In this HNN virtual roundtable, industry experts discussed the future of hotel phones in guestrooms, the use of phones for back-of-house communications and changes in hotel phone technology.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Landline phones in hotels might still be necessary for emergencies, but many hoteliers are considering and using new methods of communication among staff and guests.
In this virtual roundtable hosted by Hotel News Now, hoteliers addressed the current status and future plans of phone systems in their properties, and ways to connect with guests via mobile.
1. When was the last time your hotel(s) upgraded the phone system? Will you upgrade in the future?
||Robin Koetje, information technology director, The Hotel Group: “We’ve upgraded as recently as last year for one of our hotels. Generally, it is done on an as-needed basis when it comes to PBX systems in the hotels. Sometimes if a hotel is acquired that has an older PBX that has been in the building for 20 to 30 years, you can expect that it is likely going to start having, or already has, issues. But the upgrade decision with phone systems is generally not a feature- or technology-driven decision, but based on need and avoiding outages for the hotel and our guests.”|
||Dominic Buompastore, VP of operations for full-service hotels and resorts, Hotel Equities: “Phone systems are typically purchased as part of new construction, full hotel renovation or rebranding. Unless our current systems become inoperable or no longer serviceable, we would not replace systems in our hotels.”|
||Vivek Shaiva, EVP and CIO, La Quinta Inns & Suites: “We have been upgrading our phone systems by property for the past six years and deploying them to a cloud-based hosted PBX system. All future upgrades are also going to our cloud-based PBX solution. We are no longer investing in a premise-based PBX at any of our corporate-owned hotels.”|
2. Since you’ve been with the company, how have you seen phone technology in hotels change?
|Robin Koetje, information technology director, The Hotel Group: “Functionally, phones haven’t changed much, but the technology behind them has improved in many ways. One is just the footprint of the PBX head-end system in the communication rooms. What used to be a full rack or two racks of gear, depending on the size of the hotel, now fits in one very compact rack-mount box right along with the rest of the hotel’s networking gear. There are of course improved features, especially from the administrative side of the hotel staff, with the abilities now for integrated voicemail with their email and more robust call-handling features.”|
|Dominic Buompastore, VP of operations for full-service hotels and resorts, Hotel Equities: “In-room phones serve the same purposes today as in the past. They are used much less for making calls outside of the hotel with the evolution of cellphones, but they are still the preferred choice of communication for internal calls: roomservice, dry cleaning, wake-up calls, guest-request items and room-to-room communications.”|
|Vivek Shaiva, EVP and CIO, La Quinta Inns & Suites: “We have seen two major trends. In 2007-2008 we started moving all of our corporate-owned hotels away from traditional POTS (plain old telephone service or analog) lines to VoIP solution, leveraging better and cheaper bandwidth. This resulted in significant savings. Later, we started moving some of the on-premise telecom solutions, like auto attendant, voicemail and PBX to cloud-based solutions that we worked with a provider to develop, test and deploy at our properties. This has enabled higher flexibility, better quality and lowered support costs due to the reduction of the technology footprint at the hotels.”|
3. Do any of your hotels use VoIP phone systems? Is it on your radar? Is it something to consider? What do you think the pros and cons of VoIP would be for your hotels?
|Robin Koetje, information technology director, The Hotel Group: “We use all VoIP phone sets for the administrative phones at the hotels, but for our portfolio, we still use the standard analog phone sets in the rooms. VoIP gives us great flexibility with the administrative phone network because we can simplify networking and cabling requirements for the office space. For the hotel guestrooms in our portfolio, the cost of VoIP phones in each guestroom just isn’t justified for the use they get. There are advantages to VoIP phones from a network management standpoint, but again, those benefits do not outweigh the cost for our hotels.”|
|Dominic Buompastore, VP of operations for full-service hotels and resorts, Hotel Equities:“Most existing systems in our hotels are not VoIP, but (for) any new system we put in, we will consider VoIP technology. Our decision will be based on the existing infrastructure and the price tag. We need to ensure that the cost of whatever system we chose makes sense for our market end user.”|
|Vivek Shaiva, EVP and CIO, La Quinta Inns & Suites: “Yes, we have been using VoIP at all of our corporate properties since 2007-2008 when we moved them to that platform. The pros are lower costs and higher reliability, and the con is the need for reliable circuits.”|
4. How has the role of phone systems for back-of-house communications evolved since you’ve been in the industry?
|Robin Koetje, information technology director, The Hotel Group: “When I started in the industry, there was no email, instant messaging or chat, just phones and radios. So yes, I’d say back-of-house communication has changed a lot. Obviously e-communication is much more prevalent, not just with email, but also with the ability to chat, text, instant message and see presence status with logins.
“I think the phone system still has its classic advantages though, especially for larger hotels with the staff spread out throughout the building. It can be easiest to just pick up the phone and call with a question if the phone is there. But as with everything, mobile has been taking over a lot of the internal communications for staff, including text and purpose-built apps for departmental communication, such as housekeeping or maintenance request systems.”
|Dominic Buompastore, VP of operations for full-service hotels and resorts, Hotel Equities: “The need for the traditional phone for back-of-house communications still exists. Depending on the size and complexity of the operation, the amount of use varies. There are other alternatives: cellphones, tablets, two-way radios or a more sophisticated system. Our hotels use a variety of all these tools depending in the asset.”|
|Vivek Shaiva, EVP and CIO, La Quinta Inns & Suites: “We have replaced the use of phone systems for back-office communications with a smartphone-enabled solution that is used by our housekeeping staff for communicating the status of a room and maintenance issues.”|
5. It’s a given now that guests bring their own mobile phones when they travel and don’t use guestroom phones as much. How does that trend affect how your company views the role of landline phones in guestrooms? For example, does it mean you might tend not to invest in technology upgrades for phones, or vice versa?
|Robin Koetje, information technology director, The Hotel Group: “We follow the brand standards for each hotel as it relates to the guestroom phone system. The guestroom phone is definitely not used as much as it used to be, but it also does serve some important functions for guests. Life safety is the obvious first thing that it needs to be there for. Landlines for calling 911 for any guest that may be in the room is critical.
“I do think the guestroom phone still has an important role for guests to communicate with the hotel staff as well, whether it’s simply ordering roomservice or calling guest services to ask questions, it will be the quickest and easiest way to make that call. While we are seeing more and more other avenues for making roomservice orders, such as through the TV, or the Web portal for the Wi-Fi system of the hotel, I think many guests still like the convenience of just picking up the phone and dialing the speed dial for guest or roomservice.”
|Dominic Buompastore, VP of operations for full-service hotels and resorts, Hotel Equities: “The guestroom phone will remain in hotel rooms for the distant future, but they will change to meet the mobile needs of our travelers. Some of the newer phone technologies include USB ports and Bluetooth speakers to work with guests’ personal devices.”|
|Vivek Shaiva, EVP and CIO, La Quinta Inns & Suites: “We have seen a dramatic decline in the use of guestroom phones at our properties. While we do continue to see a high percentage of reservations coming to our hotels via phone calls, the use of guestroom phones has declined and continues to do so. The primary reason we continue to deploy them is for local- and state-mandated 911 requirements. We believe that fast Wi-Fi is a much higher need than guestroom phones, and we have invested in our Wi-Fi in recent years.”|