Augmented Reality (AR) for Hotels: Where’s it Going?

June 14, 2017

It’s been over four years since early adopters of Google Glass began to show up in public spaces. Since then, the technology has been pulled from the consumer market and focused on professional settings, such as aiding workers on assembly lines.


One of the commonly cited reasons for the initial failure of Google Glass is the “disconnection” it creates between people. When you see someone wearing those glasses, you don’t know what they are seeing or analyzing. Aside from social discord, it raises real concerns about privacy in a world where abuse of personal data is already a problem.


But despite these challenges and roadblocks, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are steadily on the rise. Forward-looking hoteliers must study these trends to identify their potential within our industry.


Virtual vs. Augmented


As discussed recently, in the VR space, you have total immersion in a three-dimensional space, using computer-generated graphics or 360 degree camera work. The production is delivered through a special headset for a visually (and sonically, if headphones are used) immersive experience.


The two most relevant applications of VR in hospitality today are 1) “try before you buy” experiences (the resurgent brick-and-mortar travel agency business is using these to give people a taste before they book) and 2) detailed VR modeling to augment hotel design.


By comparison, AR is a far more accessible set of tools that make use of devices we already have. Let’s take a look at the two main AR tools being explored by hotels today.


1. Brochures

Square bar codes (called QR codes) that can be photographed and translated into usable information have been around since the 1990s. They were arguably the first real step into augmented reality.


Today, hotels and resorts can design printed brochures, maps, displays and even magazine spreads that take on three-dimensional life when viewed through the lens of a consenting tablet or smart phone (here is a simple look at an AR hotel brochure).


This technology has obvious implications for pre-booking promotions, and countless uses within the hotel property itself. Hub Hotels, a popular chain in the UK, now fits guest rooms with interactive wall maps. When you point a phone or tablet at the map using the hotel app, dynamic information about the surrounding area is displayed. It’s simple, useful and interactive — exactly the kind of thing travel-hungry millennials want to see from hotels.


2. Beacons

Hotel properties can now be fitted with small devices called ‘beacons’ which use bluetooth signals to push information to consenting devices. The location and limited radius of bluetooth beacons means that information can be tailored to specific locations and contexts. At the hotel bar, for example, guests might be able to access specials and recommendations for that evening libation. The door is wide open in terms of using beacons creatively. Notable properties that already use bluetooth beacons include Marriott International, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Caesar’s Palace and The James Hotels.


Concerns and conclusions


Keiichi Matsuda, a London-based designer, has produced a fascinating yet cautionary short film that depicts a Colombian woman using advanced AR in near-future Medellin. Giving a few minutes of time to simulations like this can give hoteliers a clearer idea of how AR could be used in our industry.


By the time the video ends, however, AR seems like a terrible idea. The false start of Google Glass (at least in the public realm) is a strong sign that AR will progress slowly. There are too many ethical questions and concerns for people to jump in all at once. 


It remains to be seen what real impact AR efforts will have on key metrics like bookings, occupancy rates and brand loyalty. Experimentation at this stage may or may not pay off for a given property — but one thing is absolutely certain: AR will be detrimental to hotels to the extent that internal attention is shifted away from the fundamental services and amenities that exist in plain sight.



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