In the competitive – not to mention crowded – world of hospitality, standing out from the competition and convincing both business and leisure travellers that you have something different to offer can be a tough ask for hotel companies. BLOC Hotels has managed to do just that – and in some style – at Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal, as Risk UK reports.
BLOC Hotels opened its first guest premises in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter back in 2011. This has since been well received across the city, with the hotel’s small but perfectly formed rooms bringing a touch of class to the low-cost hotel concept by effectively offering four-star standards at two or three-star prices.
In March 2014, the company opened a second property, this time at the aforementioned Gatwick Airport. Establishing a niche by taking the hotel room to be a blank design, BLOC Hotels has stripped out all of the stuff residents don’t need while upgrading the finish around all of those elements they do require.
Starting from just £59, rooms are offered at a competitive price with everything booked, accessed and controlled by the very latest in smart technology.
BLOC Hotels employed hospitality specialist Boxbuild to design, procure and fit-out the physical rooms and to provide the smart technology solutions upon which the hotel runs. The key to success is that the individual hotel rooms are built off site in pre-fabricated kits. They’re then delivered to site and rapidly assembled.
High quality, long-lasting materials are used so there’s no plastering or painting needed. In turn, this hastens the fit-out process and provides a long-lasting space that requires little maintenance. Bathrooms are modular and so simply fit into place and connect to power and water.
The end result? A uniform but practical and contemporary room space that perfectly suits the needs of the modern business or family traveller.
The Gatwick Airport project
The hotel at Gatwick Airport is spread across five floors with 245 rooms divided into standard, business and executive-level offerings. There are five disabled-friendly rooms per floor.
The structure is located in an old renovated office block built above the airport with Main Reception located inside the South Terminal just a few short steps away from Departures. The North Terminal is only a couple of minutes away and accessed by a free monorail service.
One of the key factors making the BLOC Hotel a unique offering beyond its quick-build construction techniques, contemporary styling and great location is the adoption of integrated smart technology that runs every aspect of the hotel at every level.
According to recent research conducted by HRS, guest demand for the use of smart phones, tablets and corresponding apps as part of their hotel experience is increasing at a rapid pace. The new research surveyed 4,377 users and finds that 44% of guests from the UK would like the use of a tablet PC in their room, while 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 comprehensive survey also reveals that business travellers in particular are looking for a home-from-home experience when it comes to the use of all forms of smart technology while resident inside their hotel room.
“Research such as this is encouraging as we know the hospitality industry is exploring the use of smart phones 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 in this way,” explained Gary Holmes, managing director of Connected Hotels (the technology division of Boxbuild).
“The technology we’ve delivered for BLOC Hotels goes far beyond just offering free smart TVs, free Wi-Fi and super-fast broadband. In truth, 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 the operation of the live hotel environment.”
Focusing on room access
Holmes then looked in detail at room access. “We assessed 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,” he said. “If you look at the door locking systems a lot of other hotels are still using today, they’re big, bulky and, in many cases, downright ugly. Often, they run on old-fashioned swipe card technology because it’s cheap. In some cases, guest security isn’t always the highest priority. We’re determined to be different here.”
The strategy is focused around the use of mobile apps that are free for guests to download from the Apple AppStore or Google Play. It’s then possible to tap into developments such as Near Field Communications or Bluetooth Low Energy so that the guest’s own smart phones become not only their room key, but also their wallet and remote control device as well.
“Armed with this complete digital experience,” continued Holmes, “guests can book a room, check in and use their smart phone as their electronic room key. Once in the room, a passive infrared sensor detects their presence and turns on the lighting and, if they so wish, sets the air conditioning to a preferred temperature.”
The same app then enables the smart phone to control room features such as lighting, electric blackout blinds and the smart LED television.
Each room at the Gatwick Airport hotel also has a dedicated Samsung Galaxy Tablet in situ to provide in-room controls. The tablets feature a very simple interface such that guests of any age or technical ability can use the features of the room without downloading the app.
Locating the right locking solution
In terms of the locking solution for each room, Holmes stated: “Finding a room lock that could work with this technology and to our high standards involved a fairly short search as many manufacturers’ offerings were simply not up to the job. This led us to SALTO. The company has great experience of wire-free and wireless access control technology and an established reputation as a developer of advanced security solutions for the hotel and hospitality sector. After listening to what we needed and the solution we wanted to achieve, SALTO recommended its Aelement hotel lock as being the right technology for the Gatwick Airport project.”
Darren Keating, national account manager for the hospitality sector at SALTO, told Risk UK: “We pride ourselves on delivering the things that matter to our clients, among them the best possible design, technology and system features.”
Keating went on to state: “Aelement has been developed with the needs of hotels in mind and features a range of hospitality-specific applications, among them 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 BLOC Hotel at Gatwick Airport 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 trails, passage mode activation for meeting rooms and automated low battery reporting.
“Aelement is also Near Field Communications-enabled so it was the perfect choice of product to work with the Boxbuild mobile device approach,” asserted Keating. “This in-built technology allows the hotel’s management team to continuously upgrade security without having to upgrade the locks. This saves on longer term operating costs while also providing the hotel with what it needs most. In other words, total control.”
Summing up the project, Gary Holmes explained: “To ensure the hotel’s guests are secure during their stay and to compliment the design-led ethos of the BLOC Hotel brand, we wanted a stylish and high performance locking system that not only looks good but also offers the latest technology complete with the capability for further development. SALTO has provided all of this and more. Now, we’re working with SALTO to roll out its Aelement smart locks across the Bloc Hotel brand.”