Technology should be simple enough for all guests to interact with, according to sources at tech-savvy hotels who shared their strategies.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—When it comes to in-room technology, sources at tech-savvy hotels agreed on one thing: Don’t overcomplicate a guest’s experience.
David Sjolander, COO at Hotel Technology Next Generation, said in-room tech needs to be incredibly simple and transparent for guests—regardless of age, ability or familiarity with the technology.
“There’s always that temptation to put in technology because we can,” he said. “We always need to remind ourselves that that’s not always best. We need to be really careful that we’re adding value when introducing new technology, not just doing it because it exists.”
He also suggested hotels make an effort to offer the traditional, manual way of doing things—closing the window blinds or controlling the lights or thermostat, for example—along with the digital method.
Offer assistance upfront
At Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, the hotel’s IT department provides a monthly training session for all front-office staff, including the bell staff, engineering team members and those who assist guests and review bedroom automation, said Kayal Moore, assistant director of rooms.
Moore said the staff will even role-play real guest scenarios to stay sharp and practice answering any questions guests might have about the technology.
The Hotel Bel-Air also offers an in-room check-in process, he said, which includes an overview of the room’s lighting system, TV, iPad options and phone system once guests arrive.
“We place a tremendous effort on the rooming process to eliminate potential confusion about how to operate the guestroom technology,” Moore said. “There is a vast difference in how our guests enjoy the comfort of their room and engage with the hotel features once they understand.”
Baccarat Hotel & Residences New York also escorts guests to their rooms, which feature tablets, TVs hidden behind mirrors, and buttons to request housekeeping. As part of this service, guests are given demonstrations of select technology that could be overlooked, said hotel manager Guia Llamas.
“Most of our team members are millennials who grew up with computers,” Llamas added. “They are tech-savvy and therefore confident and comfortable handling these types of issues.”
In with the new, but not out with the old
In most cases, Sjolander said, when technology is introduced to do something, the old way still exists.
“Very rarely is the old method taken away,” he said. “Guests that want to use the mobile key with the phone can do it, but they still have the keycard.”
Shannon McCallum, executive director of hotel operations at Aria Las Vegas Resort & Casino, said the intent is never to complicate a guest’s experience, and the property is very careful when selecting tech amenities for guestrooms. One of the more-prominent tech features in the Aria’s rooms is a tablet that can program multiple tasks.
“We never introduce technology to replace service … It’s to allow guests to choose how to enjoy their stay,” she said. “I think that’s why our guests are comfortable; we’re not forcing them to use technology and (making) it uncomfortable. There’s still the option in the room, if they don’t want to use the tablet to change the TV, to still have a remote. (If) they choose not to use the tablet for room controls, they can still turn up the air-conditioning on the wall.”
McCallum said she remembers plenty of guests calling the front desk with questions when the hotel first opened in 2009 and implemented various high-tech features that were new to a lot of people.
“Nowadays, it’s pretty rare that we have a guest that doesn’t understand how to use the tablet, and it’s very user-friendly. They can back out of it whenever they want to,” she said. “However, if they do call any of our departments, like telecommunications or the front desk, we do have tablets in those areas so that we can talk to the guests just as their (using) it in the room to be able to assist them.”
Consider more visuals
At the Aria, many guests are drawn to the visual aspect of the tablets, McCallum said, which allow them to learn about the hotel’s offerings without overwhelming them with a printed guest services directory—which isn’t always the most updated and “in the moment,” she said.
“With the advance of smartphones and touch screens, our guests seem to be very engaged in the tablet in the room, and they really explore it,” she said. “On average, we get 56 page views each day from each room that’s occupied. So we can see our guests pick it up, start looking at it, then they (look) through a lot of the different screens. … We’re finding that our guests are so engaged in it that they’re looking at more of our content than they did with the guest services directory.”
About 70% of Aria’s guests now order food from the in-room tablet instead of picking up the phone to place an order, she said.
The hotel is also looking to make the tablets multilingual, with options for Chinese, Spanish, French and Italian languages, to make it more universal for guests.