With more than 25 years of experience in hotel management across the United States, Suzie Yang is working with her new hotel team to create a reimagined guest experience that seamlessly incorporates thoughtful technology with personal service where human interaction is a priority.
Working and staying at Lake Nona Wave Hotel, Lake Nona, Florida, scheduled to open this fall, will be like stepping into an episode of the Jetsons. Managed by CoralTree Hospitality, Greenwood Village, Colorado, the hotel will have View Smart Windows that tint using predictive intelligence in response to the sun and weather; sanitizing light solutions; voice-automated in-room controls; interactive art installations, including a kinetic chandelier and digital art; and access to the nation’s largest fleet of autonomous shuttles.
Dubbed “The Future of Cities,” master-planned Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida, is being developed by the local Tavistock Development Co. and is shedding light on innovation like self-driving vehicles, flying taxis, smart houses and robotic lawn mowers. It is home to the Lake Nona Performance Club (Dr. Deepak Chopra’s exclusive mind-body zone and spa, opening in mid-July) and now Lake Nona Wave Hotel with its 216 guest rooms, 16 one-bedroom suites and two penthouse suites designed to be the living room of Lake Nona, a 17-square-mile destination dubbed “a smart city with soul.”
Now it is Yang’s job to make this hi-tech, hi-touch mashup work. HOTELS recently interviewed Yang to better understand how, in her mind, the definition of innovation in hospitality is evolving.
HOTELS: What is the anticipated ADR? What is the anticipated average spend for guests once on property?
Suzie Yang: Our starting rates will range from the mid to high US$200s. The anticipated spend will vary depending on the type of guest. For a corporate traveler, their average length of stay will be shorter than a leisure guest. We will also have stand-out food and beverage offerings at the hotel so we anticipate guests will also spend time exploring each of the restaurants.
H: What about your past experience is best serving you in this unique, new setting?
SY: My passion has always been in managing and leading teams in independent lifestyle hotels. It allows me to be more creative and adapt the services and hotel amenities to what customers expect and want. I tend to get restless if everything is the same and I can’t put a twist on things, which lends itself perfectly to a destination like Lake Nona that is at the forefront of innovation.
H: How do you teach service differently in such a hi-tech environment?
SY: The key is to find team members who adapt easily and are naturally curious. That curiosity lends itself to the innovative tech features we’ve weaved into our guest experience. Putting a team in place that innately leans into technology allows us to ease into the learning process more easily, since they already have vast knowledge of the basics in tech. The goal then becomes to simply enhance the skills they have already honed – making way for more innovation and creativity.
H: How do you balance hi-tech with hi-touch points with guests?
SY: Technology can’t replace the human interaction. We all learned in 2020 that humans crave interaction and connection. At Lake Nona Wave Hotel, we are using technology that allows our guests and team to connect with each other and have more time to do the things they are passionate about.
H: Wellness and hi-tech usually don’t mix. Can you explain how the two co-exist without too much friction?
SY: There’s been a seamless synergy between the two throughout this process. Our team carefully selected tech-forward features that all serve a common purpose – to enhance the guest experience.
Honing in on wellness, we have weaved in subtle touches throughout the hotel that can ultimately improve a guest’s well-being – such as View Smart Windows that automatically tint windows to reduce eyestrain, headaches and drowsiness; or electric autonomous shuttles with zero emissions. It’s also been helpful to see how Lake Nona as a destination has been able to fuse the two together. For example, the community is home to a 650-acre health and life sciences hub featuring the nation’s top hospitals, universities and research institutions where wellness and tech work together; the newly opened Lake Nona Performance Club with the world’s only Chopra Mind-Body Zone and human performance labs; and WHIT, a first of its kind home designed with tech-forward features that promotes sleep, relaxation, mental health, and nutrition including hue lighting, health metric monitors, mobile apps and equipment for at-home exercise, and more.
H: Is this concept for everyone? It seems to be more geared to a much more youthful guest.
SY: Our hotel is well balanced and offers quite an array of offerings, no matter the guest’s preferences. We offer access to the newly opened Lake Nona Performance Club for those interested in focusing on their wellness through Deepak Chopra’s programming; custom art installations and experiential pieces for guests more so interested in art and culture; several food and beverage venues with an award-winning culinary team at the helm for our foodies; self-driving shuttles for those looking to explore the destination; and a vibrant pool deck for those wanting to lounge and relax in the sun. No matter their interest, guests can find a nook within the hotel that’s the right fit for them.
H: Your team is free for hi-touch, so what will become their focus based on the unique hotel environment in which they are operating? Can you offer some specifics examples?
SY: Our goal is to have our team engage with our guests more so than a typical hotel. With the tech features we have in place, it frees up their time to connect with guests on a more personal level. For example, rather than keeping our living room hosts team behind a desk, they are given free rein of our lobby space to mingle and make connections with each guest; this is a result of our arrival process – where guests can opt to check in via our mobile app, or kiosks.
H: And because we are coming out of such an unprecedented moment in time, how do you think your team needs to best interact with guests?
SY: Our team will be mindful of how a guest wants to interact, which is why we have several platforms for connection. Whether they prefer in-person or via text, app, or email, we can make it happen.
H: What are you learning personally from this new experience? Or what is surprising you?
SY: I’m ecstatic about how our ownership values investing in technology so we can truly redefine what travel and the guest experience is like. I’m learning that the key to success when creating a new experience like that at Lake Nona Wave Hotel is to always remain open-minded, strive for excellence, and challenge the way things have traditionally been done.
H: What is your message to the hotel world, your contemporaries about your new experiences and the takeaways?
SY: Always keep guests at the forefront of your decisions. When you truly set your mind to taking the travel and guest experience to a level it’s never been before, it is incredible to see what your team is capable of conceptualizing and executing. Through our talented team and industry-leading partners, we are launching a product that will be the first of its kind and we can’t wait for travelers to become familiar with Lake Nona and Lake Nona Wave Hotel.
H: Is this concept more of an outlier, a unique hotel experience, or do you truly feel you are on the cutting edge of what will become the norm? And if it is eventually going to become the norm, how long will it take?
SY: We believe we are on the cutting edge of what will become the norm. More than ever, travelers are looking to customize their trips and create a one-of-a-kind experience that they won’t forget; technology is the key to making this happen. Our mindset and mission allows them to make choices they weren’t able to before – from how they’d like to check in and customize their room upon arrival to elevating the usual hotel fitness center and offering access to a new kind of comprehensive establishment with a human performance lab, sound healing and more. Technology is the cornerstone in everyone’s personal and professional lives and we see our hotel as being the future of travel today.