Mobile devices, apps change how in-room phones are used
Mobile devices, apps change how in-room phones are used
04 OCTOBER 2017 12:28 PM

It’s now possible for hotels to communicate with guests via smartphones and mobile apps, which has led to some different thinking about how in-room phones should be used.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As hotel companies continue to enhance their mobile and online communications capabilities with guests, in-room phones are being reduced to a safety feature—to be used in case of emergency.

Most hotels still have in-room telephones, but sources said their usage and capabilities are likely to change in the near future.

LBA Hospitality used to require its properties to have two phones in each guestroom—one by the bed and one on the desk, said COO Farrah Adams, but that’s changed.

“As brand standards change, we have dropped the number of phones from two per room … to only one (by the bed),” she said. “They currently have programmed buttons for various areas of the hotel. Likely, this will not be needed in future years if the hotels are communicating with the guests on their mobile devices (through) apps.

“Smartphones and other mobile devices are definitely changing the way we communicate to our guests,” she added. “With the ability to push notifications to the guest, there are several items in the room (phones) that we could potentially remove.”

In-room phone features that may no longer be needed, Adams said, include guest-services directories and the ability to relay messages regarding activities and amenities, including sustainability initiatives such as a recycling program.

While some hotel companies are doing away with standard in-room phone features, companies such as Hilton are enhancing them.

“There has been a significant shift toward providing phones with a digital interface, driven by our desire to make phones as simple and user-friendly as possible,” said Randy Gaines, Hilton’s SVP of operations, new development, Americas. “At one of our newest properties, Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hilton, the phone has a screen with options to enable you to very easily request a wakeup call, set an appointment at the spa or report a problem in the room.”

Do hotels need an in-room phone?
Best Western Hotels & Resorts SVP and COO Ron Pohl said in-room phones are still necessary in emergency situations.

“It seems as if the industry is trying to find a way to eliminate phones in guestrooms, and while I agree guestroom phones are rarely used, it is a necessary and important safety and security amenity,” he said. “Although we are evolving with text messaging capabilities, there isn’t an acceptable or easy solution for emergency purposes.”

He added that in-room phones are also helpful on the operations side because “they are efficient in providing housekeepers and staff with room status updates.”

The primary function and design of in-room phones will continue to evolve, but Gaines said they’ll always be an essential safety element and means of customer service.

“We’re in the business of hospitality and no matter how smart your phone gets, there is a customer-service component,” he said. “We always want our guests to know they can pick up the phone and have someone ask, ‘how may I help you?’”

Lark Hotels, meanwhile, has eliminated in-room phones at most of their properties.

“We live in a world now where hardly anyone leaves home without a mobile device of some sort, so we use it as an opportunity not to overcomplicate,” said Meg Butcher, director of hotels at Lark Hotels. “At check-in, we like to make the personal connection, get to know our guests' needs, and we set them up with our insiders’ perspective on the ‘must-dos’ while they’re with us. They will always know how to get in touch with us.”

She added that this personal connection negates the need for a “big, fancy phone system with lots of buttons that direct you to lots of different departments to find what you want.”

“Guests can call our main hotel line from a mobile device, and will likely talk to the same person who checked them in and who is genuinely interested in making every stay more enjoyable,” she said.

As a result, Butcher said she believes the standard guestroom phone will become obsolete at some point.

“In an age where many people would rather text, or have some autonomy, I think you’ll be able to ‘chat’ with a staff member at any time either using your own device or using one of theirs,” she said. “Additionally, I think with the launch of so many great concierge apps, calling from your mobile device will be easier than searching for the right character button on the in-room phone.”

Staff communications
Some companies, such as La Quinta Holdings, are even moving away from the standard landline phone for back-of-house communications.

La Quinta EVP and CIO Vivek Shaiva said the company’s hotels use a mobile-operating platform, which allows the front desk, housekeeping, maintenance and other back-of-house staff members to communicate via smartphone to keep operations running as smoothly as possible. 

The same platform, Shaiva said, will be used to enhance the guest experience.

“We are currently piloting a program that enables the guest to communicate directly with the front desk or housekeeping via text message using that same MOP platform,” he said. “It’s in the very early stages, but we believe it will help us deliver an even better guest experience.”

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