Step foot into a suite at any luxury hotel around the world—be it a beachy bungalow in Martinique or boutique riad in Marrakesh—and you’ll find swanky amenities in abundance. But when Frette linens, L’Occitane bath products and special treats at turndown come standard, what differentiates one property from the next?
I discovered the answer last year during a visit to the Peninsula Hong Kong. I’d checked into my room after an exhausting 16-hour flight and my phone battery was wiped, but the idea of digging through my luggage to find my charger—or worse yet, waiting to have an adapter delivered to my room—seemed more monumental than scaling Victoria Peak. I crawled into bed, preparing to accept my dead phone’s fate, and then I noticed a gold placard on the bedside table that read “Power Charger.” Inside the leather-lined drawer was my lifeline: two outlets and a universal device charger equipped with cords to power up iPhones, Androids, Blackberrys and more. It was a small luxury that made all the difference.
I soon found out that the room was chock-full of thoughtfully high-tech touches, like an in-suite nail dryer, VOIP phones for free international calling and three wireless tablets that allow guests to control everything from mood music to lighting.
The Peninsula Hong Kong isn’t alone, of course. Other luxury properties are turning their attention to modern technology as a way of enhancing the five-star experience. For Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine in Spain’s Duero Valley, that means supplying Google Glass headsets to guests free of charge. (It’s reportedly the first hotel in Europe to do so.) Despite the hotel’s location in a 12th century abbey, LeDomaine is taking a decidedly futuristic approach to hospitality; the geeky glasses provide guided property tours and can be used by guests to snap photos and videos throughout their stay.
In Japan, “smart toilets”—like those found at Hoshinoya Kyoto and the Shangri-La Tokyo— are ubiquitous. They have lids that automatically open when you approach, and a myriad of other functions that manage to turn a mundane task like using the bathroom into a highly entertaining event. (For Americans, at least.) The Mandarin Oriental in Paris offers a similarly heightened bathroom experience, with waterproof flatscreen televisions that sit above freestanding bathtubs.
When you walk into New York City’s Yotel, you’ll notice a Jetson’s-esque robot extending a mechanical arm to store and remove luggage. It’s a concept that might at first seem off-putting—until you recall that time you were rushing to retrieve your bags and a bellman was nowhere to be found. Further eliminating the need for human interaction, Starwood Hotels’ SPG app (available for iOS and Android) enables you to check-in, receive your room number and even unlock your hotel room door—all through your smartphone. And when the Apple Watch becomes available in late April, Starwood guests will be able to unlock doors with a simple flick of the wrist.
The ultimate in boundary-pushing technology will arrive with the July opening of a Japanese hotel that promises to be staffed entirely by robots—proving that there’s a thin line between extremely convenient… and extremely creepy.