When someone thinks of Premier Inn, there’s a good change they’ll think of budget (overwhelmingly purple) rooms without the thrills and spills. People expect a bed and a shower but there are many things they don’t expect. Say, for example, virtual reality walls, Apple Watch apps and the latest in smart TV technology.
But that’s exactly what I got when I checked into the chain’s latest hotel in Covent Garden, conveniently situated in the heart of London’s theatre land and just two minutes walk from Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square.
The “hub by Premier Inn” hotel is all about technology and practicality.
The hotel industry has been relatively slow to adopt new technologies compared to other sectors. Even when guests pay hundreds of pounds per night, they are usually left with a technological experience inferior to what they get at home.
But technology is now deeply engrained into today’s society, which is why many people will welcome chains like Premier Inn, the UK’s largest hotel brand with more than 50,000 rooms across approximately 690 hotels, embracing the latest trends.
When I arrived at the hub, I was greeted to a brightly lit lobby complete with three check-in terminals (not dissimilar to those that have become commonplace in airports) and a large white and green map of London printed on one of the walls.
I entered my name, agreed to a few Ts and Cs and a room key was dispensed into a tray just below below the screen. All very quick and efficient. I was also given an Apple Watch for my stay and informed it may come in useful (sadly the watch doesn’t come as standard).
I took the neon-lit lift up to the fourth floor, pressed the room key against the electronic card reader and stepped into a small, yet stylish room. Although compact, the room makes good use of the limited space available, with two large storage units under the bed for a suitcase and any other belongings you might have. There’s no wardrobe or drawers but there is a small rail with a few hangers on it and a shelf above. There's also another map on the wall done in the same style as the one downstairs in the main lobby.
Connecting to the wi-fi network was relatively easy as it was devoid of any of the frustrating login processes that are commonplace in so many hotels these days. Once connected, I downloaded the free hub app onto my iPhone and synced it with the Apple Watch Sport that I had been provided.
During my stay, the iPhone app became my hotel access key, bedroom door key, TV remote, light dimmer, air conditioning remote, and restaurant menu, among other things.
There’s also an area-guide on the app known as "Explore", which comes with built in vitural reality functionality. This meant I was able to point my iPhone camera at the map on the wall and find out more information about London neighbourhoods that piqued my interest by selecting them on the iPhone screen. While fun and good for orientation pruposes, I'd probably advise those who aren't familiar with London to bring a Lonely Planet guide for back up.
As you might expect, the hub Apple Watch is more limited in terms of its functionality. It’s limited to controlling the TV channel, the light intensity and the temperature. Despite this, I still found the Apple Watch app to be one of the slickest third-party apps on the device.
All this combines to make the hub hotel one of the most internet-connected hotels in London.
But you're probably thinking do I really need all this connectivity? Do I need the power to control all these things directly from a phone or a watch? What’s wrong with getting out of bed to hit that light switch and finding the various remotes to control various things? That’s what I thought initially. However, I soon realised that having everything in one place is very handy, particularly when that place is your mobile phone (or your watch) as this is the one thing that rarely strays too far from people’s sides, or bed pillows for that matter.
I suspect it's be a matter of time before other hotels start building their own apps and connecting a whole range of hotel room objects to the internet.