In Hospitality Technology’s 2021 Customer Engagement Technology Study, HT polled consumers and found that hotel guests want their guest room to have specific technological components. For example, while no one can live without free and fast Wi-Fi these days, 55 percent of consumers also reported that they wanted smart TVs or content streaming technologies within the guest room, 34 percent want the ability to control the TV, lights, thermostat and other in-room amenities via an app on their mobile phone, and 31 percent of consumers said they’d want a voice-controlled device in the guest room. Thus, it may come as no surprise to readers that in HT’s2022 Lodging Technology Study, 45 percent of hoteliers reported that enhancing guest room technology in 2022 will be a very or extremely important initiative.
To find out how the guest room of the future might evolve in 2022 and what a hotel stay might look like in the near future, HT spoke both with hoteliers and industry experts. Here’s what they have to say.
MUST HAVE: FAST, RELIABLE INTERNET
When it comes to guest room technologies, guests want fast, reliable internet more than anything. In fact, consumer respondents to HT’s 2021 Customer Engagement Technology Study ranked free Wi-Fi – which we can assume includes high speed and reliable characteristics – as being more important to them than even positive consumer reviews/high ratings on third-party booking websites. And for good reason. The internet has become so integrated with our daily lives that most consumers cannot function without it. For example, a business traveler now requires high amounts of bandwidth for video conference calls during the day and large amounts of bandwidth for streaming movies, games and music at night.
Hotels that aren’t able to provide the internet network needs that modern day consumers require will find that they’re missing out on a significant amount of revenue, says Grant Harland, Retail Industry Analyst, Windstream. Consider this, poor internet connectivity will cause complaints, erode loyalty, and could, in some cases, even compel the guest to leave the property immediately.
Paul Andrew, General Manager at Shepard’s Beach Resort in Clearwater Beach, Fla., knows all too well how important it is to provide guests with a strong internet connection.
“Unfortunately, back in 2016, we were experiencing many guest complaints because our internet was slow and inconsistent,” Andrew explains. “We opened a new addition to the Resort, but our Wi-Fi service didn't match the quality of our new property. Our guests deserved better, so we contracted with Hotel Internet Service. This was the best move we made towards excellent customer relations. Our repeat guests noticed the difference immediately. Now, the only question we get about our Wi-Fi is the password.”
As hotels move toward incorporating more IoT devices within the room, low or inconsistent internet quality will cause them to become slow to respond or perhaps entirely unavailable, says Gary Patrick, CEO of Hotel Internet Services.
“What should have been a more convenient and enjoyable service option now simply represents a cause of aggravation for guests, defeating the purpose of adopting smart technologies in the first place,” Patrick adds.
But offering fast and reliable internet is not enough. Hotels must also ensure that guests can connect to it quickly and with the least amount of friction possible, says InnSpire CEO and Co-Founder Martin Chevalley. He recommends that, when possible, hotels should work with technologists to pre-populate network access details within their app so that when guests arrive at the hotel, the phone “remembers” the network details and connects automatically.
And don’t forget to implement bandwidth management technology. During peak hours, when most guests are using the hotel’s network, bandwidth management technology ensures one room isn’t allowed to “hog the bandwidth” that belongs to another which could degrade the guest experience, says Tammy Estes, Chief Product Officer at Nomadix.
Last, but certainly not least, ensure your hotel internet is highly secure. Business travelers with work laptops are often using VPNs that need tight security protocols and possibly even a wired connection option within the room, says Kara Heermans, SVP User Experience & Product Management, SONIFI.
THE RISE OF IN-ROOM DEVICES
It used to be that when you walked into a hotel room, you were given access to a few simple devices: a telephone, a television and a thermostat. Today, these three devices are still found in the room, but in many cases have undergone significant technology upgrades. Additionally, many hotels are beginning to replace common manual technologies with IoT-enabled devices so that guests can use an app to turn on/off the lights, create mood lighting, close the drapes, adjust the thermostat, etc. And don’t forget the push for voice-based assistants in the guest room or the rise of smart mirrors.
