Jul 8, 2020

The in-room experience can set a hotel apart from its competitors. Enter smart lighting

By Bill Plageman

How Many Stars?The hospitality industry is one of the most competitive in the world, with new players like Airbnb only intensifying the challenges. As hotels vie against each other for customers and online reviews, their guests’ overall experience is most often the make-or-break-it differentiator. Indoor waterfalls, 24-hour fitness centers and five-star dining are great amenities, but research shows that devising an environment for a good night’s sleep should top the list.

That’s where a hotel’s lighting scheme comes in. Consider the following: A study by the Hotel School at the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University—which included more than 95,000 online reviews for 99 independent, high-end hotels—reported that guests cited a comfortable room as the most important quality of a stay. Still, many hotels fall short. One perennial complaint is inadequate sleep. Research from the Inter-Continental Hotels Group shows 80% of travelers have trouble sleeping. In fact, the average business traveler loses 58 minutes of sleep each night, averaging just five hours and 17 minutes of shut-eye. The leading cause: a “different environment.”

Today, hotels are under tremendous pressure to deliver the “wow” factor they need to impress guests, a cohort that has increasingly come of age during a time of technological transformation and, therefore, have developed behaviors and preferences that are much different from generations before. At home, these hyper-connected individuals use smartphones, wireless controls and virtual assistant AI devices, including Alexa and Siri, to control everything from their home’s security system to their TVs, coffeemakers and lighting—customization technologies they often leave behind when they hit the road.

A hotel design, which giftwraps visitors the same controllability of their guestrooms—including their lighting when they are traveling—can make the difference between slumping customer satisfaction and raving online reviews.

Hotel lighting has long proved instrumental in showcasing unique artwork and vernacular architecture. It gives a beautiful, distinctive character to restaurants and lounges, the right touch of flair to hallways and lobbies, and an Instagram-worthy radiance to pools and patios. Cold and dingy suites naturally come to life under a warm, inviting glow.

With today’s high-tech controls, light color rendering and tuning customization, especially with LEDs, is unrivaled. But those same controls now do more than just swathe guestrooms with alternating colors with the push of a button, a preset or a voice command. They may also help improve guests’ wellness, enhance their mood, minimize jet lag and make foreign places feel like home.

Contemplate the emotionally and physically uplifting power of light, as reported by Steven W. Lockley, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School: “Light can be a stimulant, directly alerting the brain or promoting sleep before bedtime, depending on the spectrum and intensity of light exposure. Having greater control of light exposure when traveling can help promote sleep at the right time or wake at the right time, preserving some sense of sleep normalcy when on the road.”

Enter tunable white lighting technology, which is light that complements our circadian rhythms and mimics the sun. The technology adjusts to our daily rhythms by automatically changing the intensity and color temperature of a space’s interior lights throughout the day. Brighter, cooler-toned lighting at a high intensity stimulates alertness and improves cognitive function by suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin. Dimmer, warm-toned light does the opposite. It encourages melatonin secretion and helps people relax. Guestroom automation and controls, via a touchscreen or pre-set, can literally put this into the guests’ hands.

Hotels worldwide are taking note. Several establishments now feature hyper-connected rooms with sensored lights that automatically turn on and off when the room is occupied, traditionally the moment keyless entry is initiated. This reduces unnecessary energy expenses. More importantly, it improves comfort. Consider how much more welcoming it is to have your guestroom’s foyer lighting fixtures turn on as soon as you open the door with arms full of bags, instead of stumbling in the dark trying to find a switch.

AI technology is also learning guests’ behaviors and preferences during their stay, banking the data so that it knows how to adjust the room’s various lighting fixtures—plus the room’s temperature and what station to have the TV tuned to, among other conveniences—when the guest returns.

In-room voice assistance devices are also serving as a personal butler. Wynn Las Vegas, for instance, reportedly integrated Amazon Echo to digitize its 4,000 rooms, offering guests total control over multiple room functionalities including lighting, temperature, TV and draperies—all by voice. Marriott International, meanwhile, is using AI assistants at its Aloft brand in Boston to do the same.

Designers at the Marriott’s AC Hotel Atlanta took another notable step to control its in-room daylighting. They installed IoT-powered smart glass windows that transition through tint states, providing the right amount of natural light depending on the time and day.

Another way to apply daylight-quality light is to do what InterContinental Hotels Group did in some of the rooms at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Airport: install mobile bedside light fixtures that double as task lighting. This allowed guests to reinforce the local sunrise and sundown patterns with blue-enriched light in the day and amber light at night. The lamps were adjustable, allowing guests to override the setting if needed.

In an ideal greenfield lighting project, a hotel would have each guestroom outfitted with a fully tunable light system for the optimal guest experience. Built into the room’s architecture, rather than a bedside add-on, this system would offer hassle-free settings for guests to promote alertness and sleep.

Guestrooms typically include task lighting (at a desk or bedside), mirror lighting, general ambient (windows and overhead fixtures), night lights, closet lighting and accent lighting. Incorporating tunable white lighting technologies into these lights elevates the guest experience.

Ideally, guests would be able to input their desired wake and sleep times and the lighting controls would do the rest with all the lighting in the room. Starting with a dose of bright and cool white light in the morning and warm white light in the evening, the lights would feature automatic and continuous color shifting. This set-it-and-forget-it option allows guests to acclimate to local time quickly, or to maintain their native time zone during a short trip. Guests should also be able to override the system and choose specific settings for their needs or preferences. For example, a default “sleep” setting would not be helpful to someone who needs to work late into the evening.

Whether for health or ambience purposes, the hospitality industry is amid a guestroom automation revolution. A hotel’s lighting design, and the controls they integrate, is now a must-consider factor for making guestrooms look good and its visitors feel well. This customizable approach cultivates thumbs-up reviews and gives tech-savvy guests what they want: comfort, control and a better night’s sleep.


Bill Plageman

Bill Plageman

Bill Plageman is the VP of Marketing & Product Development at Amerlux, an award-winning design and manufacture lighting company and is part of the Delta Electronics family of companies. Bill has more than 25 years of lighting industry experience. He has worked as a salesman,... More info »