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SALTO and BLOC's smartphone innovation heralds UK's first keyless hotel

Monday 03 August 2015

In the competitive, not to mention crowded, world of hospitality, standing out from the competition and convincing travelers that you have something different to offer can be a hard call.

BLOC Hotels have pulled this off in style at Gatwick Airport's South Terminal. Establishing a niche by taking the hotel room as a blank design, stripping out all the stuff you don't need while upgrading the finish around all the stuff you do. Rooms are offered at a competitive price (starting from £59) with everything booked, accessed and controlled by the very latest in smart technology.

The company opened its first hotel in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter in 2011. This has been well received within the city, its small but perfectly formed rooms bringing a touch of class to the low-cost hotel concept by offering four-star standards at two or three star prices. In March 2014 the group opened a second property in a very different location at Gatwick Airport' so how do they do it'

BLOC use Hospitality specialists Boxbuild to design, procure and fit out the physical rooms and to provide the smart technology solutions the Hotel runs on. The key to their success is to build the individual hotel rooms off site in pre-fabricated kits. These are then delivered to and rapidly assembled on site. High quality, long lasting materials are used so no plastering or painting is needed speeding up the fit out process and providing a long lasting space that requires little maintenance. The bathroom is modular so it simply fits into place and is connected to power and water. The result is a uniformly dark, but practical and contemporary room that perfectly suits the needs of the business or family traveler.

The Gatwick hotel is spread across five floors with 245 rooms divided into standard, business and executive level offerings with 5 disabled-friendly rooms per floor and is located in an old renovated office block built above the airport with reception inside the South Terminal ' just steps from departures. The North Terminal is just a couple of minutes away accessed by a free monorail service.

One of the key factors making BLOC a unique offering, beyond its quick-build construction techniques, contemporary styling and great locations, is its adoption of integrated smart technology to run every aspect of the hotel, at every level.

The Technology
According to recent research by hotels solutions provider HRS, guest demand for the use of smartphones, tablets and corresponding apps as part of their hotel experience is increasing. The new research surveyed 4,377 users and found that 44% of guests from the UK would like the use of a tablet PC in their room, and 42% would rather operate their hotel room's lighting, air conditioning and television via a touch screen display instead of using a separate remote control or switch. The survey also revealed that business travelers in particular are looking for a home-from-home experience when it comes to the use of smart technology in their hotel room.

'Research such as this is encouraging as we know the hospitality industry is exploring the use of smartphones and tablet technology, but we're probably 12 to 18 months ahead of everyone else when it comes to having a fully-functioning, cutting edge hotel that has been designed from the ground up to operate this way,' says Gary Holmes, Managing Director of ConnectedHotels, the technology division of Boxbuild.

'The technology we've delivered for BLOC goes far beyond just offering free SMART TVs, free Wi-Fi and super-fast broadband; it encompasses everything from the Guest Experience including mobile and web, access, self-service kiosks for check-in and tablet control of in-room systems, through to back of house operations processes, automating and integrating check-out and housekeeping, building management, energy efficiency and operation of the live hotel environment.

'Take room access, for example. We had a good look at what other hotels were doing and what they were using and decided we wanted something that was sleek, cutting edge and contemporary, not to mention smart. If you look at the door locking systems a lot of other hotels still use they are big, bulky, and in many cases downright ugly. Often they run on old-fashioned swipe technology because it's cheap and guest security in some cases is not always their highest priority. We were determined to be different.

'Our strategy is focused around the use of mobile apps that are free for Guests to download from the Apple AppStore or Google Play and able to tap into developments such as NFC (Near Field Communications) or BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) so that the Guest's own smartphone becomes not only their room key, but their wallet and remote control device as well.

'With this complete digital experience, guests can book a room, check in and use their smartphone as their electronic room key. Once in the room, a passive infrared sensor detects their presence and turns on the lighting and if we want, the air conditioning to a preferred temperature, and switch the television on with a welcome message. The same app then enables the smartphone to control room features such as lighting, air conditioning, electric blackout blinds and the smart LED television. Each room also has a dedicated Samsung Galaxy Tablet to provide in room controls with a very simple interface so guests of any age or technical ability can use the features of the room without downloading the app.

'Finding a room lock that could work with this technology to our high standards was a fairly short search as many manufacturers' offerings were simply not up to the job. This led us to SALTO who are world leaders in wire free and wireless access control technology and have an established reputation as manufacturers of advanced security solutions to the hotel and hospitality industry. After listening to what we needed and what we wanted to achieve, they recommended their Ælement hotel lock as being the right technology for the job.'

The Product
'We pride ourselves on delivering the things that matter to our clients - the best possible design, technology and features, and so our collaboration with BLOC on their latest hotel was critical,' says Darren Keating, National Account Manager Hospitality for SALTO.

'Ælement has been developed with the needs of hotels in mind and features a range of hospitality-specific applications including the ability to control the security of the entire hotel from a single location. This includes granting access privileges to individual guest rooms and gathering audit trail data from every door in real time ' all without leaving the front desk. Other benefits for the hotel include instant room move and instant extended stay abilities as well as lost card cancellation, intrusion alarm, door ajar alarm, remote opening, real time audit trail, passage mode activation for meeting rooms and automated low battery reporting.

'And not only that, but Ælement is also NFC (Near Field Communications) enabled so it was the perfect choice of product to work with the Boxbuild mobile device approach. This in-built technology gives the hotel the ability to continuously upgrade their security without having to upgrade their locks, saving them long term operating costs while providing the hotel with what it needs most ' total control.'

The Result
Summing up Gary Holmes says, 'To ensure the hotel's guests are secure during their stay with us and to compliment the design led ethos of the hotel brand, we wanted a stylish high performance locking system that not only looked good, but also offered us the latest technology and was capable of growing with us in the future. SALTO has provided us with all of this and more and we are already working with SALTO to roll out their Ælement smart locks across the Bloc Hotel brand.'