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Where We Are and Where We Are Headed with Hotel Technology


by Terence Ronson, ISHC 
September 19, 2011

STOP, LOOK, LISTEN – three simple, potentially life-saving actions drilled into us by our parents and teachers when we are about to cross the road. This sound advice is relevant to all manner of junctions we encounter in life, but for the purpose of this BLOG – none more so than understanding where we are, and where we are headed with Hotel tech.
During the preceding thirty or so years, the Hotel industry has been hooked on placing more and more tech into Hotel rooms believing the Guest wants it, needs it;  it’s become a way to stay competitive. In a few cases, some rooms have filled up with so much tech, that they have almost reached bursting point.
Reflecting back, one of the first pieces of tech to go into Hotel rooms was the Telephone. We had a simple rationale for doing this. We put them there because travellers needed to be contactable and make calls while on the road, and the only fixed point was the Hotel. We later supplemented these with the Telex and Fax.
Around the same time came the TV. Guests wanted to be entertained in their rooms, and have the ability to keep up with current affairs by watching News. Hoteliers thought Guests wanted movies, so they attached a VOD system to the TV and later added a DVD player with (questionably legal) on-demand libraries either from the Concierge or Business Centers. Statistics show that apart from News, Guests really only wanted to watch Porn.
Then came the Fridge – a place where the Hotel could put a couple bottles of (comp) water, and for the Guests to keep their stuff cool. Not quite the case. Hoteliers morphed them into a mini-bar, offering all manner of over-priced goodies within the impulsive reach of the Guest - that became a nightmare to control. The electronic door lock quickly followed these innovations.
Room control systems soon appeared in Hotel rooms, with the kind of functionality one might experience at home - mood lighting settings, opening and closing of curtains from the comfort of one’s bed, some of these employ motion-sensing controls to raise/lower the temperature, or cut some of the power when the Guest exits the room.
Then suddenly, if by the flick of Harry Potter’s Magic Wand, all of the above became more and more sophisticated, more and more complex to install and manage, and more and more expensive to purchase and maintain. Am I right?
Hotel Owners started to question the cost and ROI. As Operators you became increasingly concerned over recurring support expenses. And then there is the Guest - heard on a frequent basis complaining that the tech is just too difficult to use. Oh, one must not lose sight of the fact that there is the obsolescence factor with many of the items being superseded by new models at an ever-quickening pace.
So what do we need to do? STOP, LOOK and LISTEN of course!
In all this while, we’ve moved on generationally more than at any other time in our evolutionary cycle. However, for most of the Hotel industry, and from an in-room tech perspective – it has not.
Just look around and see what Hotels are doing? They dispatch Scouts on reconnaissance missions to see what their competitive set is up to – examining each of their Marketing bullets one by one. They take hundreds of photos and measurements, and then write up copious notes to include a SWOT analysis. Out of perceived fear or the FUD factor, many copy what they believe to be the most important, and end up with a mashup product. Only a handful seems to innovate – most replicate in this cut and paste industry.
In the “i-this” and “i-that” app-centric era we now (thankfully) live, you can no longer cut and paste – you have to innovate to survive – so please, STOP, LOOK and LISTEN
OK – so maybe now I’ve gotten your attention and you’ve stopped, and are asking yourself the question: “What am I supposed to be looking at, and listening to?”
People, of course – your peers, your siblings, your kids and other people’s kids. Fellow travelers on your bus, the train, and on your plane. The people next to you in the Coffee shop or those across the way in the airport lounge, in the Doctor’s waiting room, or beside you in the elevator. The people in the queue at the supermarket, shoppers in the mall, fellow partygoers, and those you interact with at the bar. What do they all have in common?
They are all interacting with daily life – in their own unique way, or so they believe. Observe them, see what they do, and it will give you some insight about the kind of tech you should, or more importantly, not be putting into your Hotel rooms. Remember the old saying – Less is more
For a start, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that you can ever compete with the media library that the average person owns and carries with them on a device that neatly fits into their pocket, purse or small case. So why are Hotels adding Blu-ray players or IPTV systems with VOD functions?
Why are you adding connectivity panels so the Guest can tether their device to the TV, when most are very comfortable at either holding it their hand (like a book) or prefer to connect it wirelessly?
What justification do you have for putting an expensive dedicated Shaver socket into the bathroom, when the Guest really needs a universal power socket?
Then, unless you offer really cheap or free phone calls, will you ever be able to entice Guests to use all three of the in-room phones you install to make revenue-generating calls. Most will simply collect dust and be a pain for the Housekeeping department to clean. Hotel Rating Agencies need to wake-up to this new world phenomenon, and relax the requirements in this area. It’s time to change the rules of the game.
And when it comes to adding bedside control panels that resemble ‘Boeing 777’ flight-deck controls, all the Guest really wants to know is “how can I turn off the damn bathroom light”?
To understand what the Guest really wants, and needs: STOP, LOOK and LISTEN
Let’s be very clear about this - I don’t profess to be a Rocket Scientist, a Psychiatrist or a Fortune Teller. But what I am is a fairly good judge of what people are looking for, especially when it concerns Hotel Tech. Let me give you a simple and short list:
  1. Super fast, reliable and suitably priced Internet access (Wired and/or Wireless). Wireless is the 1st choice for most people, with the ability to connect multiple devices, and for free.
  2. A well-lit room with simple controls.
  3. Power sockets, power sockets and more power sockets. And please, don’t kill the power to all of them when I leave the room. Guests also like USB power sockets so an adaptor is not required.
  4. Temperatures that can be easily controlled – Up and Down.
  5. A place to work – as in a Desk. But note - people work anywhere and everywhere today – so understand that, be sympathetic and flexible, and provision for it with power sockets and Wi-Fi.
  6. And as for the TV, include 24-hour news channels, Sports channels and some entertaining TV channels. Most guests don’t want or like all the marketing stuff you put on the TV, even if you think they do.
That’s a small list – isn’t it?
Actually, you can summarize what Guests want from a Hotel Room with three C’s:-
  1. Clean
  2. Comfortable
  3. Connected
A 4th might be Cheap – but what Hotelier likes to have his product labeled as Cheap?
Just consider how long the average Guest stays with you – 1.5 or maybe 2 nights. And during that ever-decreasing period, how long will they stay in the room, and be awake to use all these services – maybe 4 hours? One or maybe two hours in the morning, an hour after office in the evening before dinner, and perhaps one or two hours before sleeping. How much of that time can they devote to learning how to use your tech, versus recovering from jet lag, catching up on emails or meeting approaching deadlines? They just need the tech to work.
The population in general is prepared to spend time learning how to use Personal tech – Why? Because the cost has come out of our pockets, it’s hard earned currency, it will be with them as a tool or amusement for some time, and they need to experience a ROI. Contrast that with the tech found in a Hotel room, and most people don’t have the patience or same kind of inclination – it’s merely a transient acquaintance.
What does this mean to YOU – the Hotelier?
In my opinion, going forward – Guests will start to question why they should pay for this tech when they don’t need it, don’t want it, and more especially -don’t use it. Their desire will be to somehow integrate their tech into your systems and do what they want – with their devices – like customize their experience. They’ve become comfortable with them, they know them intimately, and most significantly – they’ve paid for them – so why are you duplicating the expense? Maybe it’s time to re-think, re-imagine and downsize….
How many times have you looked around and seen people walking down the street, standing in a queue, drinking a latte, or just talking with friends – and what’s in their hand? Their mobile device of course. These GEN-i folks are so attached to their devices that you’d have to take a crowbar to pry it out of their palm. Believing they’ll pick up yours and learn it, is highly speculative – unless you are so blessed to only have geeks for Guests.
Consider very carefully the kind of tech you are deploying. Is it because you feel threatened by what your competitors are doing? Remember they may be on the wrong track. Is it because of the findings from the focus group you so carefully put together and solicited candid feedback from?

