LONDON—During a time when hotels and their guests want to remain as touch-free as possible, hotel vending machines could become obsolete.
VendEase, based here, has created a vending machine that can disperse items via smartphone, keeping the experience touch-free. While the usual fare of snacks and soda are available for purchase, items such as toiletries, personal protective equipment (PPE) and even alcoholic beverages are also featured offerings.
The machine has a 42-in., high-definition screen mounted on the front, which gives a wide range of product information, as well as space for hotel and/or third-party advertisements. This content can be replicated on guests’ smartphones by scanning a QR code on the machine with their cameras.
“The guests can use their phone to drill into the products they are interested in and then, should they wish, can purchase via their phone or by interacting directly with the HD touchscreen,” said co-founder Dave Berman.
For the purchase of alcoholic beverages, he noted, “When guests check into the hotel, they are given a four-digit PIN code, which unlocks the alcohol selections on the machine at the point of carrying out a transaction. Alternatively, if the machine is in proximity of reception, the machine can ask for front-desk authorization, which is achieved with a dedicated fob that the front-desk staff are in possession of.”
He added that the PIN code will only be issued to guests who satisfy the license conditions of that hotel and that the employee will only authorize an alcohol transaction if they are satisfied that the guest is the appropriate age.
Berman and co-founder Jonny Holmes got the idea for the vending machine while traveling on business trips for their previous jobs.
“We stayed in midrange hotels with no concierge service. If we had forgotten something—a toothbrush or deodorant, for example–we’d usually need to leave our hotel to buy it,” said Berman. “We were inspired by the success of vending in countries like Japan and the U.S., and came up with the idea of using vending machines in hotels to sell those essential items—just like a mechanical concierge.”
VendEase will work with the hotel to accommodate the items it wants to supply to its guests. “The property can offer whatever drinks it likes from its existing suppliers, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic,” said Berman. “It can also offer a range of snacks, ready-made meals and last-minute items should they wish.”
The portion of the screen that’s not used for dispensing those items can be used for hotel promotions or given to third-party service providers. “The hotel can offer relevant services such as local attraction tickets; day passes for gyms; and parking payment solutions, all of which can be purchased from the machine,” said Berman. “We are in discussions with various third parties who want to engage commercially with hotel guests where the property is willing to promote their services. The same is true for third-party advertising. Commercial brands see hotel guests as an attractive audience and the machine can use part of the screen for this purpose, giving the hotel a share of the advertising revenue.”
The machine comes with cloud-based telemetry software, which will give the property a full suite of management information including sales, profitability, pick list and maintenance reports.
According to Berman, VendEase takes 7.5% of revenue that is generated through the machine. “Included in this are credit card charges; full support and maintenance; and access to our cloud-based software system VendLive, which acts as a portal into all aspects of machine performance and management. The hotel takes all remaining revenue generated by the machine,” said Berman. “The hotel will get a full, three-year parts and labor warranty. The machine is fully supported so the hotel will have access to a support line to deal with simple issues. In the event of a major breakdown that cannot be rectified remotely, we will dispatch an engineer with the relevant parts.”
One of the first companies to purchase the VendEase alcohol dispensing machine is Malmaison, which will first install it in its hotel in Newcastle-on-Tyne, U.K., before a planned group-wide rollout. “This offering has arrived at the perfect time for us, and will work well alongside our existing F&B offering, allowing us to offer guests a great range of alcoholic drinks, 24/7,” said Paul Greenhalgh, procurement director at Malmaison. “As a result, we have been able to review our minibar offering, which has saved us considerable spend. This offer also closely aligns with our brand ethos, giving guests a valuable F&B experience.”
Other brands that either currently use or will be using the VendEase machine include Marriott and Premier Inn (without alcohol but with third-party services). “We are also in talks with IHG with regard to its Holiday Inn brand,” noted Berman. “Our intention is to roll the machine out across the U.K. and European hotel markets.”
VendEase is currently working on additional safety features such as a UV-C light beam that passes over all products to destroy viruses, which will be implemented later this year. HB