Guestroom Tech: Balancing Hype with the Bottom Line

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Guestroom Tech: Balancing Hype with the Bottom Line

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor - 09/11/2017

Hotel guests crave connectivity and convenience when they travel, so much so that 49% say the presence of high-tech features in the guestroom will actually influence their choice of a hotel. This statistic from Hospitality Technology’s 2017 Customer Engagement Technology Study is indicative of a trend happening across industries — customers want innovative amenities. However, as research also confirms, they want the high-tech without losing high-touch personalization. 

The challenge facing hoteliers is how to determine what investments will help them meet the ever-increasing demands and expectations of guests — something that 27% of hotels name as the greatest challenge impacting hotel technology, according to HT’s 2017 Lodging Technology Study.  Ascertaining which investments will move the needle on guest satisfaction, experience and ultimately revenue goals requires a broader look at several factors. 

Here HT queried hoteliers and technology experts to outline six key factors hoteliers should consider prior to committing to a rollout to ensure the innovation meets the investment.

1.  Technology must fit the brand

Balancing high-tech and high-touch is a key decision point that depends on the competitive set and the brand message. The Axiom Hotel San Francisco was renovated in 2016 and rebranded as “a place where history meets the digital revolution,” according to general manager, Garry Cox. “We strategized on ways to anticipate the needs of modern travelers to ensure a frictionless experience.” This led Axiom to install Kube Systems’ Kube Audio Clock in its 152 guestrooms. The in-room charging solution provides modern, connected guests a way to stream audio and charge devices.

Similarly, Wingate by Wyndham found over-the-top (OTT) streaming “aligns well with our consumer demographic and brand positioning, which is all about modern life and balance,” says Aly El-Bassuni, vice president brand operations for Wingate by Wyndham and Microtel. Guests want to stay connected while traveling by casting streaming services to HDTVs, a fact that led to Wyndham’s installation of Sonifi entertainment solutions at its Wingate brand. 

A high-touch experience and environmental responsibility are key at San Francisco’s new Hotel VIA, says Barbara Perzigian, general manager. So Inncom energy management system integrated with Assa Abloy door locks was an important component of their guestroom tech plan. “We will probably be seeing a return on that investment within a year just on energy savings, and that also gives us those bragging rights,” says Perzigian. To enhance the experience but not overwhelm guests, they also installed a KEYPR solution that includes guestroom tablets, a concierge app, a guest experience management system and a digital marquee.

But high-touch operators in particular don’t want to tip the scales too far toward impersonal technology. Hotelier Jack Geraci, regional director of operations at Charlestowne Hotels, has seen in-room iPads with 50 apps at some properties. “Nine times out of 10 it becomes more complicated for the guest rather than an enhancement of the experience.”

2  Infrastructure matters

When considering guestroom technologies, properties have to take a step back and consider the larger demands that any installation will place on the property and its network. Many guestroom technologies now require WiFi, and guests tote multiple mobile devices apiece. To ensure connectivity, hotels typically start by assessing and often upgrading current networks to fiber. Hotel VIA, for example, saw robust WiFi as foundational to everything else they would put in the guestroom, and Wingate recently updated its WiFi standards to ensure properties are metering and managing bandwidth properly. Eliminating WiFi complaints directly impacts customer satisfaction.

Another consideration in this vein is if a technology will work as a retro-fit or require new construction. This was a top concern for Charlestowne Hotels, since it operates many historic properties and other independents. Its Collector Inn Luxury & Gardens in St. Augustine, Fla., recently installed Intelity guestroom solutions on iPads as part of a renovation.

3  Plan for tomorrow

Future-proof technology might be a myth, but hotels must find ways to make technology future-ready. Hotel networks is one area where this is especially important. Bandwidth-hungry applications such as IoT, virtual reality and big data mean network demand will only multiply. 

Hotel VIA installed highly secure Ethernet Internet with 5 Gbps service from Comcast Business and a FiberLAN solution from DASAN Zhone Solutions that leverages GPON (gigabyte passive optical network) to offer guests unlimited devices and 100% connectivity across the property. “It brings fiber directly to the door of the room but not inside the room yet because the TVs and phones are not ready yet to be connected,” Perzigian says. “At the point where devices can hook directly to fiber we’ll be ready.” The system can scale to at least 10 Gbs. 

4  Ensure wide-spread buy-in and expertise

Involving a cross-section of departments in evaluation and implementation helps ensure proposed guestroom technology works for the staff and therefore for the guest. Boston Harbor Hotel General Manager Stephen Johnston even brings in non-impacted departments if the team member has the talent and temperament. It’s also important to consider how new technology will be supported when problems inevitably occur. Having a defined roadmap on who will provide frontline support will help troubleshoot and resolve issues faster.

5  Listen to feedback

Not all research is created equal and while global or national consumer surveys that highlight guest preference trends can be helpful, operators must not ignore the invaluable perspective that can be gleaned directly from their own property. Namely, guest surveys, staff expertise, franchise advisory boards and pilot tests. Boston Harbor Hotel’s Johnston, for example, has developed a gut feel through chats with regular guests and travel to other five-star hotels.

Noting an uptick in guest room tech at competitors, two years ago Johnston recommended upgraded WiFi, new in-room HDTVs from Enseo and in-room iPads running Intelity, along with a property-specific app, to ownership. The iPads — which fellow hoteliers said were easier to maintain than Android — run concierge services, alarm clock, Internet radio, PressReader, in-room dining and a link to Amadeus’ HotSOS to speed service delivery, but Johnson felt room controls such as lighting were not a fit for his property based on his knowledge of its guest profile. “It’s an interesting novelty, but I’m not convinced that provides a return,” he says.

6  Will it measurably impact guest satisfaction and drive revenue?

Guestroom tech may drive both direct revenue such as in-room dining and activity booking and indirect benefits including increased customer engagement and satisfaction. A 2016 Gallup poll reveals that “an engaging customer experience represents a 23% premium in share of wallet, profitability, revenue, etc.” This is in keeping with research from RightNow Technologies’ Annual Customer Experience Impact Report which cites that 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience.

Hoteliers look to stats such as these to help translate enhanced customer engagement into ROI or ROE — return on experience. Boston Harbor Hotel’s Johnston was skeptical of revenue claims, but in-room dining has increased 17% since installing in-room mini iPads. “I can’t tie that to anything other than the tablets,” he says. They have also saved the cost of printing compendia and menus and subscribing to print newspapers.

After testing revealed users cast from their devices to the in-room HDTVs an average of 12 times, totaling five hours, during an average two-night stay, Wingate had evidence that demand for an OTT casting solution was there. Six properties have installed the solution and El-Bassuni and his staff are pitching additional franchisees while weighing a mandate.

Many technology business models have also shifted, enabling hoteliers to avoid big capital outlays and buying more system than they need, and instead pay monthly and scale up with demand. That’s particularly important as techs move quickly downmarket, helping even low margin properties afford technology, according to Intelity.