INTERNATIONAL REPORT—The future of technology may hold infinite possibilities, but within the hotel guestroom, experts said the focus is still on the basics: fast, free Internet; connectivity with devices and hotel services; and, of course, the TV.
Six hotel industry technology gurus from around the world shared with HotelNewsNow.com their thoughts on topics ranging from advances on the horizon to the most important tech upgrades for the present. What follows is a sample of their responses.
What is the most exciting technological advance in guestroom technology?
John Burns, president, Hospitality Technology Consulting
“Vastly improved TV hardware (even better when equipped with high definition).”
Gustaaf Schrils, VP, global technology, the Americas, IHG
“… the guest may feel that the hotel, based on the room rate, should provide a superior experience and look for HDTV or iPad-like devices in their rooms, allowing them to control their heating, cooling, in-room food menus or other concierge services.”
Don O’Neal, president, O’Neal Consultants
“Interactive possibilities between guests’ personal devices and in-room devices, (e.g., to TV, to lock, to in-room controls, to Wi-Fi, to sound system, to telephone, to staff personnel via video).”
Michael Levie, COO, citizenM
“A focus on functional technology versus toys; and IP-based technology and associated networks.”
Bob Bennett, HITEC Board of Directors; president, Starr Technology Consulting
“I am very impressed with the potential of some new energy management devices. These controls can be installed without adding any new wiring to the guestroom and do not need to have batteries replaced. For a very reasonable cost a property could achieve significant savings.”
Kermit Littlefield, VP, guest technology, Marriott International
“In the past two years the increased use of tablets and smartphones, and the mobile applications they use, has been extraordinary. These devices will become ubiquitous for business travelers within the next two-three years and will result in customers who want to interact with us using them.”
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What is one future guestroom technology that hoteliers need to keep on their radar?
Bennett: “Providing access to all the content on the Internet, both informational and entertainment, on the TV set is still evolving. It is possible today to connect guestrooms TVs to the Internet, but the experience can often be difficult to use for the guest or expensive to implement for the hotel. New revenue opportunities for the hotels will emerge when these systems operate more seamlessly.”
Littlefield: “Today, the most exciting technological advance in guestroom technology is the ability to provide interactive technology solutions that allow more customer access and control of in-room entertainment and environmental controls such as: the thermostat, television, telephone, high-speed Internet network, remote controls, minibars, even the guestroom lock.”
Levie: “IP-based technology and associated networks—they will control all rooms centrally for the guest and company.”
Schrils: “3-D movies are still on the radar. However, movie studios are still not sure if the investment and delivery methods can be achieved. Guest check-in and check-out via their mobile devices is being explored, and the use of tablet devices as menus in restaurants is interesting and could be a way of providing visual enhancements to the items being offered.”
Excluding a strong Internet connection, what is the most important piece of guestroom technology?
Burns: “This is a split decision between a flat-screen TV and a ‘usable’ clock radio (with usability declining as the devices become more and more elaborate and complex).”
Bennett: “It is still the TV set. We take HDTV with many HD channels for granted in our homes, but it is still not common enough in hotels. … Just getting this basic requirement operational will impress the guest more than a lot extra technology features in the room.”
Littlefield: “… our guests are experiencing high quality, crisp, clean pictures in their homes and expect at least a similar, if not better, experience while at a hotel. At Marriott, we feel that providing a high definition LCD television paired with high-definition content is a very important piece of guestroom technology.”
Schrils: “We do know that the room may need to be compatible with both 3G and 4G or (long term evolution) networks. The strong Internet connection needs will have to be defined as there is possibly a stronger or tiered Internet platform that could support guest desire for streaming video or gaming.”
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What guestroom technology generates the most revenue? Is there an advance on the horizon that could change this?
O’Neal: “In the upscale market with whom we work, it is Internet access. 4G cellular (could change this.) … Hotels/owners will not be able, or willing, to keep up with the ever-increasing bandwidth demand of guests and match the design speed of 4G (e.g., 10-15 meg per person). If a guest is already paying for 10-15 meg of bandwidth, it is very unlikely they will choose to pay extra to use the hotel Wi-Fi when that amount of bandwidth will likely not be available and could be iffy at best. This also brings into question the 4G signal level strength within a hotel. If a guest is paying a carrier to achieve high bandwidth, and, because of weak signal strength in the hotel, there will be numerous guest complaints. Weak cellular voice signal generates many complaints today but will be a drop in the bucket compared to the complaints if a guest is prevented from using the primary source of his Internet connection. It can be costly to a hotel to enhance the cellular signal to make sure the guest is happy, but the burden will be on the hotel to do so.”
Levie: “(hotel brand) citizenM provides it all for free, including (video on demand). Phone rates are ‘Skype’ and the industry will have to move there shortly. No more charging, which is simply not accepted by guests!”
Bennett: “Money is still being made with movie systems that are in-place, but it is hard to justify making a big new investment in this area. Many hotels report improved F&B revenues from the ability to order room service or make restaurant reservations on the TV set because of the ability to add pictures and videos to enhance the sales process. Ordering entertainment content from the Internet or selling services in the community over in-room devices such as the TV or a tablet will present new revenue opportunities.”
Littlefield: “For Marriott the guestroom technologies that generate the most revenue vary greatly from brand to brand and from market to market. Each of the Marriott brands evaluates the overall pricing strategy of the technology products and services that it provides to our customers.”
Schrils: “Guests have grown very savvy and today carry many different forms of technology with them, such as laptops and mobile devices, and thus are able to avoid guestroom technology that generates revenues for hotels. A guest today can enjoy voice, data and video services without paying a hotel for these services. We are still looking for opportunities on the horizon which might generate revenue.”
Burns: “The television, possibly through niche pay-per-view options.”
When renovating a guestroom, what is the most important technological upgrade/addition hoteliers should make?
Littlefield: “When renovating guestrooms, it is important to carefully consider the cabling needs of the entire property. The purpose is to ensure that you are able to accommodate the wired and wireless needs of today’s technology and are prepared for support the future technologies needs of both guests and associates.”
Bennett: “First is wiring. This includes enough electrical plugs and placement of those plugs in convenient locations. It also includes wiring to connect various in-room devices, control panels, HVAC, lights, doors, etc. in the room and to central control systems. Many of these devices can be connected wirelessly to save costs but of course when doing a room renovation it is a good time to confirm there are enough wireless access points to provide good signals and bandwidth to all points in the room.”
Burns: “Improved communication network to/with the guestrooms.”
Schrils: “The most important focus should be the wiring and cabling of rooms especially in older properties. There is also the challenge of making rooms wireless accessible via either Wi-Fi or cellular.”