A trendy piece of tech is no longer an enticement to making a Guest change allegiance from one Hotel to another. A B&O stereo, or an iPod dock is not a deal breaker – but free Wi-Fi and a free mini-bar can be.
And besides, the lifespan of these toys is very short – twelve to eighteen months tops before they become relegated to the old version league. Can you really afford to swap out gizmos that fast?
When will you STOP, LOOK and LISTEN?
(C) Terence Ronson ISHC 


Terence Ronson

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Also See: New Kid on the Block / Terence Ronson / September 2011

The Cloud is Fast Approaching - What This Means to You - The Hotelier / Terence Ronson / August 2011

What Was Your Takeaway From HITEC 2011? / Terence Ronson / July 2011

DO's and DON'Ts of Hotel Technology v3.0 / Terence Ronson / June 2011

Life Can be Full of (Pleasant) Surprises; Especially When a Property Sets Their Mind and Heart into Doing it Right / Terence Ronson / May 2011

Innocent Until Proven Guilty - The Proliferation of iPads / Terence Ronson / April 2011

Your Hotel May be Old, But The Way You Deliver Service Should Not Be....Just Ask Mickey Mouse / Terence Ronson / February 2011

2010 Reflections...And a glimpse into 2011 - Guest Room Technology Focus / Terence Ronson / December 2010

The Front Desk Is Dead. Long Live the [New] Front Desk / Terence Ronson / August 2010

Fairmont Hotels Installing Self-service Kiosks in All North America Hotels; Includes Guestroom Mapping and Airline Check-In Features / June 2005

Hilton Tests New Check-In/Check-Out Self Service Kiosks at Two Flagship Properties / Sept 2003

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