Yotel New York: A Look at How Hotels Are Getting (Tech) Smart

by  Christine Wei | Jul 7, 2015

It was a late May weekend in New York City -- which meant heavy flash rains and muddy streets. Having just gotten into the swing of spring, I was woefully underdressed on my way to Yotel on Tenth Avenue. Thank heavens, then, that I could get my keys straight from a kiosk when I arrived at the hotel. Who ever wants to slink up to a check-in receptionist when they're dripping wet and completely disheveled?

That's just one of the many ways that Yotel has carefully designed a "smart" hotel stay, considering the perspective and mindset of travelers today. The brand first made a name for itself with three sleek airport hotels in London and Amsterdam, and it opened its first in-city property off of New York City's Times Square in 2011. With more hotels coming soon to cities like Brooklyn, San Francisco, Miami, and Dubai, we checked into the NYC location to get a sense of how exactly the Yotel's savvy tech focus is enhancing the guest experience.

Checking In & Checking Out
As referenced, the six automated kiosks make it easy to check in and out without a receptionist, and without the embarrassment that can sometimes come out of long flights, little sleep, and other travel plagues. Punch in your confirmation -- or use Yotel's app to scan your reservation barcode -- and you'll receive your key along with a receipt with directions for where to go next (the fourth floor, where you'll find elevators to the rooms, the Mission Control concierge desk, the restaurant, a gym, and more). At checkout, you'll receive an itemized receipt, and there's a slot in each kiosk for returning your key. And we hear mobile key cards are coming to the app, so that visitors may soon be able to forgo the kiosks entirely.

Yotel's room service setup was my second favorite feature, precisely because it's not quite room service. In-room dining really operates on a takeout model, in which you phone in an order to the onsite East & West restaurant for pickup. The restaurant gives your room a call when the meal is ready, too, so that you don't end up waiting around but can grab your food immediately, while it's fresh and hot. More to the point, I have to admit that I always internally cringe at the gratuity that's automatically added to traditional room service bills. While I recognize that it's the price you pay for convenience, I'd rather take five minutes to zip down to the restaurant myself and save a few dollars -- and that's what Yotel lets you do. The fact that prices are reasonable as far as dining in NYC goes -- $15 for a burger or pasta, $23 for teriyaki salmon, $6 for beer, and $15 for select 500ml boxes of wine -- doesn't hurt either.

It's high speed. And it's free, everywhere. Enough said!

Yotel's Smart Beds, by Christine Wei from ShermansTravel on Vimeo.

We all know how awful it is for our backs and necks to watch TV or read in bed, no matter how many pillows we prop up, but doing so practically seems a vacation requirement. That's why my favorite tech-y Yotel feature is the new adjustable SmartBed, which converts from a lounger to flatbed via remote in just a few seconds. Now available in all New York rooms featuring queen mattress, they're similar to the lie-flat beds on today's business and first class flights. They're much comfier, though, considering the mattresses are made by Serta -- the iconic mattress company that's partnered with the National Sleep Foundation as well as Hilton, the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and other hotels around the country. Plus, sitting up while you're not snoozing is better for sleep hygiene (habits and environmental factors that are conducive to sleeping well and regularly).

Luggage Storage
Here's the one feature that may be more entertaining than it is necessarily efficient: Yobot, the giant robot arm that stores your luggage. To use it, you dunk what you want to store in a bin on the opposite side from the kiosks, which Yobot then drags over to your designated cubby along a wall of storage spaces. When you're ready to claim your belongings, simply scan the barcode on your receipt. It's not really a faster process than dropping off bags at the concierge desk, since the one bot handles all customers, but the process is fun to watch, and Yobot does know exactly where your stuff is at.

Last Notes
For all of its automated smartness, Yotel doesn't forgo the human connection. To the right of the entrance, there's someone standing by to help in case you need assistance with the key kiosks or with Yobot. For everything else, the pleasant "mission control" crew on the fourth floor is on call 24/7, whether you're seeking some earplugs (complimentary) or traditional concierge services. Technology is all well and good, as long as we don't end up overcomplicating things -- and as long as we can easily still find live support when we need it.

Rates are the lowest in January and early February, from $129 per night. On the higher end, nights in March and April are in the low- to mid-$300s, while September and October can hit the upper-$300s. Otherwise, starting rates largely range between $189 and $249. Prices include a breakfast spread of coffee and muffins.

Yobot at Yotel New York, by Christine Wei from ShermansTravel on Vimeo.

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