in some spaces. Advanced door and furniture locking systems have Bluetooth connectivity, which in combination with a third-party smartphone app, act as digital keys to activate the lock. As well as enabling a user to lock and unlock doors to their hotel room, gym lockers and furniture, they also seamlessly tie into hotel management platforms to allow a guest to digitally book a room, purchase goods, check in, check out and pay.

Communal spaces—such as reception areas, restaurants, meeting rooms and leisure facilities—must be broken up to facilitate small groups of people, so can also benefit from remote access door technology—particularly those which work in partnership with automatic sliding or swinging door systems. When used in conjunction with flow control technology, a limited number of people will be allowed access to a space at any one time, to help maintain social distancing and meet government guidance on group numbers.

Aside from COVID-19, hotel guests are still looking to hotels for sophisticated experiences which tie into the type of living they’re already used to enjoying at home. For example, the ability to control different functions within a room in a more high-tech capacity than flipping a switch on and off.

Furniture lighting systems can be app-controlled to allow a user to change the color and brightness of a room, depending on their mood, time of day or activity, to increase comfort using futuristic technology.

Lighting strips can be integrated into fitted furniture to save space and create a premium look, but truly come into play when it comes to their control. Accessed and adapted via smartphone, a hotel guest can alter their lighting settings without needing to move from their spot, which creates a truly contactless experience but also minimizes the spread of bacteria.

In the pursuit of a contactless environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, operators must ensure other elements of safety aren’t being neglected. Increased ventilation has been recommended to improve air flow and minimize cross-contamination in a space, but many hotel building doors are ‘life critical.’ If they’re held open without the correct products in place to close them in the case of a fire, a huge risk is posed to residents and staff. Operators must look at adding devices such as wall or floor mounted electromagnetic hold-open door closers to keep doors open in a safe and compliant manner until a fire or smoke alarm is triggered. At that point the power to the product is cut, ensuring the door closes automatically, providing a barrier to the spread of fire.

During a time when the global pandemic has made people more aware of the number of touchpoints and surfaces that they share with other people, different technologies are enabling hotels to offering their guests greater reassurance when it comes to their health and safety, but also ensure they don’t miss out on any of the key elements of their stay. COVID-19 has contributed to the acceleration of contactless access technologies, but manufacturers have known of the benefits this brings to the hospitality industry for years. There’s an urgent need to review the fit-out of hotels, but also create designs which will be relevant long after the pandemic has passed. Operators should use the time available to them now—when travel and leisure are limited to the public—to make the necessary changes in an efficient manner, so they are ready for the future.

Elizabeth Briggs is category manager for sliding, room and building at Hafele, an international company providing hardware and fitting systems and electronic access control systems.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.

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