In-room smart tech continues to evolve at hotels
 
In-room smart tech continues to evolve at hotels
09 MARCH 2016 12:51 PM

Guests continue to expect all the modern “smart” features they enjoy at home to also be available in guestrooms when they travel. While this is constant, the specific amenities they seek are rapidly evolving.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Today’s travelers are changing the long-pervasive notions of what hotel customers desire in their guestrooms, according to hoteliers and hospitality tech experts. Many customers still seek the same “smart” amenities they experience at home, but sources indicated there’s a marked difference in what those features are, as well as their varying levels of importance.

The biggest shift is the move beyond just automated in-room features—such as custom climate control and lighting—which are becoming mature, fairly common features everywhere. Instead, the focus is now moving squarely to keyless entry, room-controlling

mobile apps and amenities such as in-room entertainment, particularly streaming media, as guests increasingly attempt to bring their personalized media content on the road.

“It’s pretty simple: Guests crave personalization,” said Brian McGuinness, global brand leader of specialty select brands for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. “They want to be able to have the temperature in their room set exactly to their liking. They want the lighting to be at the appropriate level to fit their mood, and they want their personal entertainment channels … available at their fingertips. Guests want control.”

The goal is to minimize the rigors and inconvenience of travel by providing all the comforts of home and perhaps some added perks that elevate the experience beyond existing guest expectations.

“The fundamental question is, how do you allow the guest to do the things they normally do at home—on the road—kind of seamlessly?” said tech consultant Robert Cole, founder and CEO of RockCheetah. “How do you remove these pain points, when people who are traveling can’t do something they normally would?”

Starwood has already taken its tech manifesto into the stratosphere—the company even recently launched robotic butlers called “botlrs” at its Aloft in Cupertino, California, which can deliver amenities such as towels and toothbrushes to guestrooms upon request—but there are far more pedestrian concerns still facing most operators. For many hotels, the biggest problem in terms of enabling that seamless home-to-hotel experience is streaming media, particularly subscription services. 

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide launched robotic butlers called “botlrs” at its Aloft in Cupertino, California, which can deliver amenities such as towels and toothbrushes to guestrooms upon request. (Photo: Starwood)

Providing the ability to stream content from these services onto a guestroom TV has been tricky to date, as is managing secure authentication to these services in a multi-user Wi-Fi environment like a hotel. In addition to SmartTVs, some vendors are beginning to offer hardware-based solutions aimed at the problem, in which savvy operators are already investing. 

“The ‘wants’ of the guests later become the ‘needs’ of the guests,” said Alan Zaccario, VP of IT for New Castle Hotels & Resorts. “Much in the way that high-speed Internet access has become a need and necessity, in-room entertainment and app-based experiences will become the new ‘need.’ At New Castle, it will be necessary to begin replacement of SmartTVs and wiring infrastructure this year, in preparation for 2017.” 

Bring your own device
Although some hoteliers have experimented with providing devices like tablets in rooms so guests can control “smart” features, other hoteliers are focused on allowing travelers to use their own devices for these functions.

Mobile app development is playing a large part in the plans of numerous brands, with an increasing array of integrated features being bundled into those apps, which in turn can drive adoption rates.

Most notably, keyless room entry has been all the buzz over the last year in the mobile space, with major players such as Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Starwood and others all piloting their own versions of the technology. But IT leaders are already starting to think beyond this functionality. Hoteliers say that in the near future, guests’ smartphones will be able to do a wide array of things in the guestroom, including even making coffee.

“Because we are early adaptors—like our guests—we often begin piloting long before the rest of the industry,” McGuinness said. “We are lucky to have an incredibly talented team of dreamers and early adopters that work around the clock to test new gadgets and come up with concepts that will soon become a part of the modern-day hotel stay.

“Right now some of our current programs in beta allow guests to control the A/C and lighting, and even brew a cup of coffee, all from a smartphone.”

Others wonder how many mobile apps any given guest truly uses, or will even keep, on their phone. The trend is that mobile tech is moving toward a consolidation of apps, with the survivors of this purge offering multiple services. Facebook Messenger even further opened the door for collaboration, with a new software developer toolkit that allows other apps remarkably tight integration with its own platform. The result is apps that run within Messenger, no further downloading required.

It’s not just a digital land-grab, either: There are real user benefits to such integration. Cole points to the massive amounts of page views that videos posted on Facebook receive, which in some cases now outpaces even YouTube. He suggests that in the future a widespread platform like Facebook could be the answer to issues like the in-room streaming media conundrum, by allowing every peripheral service and app to authenticate the guest through that one source: in this example, Facebook.

“I look at that and say, do you really want the Hilton or Marriott app, or do you just use Facebook as the platform?” Cole questioned. “What’s Facebook doing? It’s authenticating you. You look at that, and suddenly all these issues with entertainment, you go, ‘Oh. Yeah, we can do that.’ Do AT&T, Netflix and Hulu really want to work with Marriott and Hyatt and Hilton? I don’t know that they’ll want to do all that, when they can just work with someone like Facebook, and be done.”

1 Comment

  • Steve March 11, 2016 3:20 PM Reply

    Wait wait wait....great that Facebook and similar popular authenticating apps are consolidating services for the end user, but will the industry be enabling another 800 lb gorilla like Expedia and Booking by empowering users to engage w/ Facebook instead of their direct brand's digital touchpoints?

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