Belgium’s most automated hotel seeks balance between "high tech" and "high touch"

Uniqueness from Flanders

During Covid-19 pandemic, the A-Stay hotel could open to guests. The high tech, automated hotel in Antwerp does not have many employees working on site. The guests can do everything by themselves: book the online reservation, scan their ID documents, check in. Open the doors with the palm of their hands. Control the amount of room light and the curtains electronically. Get a snack at the bar at the corner “grab and go”. Leave their backpack ​ or suitcase in a locker. Do their own laundry on a machine. Choose a coffee touching a tablet. And… check out.

“To our knowledge, we are the only hotel in the world that has decided to do a hand scan for the check-in,” highlights A-Stay hotel manager, Dijana Sitte Buneta, to Belga News Agency. “We are pushing the boundaries, giving solutions that are not so typical; our lobby area is called the ‘playground’ and we want to be a playground for all the innovators, whether it’s in the sense of technology or any other guest experience,” she adds.

If the guest wants, in principle there is no need to talk to any hotel employee. “Thanks to modularity technology, you only pay for what you consume. This allows us to adapt the offer, in the rooms: you can change the light, the temperature, surf on streaming TV as you wish…"

Different voices

The focus is on the digitization of resources: check-in and check-out are done independently thanks to screens installed at the entrance. And after encoding the arrival in the connected computer, the guest can choose to screen the palm of his/her hand to open the doors or receive a card. For breakfast, being served by a human waitress seems to be something of the past. Now the guests may tick what they want on arrival and pick up a bag the next day from the equipped canteen. "Easy, fast and efficient," the hotel advertises.

The cutting edge technology idea came from Ben Van Loo, an Antwerp businessman who wanted to focus on the millennial age group. “But we didn't want to do technology in the name of technology, we very quickly identified the fact that new travelers want to serve themselves and be the architect of their stay,” details Dijana.

Sometimes, guests get confused with the machines and an employee sitting in the corner of the bar comes to help. The Swiss tourist, Ian, considered it a "futuristic fail". "The check-in takes twice as long because it’s automated, so staff still need to help every second person,” he said. Aurora, from Brussels, considered that the computerized check-in and check-out did not disturb her and her boyfriend. "It may surprise people who are not used to it, but the staff is there to help,” she said.

Other guests seem to love the automation. “It is a really new-tech hotel. Check-in was very easy. Room control was magnificent: so many variations of light control were stunning," said Agatha, from Poland. The French tourist Oceanne pointed out that the "innovative concept of a multi-purpose hotel (coworking, play and reading areas, sports hall), makes the hotel very lively".

Young travelers doing their own check-in at A-Stay’s self-reception in Antwerp © BELGA PHOTO (Viviane Vaz)
Young travelers doing their own check-in at A-Stay’s self-reception in Antwerp © BELGA PHOTO (Viviane Vaz)

The "capital of cool"

Before Covid-19, in 2019, the plan was to open several A-stays in the main world capitals. For the moment, that plan is “on hold” and the hotel remains only based in Antwerp, the city which inspired their concept. “Antwerp is a very lively city, the capital of cool, it speaks to the young generation,” says the manager. 

Dijana thinks they will have to continue innovating and listening to the guests. “We want to have a nice balance between high tech and high touch. Technology cannot replace humans, but it can help us, as staff members, to have more time for our guests," the manager considers.



© BELGA PHOTO (Viviane Vaz) Scan your hand and open your door room at A-Stay hotel in Antwerp

This article is part of the five-part series "Uniqueness from Flandres"






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