MCLEAN, VA--The room of the future is being mapped out in a space tucked away near the lobby of a suburban hotel in Northern Virginia.
Hilton’s new Innovation Gallery at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner is filled with products that may soon find their way into a hotel guestroom. They include an earpiece that would translate conversations between employees and guests via an app, as well as a new stress-intervention device.
Hilton, which started in 1919 with a single hotel in Cisco, Texas, takes credit for introducing the first guestroom television sets and air conditioning, a central reservations system, the concept of the airport hotel, and room keys that can be accessed via a Smartphone. The brand has also developed technology that allows guests to choose which room to book at a hotel based on its location and view.
With the new Innovation Gallery, Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta says he hopes the company can do more.
“How do we innovate to be relevant in people’s lives?” asked Nassetta as he unveiled the space in early December.
But even though Hilton has been experimenting with such technology as robot butlers, Nassetta says people will still be at the core of the experience.
“We’re always going to be in the business of people taking care of people,” he says.
The 4,300-square foot gallery is accessible to other hoteliers and hotel owners. Hilton franchises most of its brands.
Other hotel companies have created such incubators for innovation. Marriott International, the largest hotel company in the world, also has an Innovation Lab at its corporate headquarters in Rockville, Md. Earlier this year, Marriott also launched a “live beta” at its Charlotte Marriott City Center.
The Hilton Innovation Gallery is divided into five areas.
The Product Showcase features items that are being tested or that will be tested at properties. They include Pilot, the real-time translation device. The showcase also has Nightingale, a noise-making product to help people drown out other sleep-interfering sounds. Meural is a customizable art display so guests can have family photos or a favorite work of art during their stay.
“You want things how you want them, when you want them,” says Kerel Fryar, director of creative product innovation.
Amazon Lockers are secure and self-service kiosks where customers can pick up Amazon.com packages. Somabar is a personal mixologist. Guests can program it to make their favorite cocktails. It would take away the need for a minibar.
NuCalm helps people de-stress and sleep better. The machine interrupts the brain’s stress response and guides the person to a relaxed state.
“Twenty, 30 years ago, what customers wanted was wildly different,” Nassetta said.
The lab also has a Food and Beverage Concept Studio. The showcase kitchen offers a place to experiment with the latest restaurant concepts, from the menu to the design to the uniforms.
Hilton tests out about 40 different restaurant concepts a year and narrows the list down to help hotel owners decide which ones to adopt, says Jonathan Wilson, vice president of product innovation and brand services for Hilton.
A Virtual Reality stage lets visitors experience Hilton’s new brands without traveling to get to them. The device offers views of two of Hilton’s newest brands, Tru by Hilton and Canopy by Hilton. You can put on the VR device and take a tour of a guestroom, controlling things such as type of room and time of day you are experiencing.
The Darkroom is a model guestroom that lets you touch linens and walk on carpets and lay on beds and sit on sofas.
This is also where one can find Hilton’s new “Connected Room,” where guests will be able to control most functions of a room—lighting, temperature, curtains, the TV--via the Hilton Honors mobile app.
Guests will be able to dim the lights and find their favorite channels right away. They will also be able to stream their preferred media from various accounts on the guestroom TV.
Nassetta says there is an opportunity to gather enough data to know customers’ preferences before they even show up at the hotel.
“In today’s world, if we’re smart, there are so many ways to connect with customers even when they’re not with us,” he says.
Finally, the Innovation Theater serves as a gathering space for Hilton to brainstorm new ideas for the hotel room of the future.
“It’s about choice and control,” says Joshua Sloser, senior vice president of digital production.