Hoteliers are also implementing IoT sensors to remove friction between guests and hotel staff. For example, sensor technologies allow staff to know if a room is occupied, which allows for more efficient and less intrusive housekeeping, says Andy Abramson, CEO, Comunicano. Plus, some IoT sensors can even be implemented to detect a leaking faucet, a toilet that's constantly running, or even low water pressure in the shower.
Implementing these types of sensors can not only improve the guest experience by allowing a hotel to fix a broken amenity before putting the guest in the room, but also help hoteliers achieve their sustainability initiatives, says David Goldstone, SVP and Chief Customer Advocate, World Cinema.
"Remote monitoring is essential to guest satisfaction and comfort, as well as for management to reduce energy waste," Goldstone adds. "Connecting to a device through the network enables you to not only change the timing/program, but the device also communicates back to the user, enabling management to even record exactly how much energy each individual lightbulb is consuming."
But throwing a variety of IoT devices in a guest room and expecting guests to be thrilled with their mere presence is fairly naïve. For one thing, “guests have a very low threshold for learning new in-room systems," says Kris Singleton, Enseo president and CIO. "If not understood after only a few seconds, guests will quickly become dissatisfied. But, when done correctly, modern IoT room control systems can remove frustration and dramatically elevate the guest experience."
The in-room television is also where guests are looking for “better-than-home experiences including on-demand fitness programs and contactless concierge interactions,” says Heermans. “Because guests are spending more time in their rooms – due to safety concerns or simply because they’re using it as a remote office – these surprise-and-delight TV features are in demand more than ever.”
And don’t forget that business travelers are also looking to use the hotel TV for casting programs such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
“Hotels need to recognize that technology for ‘play’ is also needed for the business traveler working in the room,” Abramson adds.
However, while “most guests would prefer to view their content on larger guest room television screens, they will avoid using any platform if it results in a cumbersome and challenging login experience,” says Patrick.
For example, smart televisions may require guests to login into their personal streaming accounts using onscreen apps. But this can cause friction for guests.
“It’s frustrating for guests to have to remember passwords and type in credentials with the remote,” Estes notes. “It’s also a security concern that will limit how many people actually use these applications to watch their own content.”
Casting platforms are a popular alternative to smart TVs as they sidestep the need for guests to type in their login details by allowing them to wireless pair a personal device with the guest room television.
“However, hoteliers need to keep in mind that many guests will be unfamiliar with a property’s casting platform,” Patrick explains. “They therefore need to ensure the adoption of a platform that can guarantee a user-friendly and intuitive experience for first-time users, eliminating any potential troubleshooting issues requiring staff assistance and resulting in a disruption to guest satisfaction.”
To combat this issue, some technology solutions (such as those provided by InnSpire) are able to authenticate guests the first time they log on to the hotel Wi-Fi – by bridging the HSIA and proxy-server – which then allows the hotel to open up network access to the casting service within their room and immediately pair the guest’s mobile device to the TV, allowing them to cast content the same as if they were at home.
And some more casting platforms that are specifically designed for hospitality environments come with the option of pairing guest devices simply by scanning a QR code, Patrick adds.
Hotel brand citizenM recently implemented Chromecast in all guest rooms across its entire portfolio of hotels via a direct integration in its mobile app.
“This technology implementation is a good example of how we’re linking our personalization-at-scale strategy to being as close to a guest’s home experience as possible,” says CIO Michael Rawson. “We know our guests do a lot of casting, so by adding Chromecast alongside our Apple TVs we are maximizing our ability to allow the guest to comfortably continue using their technology in our spaces.”
And the data doesn’t lie. Rawson found that guests are “far more engaged” with their own content than with the hotel content citizenM used to provide.
“We enable the guest to control and choose how to maximize their leisure time in our hotels,” he adds. “Not only that, but we allow it to be done in a very familiar way so that they need little to no training or instructions.”
When it comes to what the future might hold for the guest room TV, Rawson is betting on in-room gaming.
“Just like guests want to continue watching their Netflix series, they also want to finish playing a video game or have a Fortnite session with their friends. There still are a lot of technical challenges with this, but we do see gaming as a strong driver in the next 12-24 months."