HTF Hot Topic: What Next Gen In-Room Innovations Mean for Hotels

At the Annual Hotel Technology Forum (HTF) held in Las Vegas April 18-20, 2012, Hospitality Technology Magazine (HT) invited Advisory Board members to moderate sessions focusing on various subjects impacting the hospitality industry. One of the hot button issues was – and remains – In-Room Innovations.

The confab was held at The Cosmopolitan, which opened in 2010 and boasts the clever tag line, “Just the Right Amount of Wrong.” This could lead one to wonder, “Do In Room Innovations Offer Just the Right Amount of Wrong?”

It’s possible if you take the owners/operators’ points of view about the latest waves of technology. Behind closed doors they probably banter back and forth about new hospitality-related technology using phrases -like, “Just the wrong amount of anything is wrong” or “Just give me the right amount on my return.”

This is understandable when taking, for example, the implications mobile apps are having on conventional websites and the manner in which reservations will be made as consumers expect to be able to book anytime, anywhere. The rise in popularity of apps means owners/operators are in for another round of learning curves which of course will mean more costs in order to remain competitive.

But is there anything wrong with this? According to the diverse group participating in this session – it all comes down to perspective.

Everyone agreed with the Google whitepaper that predicated the number of mobile users researching travel via mobile devices is expected to grow 51% in 2012. The participants also concurred that new apps for mobile devices that utilize Near Field Communications will revolutionize the way reservations are made and ultimately greatly accelerate the check-in process.

One member of the discussion group, who represented a large brand, was already tapping into the virtues we have been hearing involving mobile technology offerings. On the other end of the spectrum however, those representing independent and boutique hotels had concerns about how to deal with the rapid morphing of Quick Response (QR) technology and worried about how they’ll be able to adapt. With so many interesting new services seemingly introduced on a daily basis, hotel owners across the board want to be able to allow travelers easier accessibility to booking flights, rooms, meetings and restaurants through smartphone technology.

Ultimately, the “whiz-bang” gadgetry that can be implemented at mega-hospitality complexes will not necessarily experience as wide of a roll-out across all property types. One reason is that high construction costs and/or the difficulty associated with upgrading existing rooms with the most advanced features is often cost prohibitive. That said, everyone agreed that guests are expecting the same level of technology in-room that they can enjoy in their homes and offices.

Dilemmas stem from delivering on guests’ expectations

The group also discussed how many of the same issues arise whenever there is a boon in technological expectations. When in-room WiFi became a mandatory amenity, owners had to concern themselves with having adequate bandwidth to make sure guests always had strong connections. With the majority of guests carrying mobile phones, cell reception is another predicament. Even in a brand-new billion dollar resort like the Cosmopolitan, it was observed that cell service can sometimes be sporadic.

Especially challenging – and with no solution in sight – is how limited service hotels can bridge the technology amenities gap that exists between them and full- service properties. Owners who have multiple brands and classifications of hotel assets are still struggling with ways to consolidate their technology challenges under one umbrella.
Putting personalized service before technology
Before adjourning the session the discussion was brought full circle with one final question: “Is There Just the Right Amount of “Right” In In-Room Innovations?”

The answer was surprising. One attendee shared that at a recent conference, Colin Powell commented that all he cares about when he stayed at one of that hotel group’s properties was whether or not he has hot water. After the group shared a laugh, the realization dawned that the real issue is the inherent danger of becoming a “technology top heavy” industry.

Technology is going to play a bigger role in shaping how hotels function than anyone can possibly imagine, however the quest for more and more in-room technology should not result in distancing the industry from the one commodity that has defined it for centuries – personalized service.

Russell Dazzio is Chairman of R&R Global Hospitality and Gaming and a member of Hospitality Technology’s Research Advisory Board.
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