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IT Then & Now: Have we Really Changed?

One day last month when I came into my office, I saw several issues of high-tech hospitality magazines from the 1980s sitting in my mailbox, a present from my Dean who thought that they would be of interest to me. He was right.
When you live through so many changes, sometimes you don’t realize how far we have advanced in the last 30 years. Surprisingly, many of the words and phrases used in the headlines of old are still being used today: high-tech or high-touch, technology in the guestroom, video teleconferencing facilities, central reservation systems, menu management, self-service terminals, and computerized vending units. The main challenge then, as it is now, was to leverage technology to do things faster, better, cheaper and more efficiently.

Some of the articles made me smile. Take this, for example: one author wrote about the impact of personal computers on hotels. He wrote: “Businesses may be buying personal computers like [they are] paper clips, but few hotels are ready to offer computers to business travelers either in their rooms or on the premises. In New York, the Plaza, the Ritz Carlton, Marriott’s Essex House and other mid-town Manhattan hotels catering to business travelers do not offer computers to their business guests. ‘Tell me, what do they use them for, these personal computers?’ the concierge at New York’s prestigious Pierre Hotel asked.” This article reminded me of Bill Gates’ famous 1981 quote: “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
In 2011, hotels in fact do not offer computers in guestrooms and business centers are getting smaller because travelers not only bring their own computers and smart devices with them, but they also bring their own digital content to the hotel.
Guestroom self-control
While reading these magazines, I noticed that guestroom energy control is one area where we haven’t made the same leaps and bounds. One article from 1985 noted the evolution of energy control systems since the 1970s. The author listed the advantages of box systems which require the guest to insert the room key card into a box by the door to activate the HVAC. Even today you will find hotels still using this system; though it proved largely ineffective when guests found that they could easily defeat the system by inserting the second key card (or a business card) into the box. Another attempt at energy control was the use of a door chain lock that required a guest to lock the door and secure the chain in order to enable the HVAC unit. This system again proved ineffective very quickly; when two people stay in a room and one goes outside, this leaves the person inside the room without any HVAC.
The article then explained the “new” technology of motion detectors to control energy in the room. In the last 30 years, the one major advancement in this area has been the addition of body heat sensors inside the guestroom. Many hotels still do not invest any technology in this area, despite the high costs associated with guestroom energy consumption.
Security status
“Security in the Hotel Computer System;” this was the title of an article from the same August 1985 magazine. A reading showed me that some of the fundamental issues with security that plagued hotel operators 30 years ago still exist today. Take the misuse of passwords by hotel staff, for example. The author said that: “The problem is obvious: passwords proliferate like mice in a badly kept kitchen. Because they are troublesome to remember, employees write them down, then put them in a place where they are easy to find.”
Sound familiar? Even though Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) were created to encourage businesses to comply with major information security practices, hospitality remains one of the most-breached industries.
Reading about the history of technology in our industry proved to be quite educational. If you have old versions of hospitality information technology magazines that you’re willing to share, please do let me know. I would love to analyze and write more about them in this column.

For more insights from Cihan, click here.
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