The future is contactless

Paul Smith of Häfele discuss how remote access control is central to the future of hospitality design, in a future which has to function with Covid

The announcement of a new national lockdown has added yet more strain on hospitality operators to review the changes they may need to make in order to reopen safely, once the time comes to lift Coronavirus restrictions again.

The notion of a ‘contactless society’ had become widely acknowledged before Covid-19. But the pandemic accelerated the need for hotel, bar and restaurant providers to implement remote access control systems into their buildings, and at pace. In the summer of 2020, it was these technologies – which minimised physical touchpoints and facilitated social distancing across hospitality and leisure settings – which better enabled the safe reopening of premises.

Now, in the face of another extension to closures, the industry must rethink how guests and customers will come to use their spaces in the future. Now more than ever, designers must enable clients to think about how hands-free technology can play a vital role in keeping users safe, while also contributing to design schemes which meet their expectations.

For example, some advanced door and furniture locking systems have Bluetooth connectivity, which works in combination with a third-party smartphone app to act as digital keys.

In hotels, this technology cleverly enables users to lock and unlock doors to their room, gym locker or furniture, while also seamlessly tying into hotel management platforms to allow for easier booking, ordering and paying for goods and services. In restaurants and bars, as well as communal areas such as hotel reception areas and meeting rooms, there is likely to still be a need to break up spaces to facilitate only small groups of people. Remote access door technologies which work in partnership with automatic sliding or swinging door systems, as well as flow control technology, limit the number of people who are granted access to a space at any one time, ensuring operators can easily meet social distancing regulations should they remain in place.

Attention must still be paid to ensuring that while buildings are made Covid-secure, they don’t fall down in other areas when it comes to safety. Holding doors open may improve ventilation and movement around a space and minimise ‘touchpoints’ of surfaces, but many are safety-critical fire doors. If held open without the correct products in place to close them in the case of an emergency, this poses a huge risk. One such product that can be used to keep fire doors held open safely is an electromagnetic hold-open door closer, which keeps doors open in a safe and compliant manner until an alarm is triggered; from that point, the power to the hold-open unit is cut and the door automatically closes, providing a barrier to the spread of fire.

For spaces where physical contact with handles and levers is unavoidable, ranges of newly configured door handles have been designed to facilitate use with an elbow, rather than with a hand. Meanwhile other ironmongery items have been manufactured using anti-microbial, natural materials, such as copper and bronze. These materials are EPA registered and could be used to minimise transmission of Covid-19, with copper ironmongery having previously been used to reduce the spread of MRSA and E. Coli.

The long-term impact of the coronavirus is forcing businesses to look at how to conduct large scale renovations using cost-efficient technologies, and suppliers that deliver value for money. Many manufacturers and distributors have quickly adapted to the new needs of the sector, to offer grouped product solutions which work in harmony to easily modernise hotel and leisure spaces at an efficient price tag. For example, several lighting, remote access and door solutions on the market complement one another, providing operators with sleek technology solutions that can be retrofitted to existing furniture, but which also create a more engaging experience with added elements of comfort.

Furniture lighting systems can be programmed in conjunction with remote access and door technologies to switch on and off as and when a user enters or leaves a hotel room, for example. Entirely app controlled, the guest can gain access then change the colour and brightness of a room, depending on their mood, time of day or activity, via their smartphone, minimising physical touchpoints and therefore the spread of bacteria.

When there’s such an urgent need to review the fit out of hospitality spaces, these technologies – that simultaneously improve health and safety but also create designs which will be relevant long after the pandemic has passed – are set to be in high demand.

The last 12 months have taught us that the world is subject to change, and at very short notice. However, there are several design and technology considerations and themes which look set to last the long haul. If operators choose to use the time available to them now – when travel and leisure are restricted once again – to make necessary changes to their environments, they will come to reap the benefits when guests return to their truly safe and future proofed spaces.

Paul Smith is head of specification sales at Häfele