Wednesday, January 18, 2017

From Infinity To Infinity: Hotels

My, how hotels have changed. Those of you of a certain vintage will remember how they were. I'm not referring to the likes of the Ritz, but to the holiday hotel of yore, the first recollection of which I have is from the year that England won the World Cup. It was called, may still be for all I know, the Yelton Hotel in Hastings. I'm guessing that they considered this to be a home from home type of family hotel. They were quite wrong. By that time we lived in comparative luxury. Not every part of our home, all furnishings, all walls, all everything smelt of beef lunches. In fact, none of it did, unlike the hotel. Nor did we have Double Diamond on tap, and we most certainly did not have an "entertainment" room which failed to entertain.

Three years later came the great foreign adventure. Arenal. Here was something different: the outdoor pool, for example, which contrasted greatly with the one in Bournemouth during 1967's Summer of Love. Buried in the bowels of the hotel edifice, plunging into it gave the impression that one might disappear into the centre of the Earth. They're probably still hunting for small children even now. Arenal was therefore several notches up on the sophistication ladder, despite there having been a shanty town as a bedroom view.

Sophistication is the keyword. The holidaymaking client nowadays requires sophistication. It comes in different guises, and the appreciation (or not) of its level of sophistication does rather depend on the punter's aspirations and expectations. Generally speaking, though, Mallorca and everywhere else are straining every hotelier sinew to invest in sophistication. Take the infinity pool, for example. Whereas the pool in Bournemouth in 1967 could seemingly oblige by condemning one to an ever-downward-spiralling vortex of infinity, the 2017 model is just infinite on a horizontal plane. Where does it go? What a clever trick.

Although there are still hotels trapped in a 1970s' time warp, the great majority now conform to the demands of 21st Century Tourist Man (and family). Spas are ubiquitous, chill-out zones are de rigueur, wifi has replaced the Double Diamond by being on tap and may well be transmitted by the contemporary beer tap, given the ominous and mysterious advance of the Internet of Things. It is the latter which defines this new age of the hotel experience. Technology has advanced sophistication as much as any competitive threat from Turkey and elsewhere.

The leap is as gigantic as it has been rapid. Back in the day when some people were on the pitch, thinking it was all over, the Yelton's technological aspirations could stretch no further than the telly in the telly room. Harold Wilson may have been announcing that there was a white heat of technology, but here was the tepidity of technology, if that.

Hotel technology took an age to embrace the age of technology. Since its relatively recent discovery, however, it has moved ahead with boundless energy, powering energy-efficient systems through the computations of software, marketing offers in a constant whir of Big Data profiling, converting the real to the less real - virtual reality.

How far can all this go? The possibilities presented by technology create a new infinity, virtual reality being just one aspect but a highly tantalising one. There were those who might have scoffed when some years ago I presented a vision of hotel virtual reality entertainment (Miley Cyrus was being virtually reproduced), but scoff no more.

I am not a futurist. Perhaps I've missed a vocation and the possibility of raking in shedloads purely on the basis of blue-sky thinking, as my vision of hotel robotics and virtual Miley bears a certain similarity with someone who is a futurist and who presumably doesn't come cheap.

James Canton used to work for Apple. He has advised more than a hundred companies as well as the White House. And what does James envisage? Among other things, the current-day theme hotel will be transformed into an immersive environment. Guests will experience live events and interact with them in real time or through virtual reality. In other words, the themed hotel becomes a virtual environment, capable of drawing on imagery from wherever, such as the past. In my vision, that past imagery was of the guest being shown how resorts once were, when guests left their compounds and did things like going to a bar.

Robots, says James, will be programmed in such ways to make guests' stays exceptional and personalised experiences through the provision of information, service and entertainment. And that is not a great distance away from my RepBot and making available virtual Miley entertainment.

Infinite. The possibilities are infinite. Perhaps the re-creation of the past might even be of plunging into the infinity of the Summer of Love.

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