China’s biggest app, WeChat, partnered with InterContinental to open a smart hotel in Shanghai that lets users book rooms, remotely check in, and use their phones as key cards — all without requiring human assistance. Once they’ve completed their reservation, travelers verify their identity at the hotel through facial recognition and collect their digital key card. Although the hotel is 88 feet underground, it’s connected enough to provide quick internet services, according to a press release it shared with The Verge.
WeChat and its parent company Tencent have been working on developing smart hotel experiences since 2014, but now it’s added facial recognition into the mix for faster identity checks. Traditionally, hotels in China require you to take a photo of your face and present government ID to be scanned and copied before you can enter your room. However, internet access offered by most hotels in China also remains restricted by the firewall enforced by regulators, and many Western hotel chains have stopped offering VPNs for free.
Through WeChat, travelers can also order room service, make payments, set air conditioning in the room, and adjust curtains and lighting. Breakfast vouchers are included in the customer data within the app, so you can just scan your face at the dining area to grab a meal. If you’ve booked an executive suite, there’s a 24-hour butler service that you can summon through WeChat. Similarly, check-outs are also done through the app.
WeChat has been integrated in many areas of commerce in China, including restaurants and shopping malls. The novelty with InterContinental is that WeChat has made turned its tech into an entire hotel experience and not just a quick transaction.
Smart hotels in China that are created through partnerships with tech giants like Baidu and Alibaba have also become increasingly common over the past year. But while Baidu may have popular smart speakers and Alibaba boasts superior robots and facial recognition tech, WeChat is still the country’s most popular app, offering a host of functions including cab-hailing and gaming. Last week, WeChat parent Tencent also inked a deal with Shangri-La, so more hotel locations with these in-app capabilities are expected to open soon.