Holograms at the Front Desk Replace Real People at Aiden by Best Western

Investing in holograms is bold and risky. But who knows? It may appeal to some guests. And, imagine all the social media posts.

 Justin Dawes

Media Coverage
Skift x Holoconnects

Holograms at the Front Desk Replace Real People at Aiden by Best Western

CIC Hospitality is opening 30 boutique Aiden by Best Western hotels in Scandinavia, but they won’t come with staff in the flesh and blood standing at the front desk. Instead, the front desks will be manned by holograms. The first hologram system, made by the startup Holoconnects, was installed last month into the new Aiden hotel in Herning, Denmark. BWH Hotel Group owns the Aiden brand, and CIC is the operator. 

The Holobox

After walking through the front door and past a motion detector, the guest is greeted with a pre-recorded hologram video that’s projected into a Holobox, the hologram box that is over 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide and contains a touchscreen that’s 86 inches tall.

The guest is then presented with options on the touchscreen, such as pre-recorded information about the hotel. The guest can indicate if help is needed from a live person, and then a customer service worker is able to connect remotely and appear as a hologram within the box. 

Having a hologram at the front could be passed off as a gimmick at first, but it plays into the operator’s long-term strategy of increasing efficiency while maintaining a personal touch, according to Thomas Furulund, operations manager for Oslo-based CIC Hospitality. That’s an issue the industry has been grappling with for years.

“Our main target is to have no administration tasks at the hotels. For customer satisfaction but also to operate our hotel more cost efficiently,” Furulund said. “Our on-site staff should basically play shuffleboard and drink coffee with our guests instead of doing the traditional tasks.”

CIC is posting a job soon for the first worker to be the hologram face for the company. CIC plans to install the boxes in eight Aiden hotels this year, with the aim to include them at all 30 Aiden hotels coming online in Scandinavia. The plan is that one staffer from a central location can answer emails and calls, and service hologram boxes as needed, for five hotels. 

Small Magical Moments

Furulund said CIC wants to create “small magical moments” for guests, but the practical use for them is even more important because of financial struggles and a hospitality workforce shortage following the pandemic. “You should not just buy tech to buy tech; there has to be a clear strategy behind it,” Furulund said. 

“I think it’s a balance between the five-star hotel and the ones that are fully automated. We are in between those segments. And for us, it’s important that we do not remove the human contact but try to be creative and find another way to have the human connection.”

Furulund was introduced to Holoconnects through a post on Linkedin. He emailed his manager at 3 a.m., and the conversation began. “We quickly decided that this is something for the future,” Furulund said. 

Andre Smith, founder and CEO of Holoconnects, got the idea for the tech with his partner and brother-in-law as a way for people to make hologram messages for their children and future generations. 

The hologram technologies they researched were dark and had poor resolution, inadequate for the vision they had. They started experimenting in a garage in the Netherlands, and after nearly 40 iterations, they designed a product to sell.  “We invested a ton of money; we did a lot of things wrong. But eventually, we got it right,” Smith said.

The final product is made with a combination of 20 existing components from several suppliers, which are then stripped and reassembled into the box product. The inside is lined with LED lights and contains concealed Bose speakers and several types of ports. “All those components together creates the feeling that someone is really standing inside of the box itself,” Smith said. 

With a lot of press about the product early on, Holoconnects has done most of its business in the events and entertainment sector, as well as with governmental agencies and other groups. CIC Hospitality is the first company in the hotel industry to implement the Holobox product, and Smith expects more business in this sector could be the key to unlocking recurring revenue for the startup. 

“Now, we are at the beginning of creating a sustainable business model, and that’s having live holograms in hotels,” Smith said. “Instead of ‘software as a service’, we are going to label it as ‘hologram as a service.’” The startup now has a specialized team that can scale the product quality and the business, he said. The startup is in discussions with other hotel groups, vacation parks, and airports in Europe and the U.S., as well as a facility management group and other companies for use in business meetings.

Holoconnects is also in conversation with Arribatec, which makes hotel check-in kiosks and other software, about integrating hotel check-in into the Holobox touchscreen. “So that you just have one big unit where you can do everything inside the unit itself,” Smith said.

The future vision is that guests could check in and open the door with a smartphone, and the hologram could then greet the guest by name and release the room key. For CIC Hospitality, Furulund expects the company will place the product in other hotels it owns throughout the world after testing is done in Scandinavia.  “I’m confident that the technology will succeed and this will be the future in maybe 5 to 10 years,” Furulund said. “But we would also like to be the first one out in the Scandinavian markets, in Europe, and even the world to have a live connection receptionist as a hologram.”

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