Digital twins allowing hotels to enhance maintenance, improve user experience and kickstart metaverse offering

Through “Construction Columns” (a regular feature in our Hotels, Hospitality & Leisure newsletter) we want to showcase solutions within the construction industry that hotel & leisure projects can benefit from. We also want to put the spotlight on future innovations. A particular development I have been considering quite a bit over the last few months is that of digital twins. I can think of in any case three benefits hotels can gather from this: improving maintenance and circularity, improving the booking process and customer satisfaction, and kickstarting the offering in the metaverse. In this column I will share my journey to coming to these considerations.

What is a digital twin? It is a 3D digital copy, a replica, of an (existing) asset such as a hotel. It differs from Building Information Modelling (BIM) by being less focused on the design and construction phase, Instead, it seeks to replicate the usage of an asset.

A few months ago, I saw a digital twin of a bridge. This specific twin is geared towards improving maintenance of both that particular bridge and other similar bridges. The digital replica allows the owner of the bridge to continuously combine information on the design and construction of the bridge, in real time, with factual observations on the state of the asset (for instance gathered through sensors). This enables the owner to learn more about the bridge, its usage and its ever-changing need for maintenance. The owner can plot potential measures to the asset in the digital twin, such as corrective or preventative maintenance or improvements, and observe their expected impact. This eventually allows the owner to make more effective decisions regarding the asset, as it can better predict the impact of such measures through a combination of better quality and more up-to-date information on the one hand, and simulating potential measures on the other.

These are benefits not limited to just one bridge: obtain and combine data of a range of similar assets, and the predictive qualities of a digital twin will improve. The collection of big data for such assets is still in its early days, but it is on the rise.

Being able to make more effective decisions regarding the lifetime of an asset will allow for more cost effective upkeep. It also allows the owner to move from unplanned corrective maintenance to planned preventative maintenance. This allows for the possibility of downtime to be scheduled at moments of low usage rather than at inconvenient peak periods, thus improving availability and profitability.

Having up-to-date information on the asset will also allow for efficient harvesting once it has reached the end of its lifetime. If the owner is familiar with the composition and quality of the building materials that make up the asset, it can more easily plan for their reusage (either through recycling or selling to other parties). This contributes to a more sustainable asset, using fewer natural resources and reducing emissions, as well as improving its value.

A few weeks ago, I was on a holiday in a large newly built resort. When looking at the hotel rooms online, the information available was more than just a simple list of room size and available amenities. The website included a 3D interactive 360 degree model for each room. It allowed users to check whether the room had the size and furniture they need, whether it had proper wheelchair access, if a portable baby crib could fit in.

In the leisure sector, customer satisfaction is key to ensuring a steady flow of repeat business. An important way to ensure customer satisfaction is by meeting, and ideally exceeding, their expectations. This can be through simply providing excellent service, but the importance of setting the right expectations from the start should not be underestimated. We are all familiar with 3.5 star hotels that either present themselves as a 3 or as a 4 star hotel: your expectations are either exceeded (but the price charged is probably too low) or you leave slightly disappointed, feeling you overspent.

This does not only apply to leisure travellers. Event organisers and MICE (Meeting, Incentive Travel, Conferences and Exhibitions) travellers increasingly book online without having previously seen the hotel in person. Many simply rely on whatever information they can find online, for example information packages and online reviews. Being able to get a truly accurate feel for the hotel at a moment and manner that suits the customer will give them a better impression, and therefore improve their satisfaction.

And in a sector where cost management is important, an added benefit of a digital twin could be more effective training and deployment of personnel.

A few days ago, I was able to enter the metaverse. This particular metaverse provides for a digital replica of a workplace. It could be a digital twin of an existing asset. This metaverse is a workplace by a beach, with beautiful architecture. It has conference halls, break out rooms and coffee bars. It allows people to work together, almost as if they are physically in the same venue or even room: there are flip overs, walls where you can add inspirational quotes and screens to show presentations where you can present through an avatar. You can see who is there with you and bump into people you do or do not (yet) know.

While I was walking around through this metaverse, it was easy to see how hotels and other venues (or disruptive start-ups from outside of this sector) could start to offer digital MICE alternatives. Cheaper, more environmentally friendly, available to larger groups. Yes, you will need to make the coffee yourself (for now at least) and the interaction will never be as good as being able to look each other in the eye, but we have learned from the pandemic that such options can be good replacements for the real deal.

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