The concept of the ‘smart hotel’ is not a futuristic one. Tech-savvy hospitality brands are leveraging the opportunity presented by digital technologies to offer more personalised experiences. For you the customer/guest, we share general advice in this article about how you can protect your privacy and security while enjoying the benefits offered by beacons, smart devices, digitally controlled rooms and other smart hotel technologies.
The smart hotel is here. Imagine this scenario…
You’re visiting a new city. Being the savvy traveller that you are, you shopped around for deals and selected and booked a smart hotel using your preferred travel booking app.
Upon arrival at your hotel, there is no one at the front desk to greet you. The traditional front desk has been replaced by a row of electronic self-check-in screens. You wheel your suitcase to one of them. The illuminated touchscreen prompts you to enter your booking code while the attached scanner takes a quick photo of your passport to confirm your identity.
The check-in screen prompts you to connect your smartphone to the free Wi-Fi to download the hotel’s dedicated mobile app. Once installed, the app prompts you to scan a QR code generated by the touchscreen receptionist in order to be assigned a room.
That’s it. You’re all checked-in.
Not quite…What about your room key? Not to worry. The hotel’s app instructs you to activate your smartphone’s Bluetooth. Activating this feature turns your smartphone into your room key. You’re good to go.
However, the fun isn’t over yet. You get to your room and tap your phone against the door handle to unlock it.
The smart TV lets you stream your favourite shows from your phone. The Bluetooth speakers let you pair your phone and play your favourite music. You can adjust the room’s temperature, blinds and lights from a dashboard on the hotel app.
You can order food from the restaurant by issuing voice-commands to the in-room digital assistant, check the weather, book a massage, arrange local tours… the possibilities are endless.
The smart hotel promises much, including giving you control in the palm of your hand.
IoT in the hospitality industry
The hospitality industry is embracing the internet-of-things (IoT). IoTs are physical devices with enough computing power and network connectivity to be able to collect, process and transfer data.
From initially using them mainly for facilities management and predictive maintenance (among other things), innovative hotel chains are moving to incorporate IoTs into the end-to-end hospitality experience.
Increasingly, personalisation is becoming the key differentiator for the hotel industry. IoT and digital technology can collect data which hotels can leverage to provide guests with enriched and tailored experiences. Hotels such as The Sinclair, Autograph Collection in Fort Worth, Texas are powering ahead with the smart hotel concept.
However, personalisation and privacy/security are not mutually exclusive. Collecting personal data using IoTs and digital technologies is central to the ability of hospitality brands to customise guest experiences.
Since customisation often means giving away personal data, the question is this: how much privacy are you willing to give away to enjoy the convenience and the benefits promised by the ‘hotel of the future’?
Staying in a Smart Hotel Without Compromising Your Privacy and Security
Below we explore a few of the common guest-technologies we see in smart hotels and provide some general advice about how to protect your privacy and security.
Disclaimer: As with all advice on this blog, this list is neither definitive nor conclusive. Always implement our recommendations based on your discretion and risk appetite.
#1: Be mindful that Smart TVs can collect personal data: Levels of maturity differ between Smart TV manufacturers when it comes to implementing security and privacy policies on their devices.
Using automatic content recognition (ACR) technology, manufacturers and third parties can collect personal data including your device settings, location, voice commands, app usage statistics and viewing habits. This data is mostly used for ‘marketing purposes’.
Privacy settings can often be adjusted when setting up Smart TVs. However, there’s no way of knowing what policies your hotel has implemented on your room’s device. If you are concerned, you can ask, but do not expect to get any definitive answers.
Here is a great article from non-profit research group Consumer Reports on how to turn off or opt-out of ACR settings (including voice recognition) for popular TV brands including Samsung.
#2: Beware of in-built Smart TV cameras and voice recognition features: Spying is a concern with Smart TVs enabled with voice-recognition. On your room TV, navigate to the settings (if they are accessible) and confirm that these features have been disabled (if they exist).
#3: Voice-enabled digital assistants could be ‘listening’: Beyond checking the weather and recommending local restaurants, travel and hospitality brands continue to explore using digital assistants and voice-enabled search to offer personalised guest experiences. If you’re unsure of the privacy settings on your hotel room’s voice assistant, turn it off.
#4: Avoid using pre-installed internet browsers on public Smart TVs: Except you need to quickly check the news or weather, use your personal devices for any personal browsing. See advice on hotel Wi-Fi below.
#5: Remember to log-out of any apps you use: Depending on the make and model, you may be able to mirror your mobile phone screen directly to your room smart TV without needing to log-in. That would be the ideal approach.
However, common hotel configurations include Smart TVs that come with pre-installed apps such as Spotify, YouTube, Netflix and other streaming services. If you decide to personalise your experience by logging in to your accounts on these apps from your hotel smart TV, remember to log-out before you check-out.
Bluetooth, Beacons and Mobile Apps
#6: Review hotel app privacy policies: One common smart hotel configuration uses a combination of mobile apps, low-energy Bluetooth and beacon (inexpensive radio transmitters that send a one-way signal to compatible devices) technologies.
Hotels can use this combination to provide value-added services including digital room access keys, location-based messaging (e.g., to show you available meeting rooms) and personalised app-enabled guidance.
In most cases, you will need to have the hotel app installed and Bluetooth enabled on your phone for this to work. By implication, be aware that in most cases, these apps may collect personal data of some kind.
If you’d rather not use the hotel app, request for an old-fashioned key card (where available). If you decide to use the hotel app, be sure to review the privacy policies and opt-out of location tracking and marketing options.
#7: Uninstall hotel apps when you check-out: If you no longer need the hotel app on your phone, uninstall it from your phone. Security updates to hotel apps are not always guaranteed.
USB Charging Ports
#8: Deny access to your phone data when plugging into USB charging ports: Most modern phones will (hopefully) trigger a data transfer permission request when you plug into a USB charging port. Always say NO when using public chargers!
While most are designed to simply provide power, it isn’t entirely impossible that there may be a ‘middle-man’ between your phone and a public USB charging port.
Use your phone’s AC adapter where possible. Read more about ‘Juice Jacking’ in “Five Tips For Protecting Your Smartphone During The Holidays.”
Hotel Wi-Fi is still public Wi-Fi
#9: Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app if you must use hotel Wi-Fi for any serious communications or transactions: You never know who could be ‘listening’ on public Wi-Fi. Hotel Wi-Fi is convenient but it is public. Remember that convenience often comes with reduced privacy.
Smart Device Rentals
Although still experimental, there are tech-savvy hotels already offering guests ‘complimentary’ or rental smartphones, wearable tech and other smart devices for the duration of their stay.
These value-added services help to improve the guest experience – imagine having access to local mobile data services without needing to purchase a local SIM card or international data plan when visiting a foreign destination.
#10: If you really need the device, leave no trace behind: If you must use hotel-provided smart devices, ask about the hotel’s privacy policies beforehand. Also, leave no trace of your personal data behind before you hand over the device. Remember to log out of any apps and clear/erase any personal data – cookies, files, images – you may have downloaded on the device during its use.
Smart hotels are the future
While it may be sometime before robot butlers become the norm, the smart hotel is here to stay. Tech-savvy hotels promise improved and personalised guest experiences. However, remember that convenience sometimes comes at a cost. So leave no trace behind.