Q&A: EV Hotels’ vision to serve “technology travelers”

A “Crypto Ballroom” in a hotel? An NFT of Super Bowl quarterback Patrick Mahomes on sale in a guestroom? These are a sampling of the ideas that drive Ken Patel, the founder and CEO of EV Hotels, which bills itself as the first smart hotel brand with experiences in crypto and NFT.

While the Atlanta-based company doesn’t have any properties open yet, a project underway in Phoenix that could open before the end of the year and another in the Dominican Republic that may open next year will give Patel the opportunity to put into effect his vision for revolutionizing the hospitality industry with technological innovations.

We talked with him about what this means for the customer and back-office experience, a new brand of loyalty program and how legal troubles for the crypto firm FTX affect his plans to include a “Crypto Ballroom” in the chain’s properties. The conversation has been edited for brevity.

Maybe you could start by describing what visitors with the EV Hotels app can expect even before they’ve stepped into the room.

When we use an airline, we don’t have to go to the front desk, unless you’re physically checking in your bags. … If you wanted a simple experience, now you’re going straight to the security gate. That has been my focus, to replicate what the airline business looks like. … Twenty-four hours prior, the guest has already paid for their room, they’re going to have their digital key, they’re going to have their room assigned, they’re going to say, “This is what time I’m going to arrive.” Based on that, two hours prior, they get a message: “Did you want any food in your room? What temperature do you want your room to be? Is there anything extra you need?” All these things are already done now. … They own the room now. This is their room.

EV Hotels founder and CEO Ken Patel

EV Hotels founder and CEO Ken Patel

Once in the room, you plan to greet guests with a host of smart devices, including Amazon Alexa, showers that users can set the temperature in advance, toilets where the seat can be opened and closed by phone – what am I missing?

Our own bathroom mirror can mirror your exact phone to what you’re doing on it while you’re getting ready. It’s all integrated with this one app that controls all of these things. You can tell Alexa I want to check out, I want to extend my stay, I need service. You have everything that you need. No longer do you have to dial zero and call the front desk for it.

These rooms aren’t for everybody. What type of traveler do you expect to see?

We’re so used to BT and LT – business traveler or leisure traveler. As the world evolves, we need a new segment, and it’s the technology traveler. They already know technology. It’s a combination of your business traveler and your leisure traveler.

You’ve spoken of using technology to eliminate task-driven roles in hospitality. How does EV Hotels’ approach apply toward property management?

We’ve created the first all-in-one software: a mobile PMS [property management system], back-office operations and contact-less technology. We’re not dealing with any PMS vendor; it’s our own PMS. It can be operated in three different areas. … All of the smart devices we’ve created creates an automation for the employees. Employees aren’t checking in anybody. They’re not taking any payments. If you go to the lobby, the employees that are there are only there to service the guests that are coming in. To show them the amenities, if they need help with anything. … No longer does an engineer have to do a PM (preventive maintenance inspection) anymore. If you took a hundred-room hotel, you’re saving 800 hours in a year. When I look at technology in our industry right now, it’s a broken system. It’s a Band-Aid system. … Take a mobile key system where you still have to go to the front desk and show your ID to get it activated. I want to avoid the guests going to the front desk so they can go straight to the room. We’ve solved those issues. We’ve got the ID verification, the payment verification, all of these things are done 24 hours prior or whenever they reserve the room and pay for it.

Talk about your ideas on enhancing revenue.

We’ve created the first ever trade floor inside of a hotel, like the New York Stock Exchange. That’s a partnership with Ten-X, a crypto exchange. On our crypto trade floor, that’s where you can buy, sell or trade crypto. We have an NFT lobby and NFT guestrooms. You have a digital art gallery in your lobby that people will be able to buy these NFTs. The higher portion of the NFTs will be in the guest rooms. Like, we would put a Patrick Mahomes [NFT] in the guestroom, and now that guestroom sells anywhere from, say, $100,000 to a quarter of a million dollars a night. Whoever chooses to stay there gets that Patrick Mahomes NFT, and then they can re-sell it or keep it. It almost becomes like a digitalized trading card. These are things we’ve focused on. 

I understand you have a new way to help market the hotels …

One of the processes we’ve changed is the loyalty program. The [industry’s] loyalty program has been the same exact way for years, decades probably. We’ve created an NFT membership program. We have a three-tiered program. It’s a pre-buy system. You buy, say, a $7,000 package, they’re going to get 14, 15 room nights … and other perks that are included in this. You need to have an EV Hotel NFT to have access to the crypto trade floor. … The value is much higher than what they’re [paying]. … This thing is being launched in the next 30 to 60 days. It’s great that people are going to see what this is all about. It’s got value behind it. You’re not buying something in thin air. The hotel is going to open. Now you have an opportunity – any NFT that you buy, you have the opportunity to sell at a higher value. That’s what they’re able to do. They understand this is going to be a higher value than what the current NFT value is. 

During last year’s Super Bowl broadcast, viewers saw adds for four different crypto firms. This year, following FTX’s bankruptcy filing and criminal charges against founder Sam Bankman-Fried, there won’t be any crypto ads. So a lot has changed in a short time. Has any of this affected your plans for incorporating crypto into the chain’s business model?

For us, it’s not really that big of a deal. We have our own exchange. We have our own [crypto] wallet. … The crypto markets, the government policy has to be brought in, and that’s what they’re doing now. The FTX collapse, at the end of the day, you’re going to have two or three, no more than 10 exchanges that are legitimate. This is what’s going to happen. The market’s not going anywhere. … You’re going to have more legitimacy. It’s going to be more real now that you’re taking out these bad apples. It had to happen. … If there was going to be a collapse, you’d have already seen that collapse. … People still believe in the crypto. 

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