I quite firmly believe I was born in the wrong century. I look upon our modern practices and wonder what people from several hundred years hence would think. I’m still waiting for personal jetpacks, thought controlled flying cars and teleportation. While sometimes I’m amazed at what technology can do, I’m still annoyed that I can’t control my computer by flailing my arms wildly in the air, Minority Report-style.
It was with anticipation when I went to New York a few months ago and checked into the hotel of the future. Well, maybe the ’70’s version of the future with stark white lacquer furniture, curvilinear design elements and purple neon bias lighting.
There is one common element about Manhattan hotels – they are pricey. So, with that key decision factor removed, I’m left to choose via some other means. Here was a hotel that was at least unique and interesting. The Yotel trades space for design. With transforming furniture and clever packaging, it fits more rooms into a smaller space, and presumably trades it for better design.
Upon walking into the lobby, we are greeted by people who direct us to kiosks for the automated check-in. The kiosks have a touchscreen interface and work like the check-in terminals at the airport. There are two flaws. First, the process requires some guidance from the human help. While the kiosk UI lacks any noticeably annoying features, the notion of checking in via terminal is still a bit strange to the casual visitor. Hence, there is human help to tell us what to do. Automated, it tries to be, but it’s not.
Second, the room keys do not magically shoot out from the kiosks themselves. They need to be picked up at the 4th floor reception area. This is a fail. In theory, I should be able to check-in and proceed directly to my room, without any assistance.
The next destination is Mission Control on the 4th floor landing. All the elevators from the ground floor go directly there, so there is no chance of misdirection. There is a reception desk that basically functions as the reception area of a regular hotel. We pick up our keys here and proceed to another bank of elevators that lead to the actual rooms in the hotel. It’s around the corner and entirely non-obvious to the first time visitor. There is a restaurant and lounge on this floor, as well as a large patio.
The decor of the hotel and the room is IKEA-meets-Starship Enterprise. It’s both retro and futuristic with some overtly cheeky design elements. For instance, all the maps posted on the wall (e.g. the ones that show you where the ice machine and fire escapes are) are mapped in a hex grid. It makes you feel like you’re in moving around in a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
The room is small, but cleverly designed. The wall unit is inset into the wall, with the tv, an audio connector and some bungee-restrained cubbies for vertical storage of traveller’s flotsam. The bed converts to a couch, futon-style, but at the press of a button. Or rather, a long hold of a button – there is no one-touch command like a car window. I suppose it’s a safety measure to prevent small kids from getting eaten by the furniture, but they have pressure sensors to prevent that sort of thing, don’t they?
There is a glass partition separating the sleeping/living zone, from the washroom zone. It’s obvious that this saves some floor space, but you’d better be very familiar with your roommate. There is a curtain for privacy. However, curtains are not sound proof and this is a problem. Some bathroom noises are never intended for sharing.
Pro tip of the day: once you hear something, you can’t unhear it.
The human-based service was mostly a miss. Calling the desk for requests like towels took repeated attempts. Calling? Really? By voice? Can’t I tweet @Yotel to clean room 1451 #RFN? At minimum, there should be a tv-based web interface to handle common requests.
Worse, their shipping department could not hold shipments successfully, nor could they call me what happened to the packages I had shipped to the hotel. If Amazon had not been instantly willing to ship items on their dime to my home in Canada, I would have been furious. A second shipment to the hotel, which arrived after check-out met with equal mishandling. Even after leaving my credit card and address with their staff, they promised to ship it, but they never did.
Speaking of automation, the robots here do work correctly. The Yobot, located in the lobby, is gigantic luggage stowing robot. You drop you luggage into a container, which is then laser scanned for obstructions and transported with many flashing lights and pomp and circumstance to a huge 20ft high locker grid. It worked well, and is no more time-consuming than a single haggard bellhop moving luggage back and forth and far more entertaining. I hadn’t thought of it before, but giant robots really are cooler than small ones like my Roomba.
Overall, this place has promise. Just keep the humans out of the loop.