Low-cost ways to upgrade tech between renovations
Low-cost ways to upgrade tech between renovations
13 APRIL 2016 9:56 AM

Even in between large-scale renovation projects, hoteliers should make efforts to improve in-room technology, particularly through power accessibility, Wi-Fi and entertainment.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Guests’ technology needs are constantly evolving, sometimes on a daily basis.

However, the timetable for major renovation projects in which many hoteliers will address those changing needs can span several years. Thus, hoteliers must find ways to affordably improve guestroom technology and adapt without breaking the bank.

Kevin Richards, COO of hotels for Atlanta-based Legacy Ventures, said the guiding principal for these improvements should emulate what guests already experience on a day-to-day basis.

“The guest is looking for a more residential experience,” Richards said.

Sources outlined three areas in particular that hoteliers can work to address affordably between renovations: accessible power, Wi-Fi connectivity and in-room entertainment.

Accessible power
Farrah Adams, SVP of hospitality for LBA Hospitality, said her company is focusing on providing better outlet access in rooms. One method is by adding “charging cubes” that have traditional outlets and USB ports. The company also is adding telephones and alarm clocks that include charging ports in them.

“We want to reduce the number of things on the night stand to leave room for the guest,” Adams said. “So we look for devices that have multiple uses.”

One such example of multiuse products is a lamp that has outlets incorporated into it. Robin Koetje, IT director for The Hotel Group, said lamps with outlets can be added at minimal cost and effort and are easy to install.

“Quite often old buildings aren’t designed well for guests’ needs for power,” Koetje said. “Especially with guests carrying two or three devices per person. … And it doesn’t take much to do it well.”

Wi-Fi connectivity
Sources said hoteliers can make improvements to Wi-Fi even between renovations by upgrading bandwidth and making some tweaks to the property’s networking infrastructure.

Koetje said one of the simplest improvements means increasing the ratio of network access points to guests. He said this change can sometimes be more effective than investing in increasing a hotel’s overall bandwidth capabilities. Having too few access points can drastically slow performance for guests because access points can only handle so many devices at once.

“You need plenty (of access points) to manage demand,” Koetje said. “We’re seeing brands with newer stands of having access points in the room as opposed to running a cord out to the hallway. … You should try whenever you can to leverage the networking you have.”

Jeff Shockley, VP of asset management and operations for Hotel Equities, said management companies, following the directions of brands, are focusing on increasing bandwidth as well.

“Marriott has been very aggressive in requiring we upgrade our high-speed internet for guests,” Shockley said. “First was upgrading infrastructure in the building to make sure we were very secure. … Then last year, we upgraded our bandwidth from a 20-megabits-per-second circuit to a 50-megabits-per-second circuit.”

Richards said Legacy Ventures has worked with Atlanta-area providers to set up a system that allows the company’s properties to increase their overall bandwidth as needed. He said his hotels can more than double their bandwidth with two days’ notice when times of high demand arise.

“We’ve got that in all our downtown hotels in Atlanta right now,” Richards said. “It has a great success rate.”

In-room entertainment
Several brand companies—particularly Marriott International—and third-party management companies are focusing on bringing streaming media into guestrooms, which sources said fits with the concept of integrating more of guests’ lives into their stays.

“I think it’s just the norm that everything you have in your house will eventually be in a hotel room,” Shockley said. “I think Marriott is doing it because they’ve gotten so much demand from customers. The years of pay-per-view movies are gone. People are much more apt to stream.”

While this can be accomplished by adding smart televisions, Koetje said there are more affordable and straightforward options.

“I do think this will become pretty ubiquitous throughout the industry once people can log in and know their information will be securely removed after check-out,” Koetje said.

Richards said his company is looking into ways for guests to be able to more seamlessly stream from their devices directly to the in-room television.

“We haven’t executed that yet, but we’re putting it into one or two hotels to test it out,” he said.

Adams said she’s optimistic the growth of in-room streaming could actually translate to a jump in some other revenue streams for hotels.

“I think you may see a boost for in-room F&B,” she said, noting the tendency to binge watch TV might keep more guests in their rooms longer.

Other areas for improvement
Koetje said hoteliers need to be on the lookout for technologies that improve the guest experience, particularly when they come at a relatively small cost. He used the example of a small night light he saw at a recent stay at a Hyatt property that was at floor level and provided just enough light to help him navigate his room in the middle of the night without being obtrusive enough to keep him awake.

“There are things like that, which aren’t highly technical,” he said. “They’re products that you can put into any room. It’s worthwhile for certain levels of hotels.”

For example, Shockley said Hotel Equities is focusing on improving its phone systems to incorporate voice over IP. Richards said his company has been adding microwave/minifridges that better regulate power to avoid blowing fuses.

Koetje said hoteliers also must make sure whatever changes they make work the way they’re intended.

“Any technology you put in has to be reliable,” Koetje said. “There’s nothing worse than that experience of going to an airport and sitting at a seat with outlets and none of them work. Don’t do any of these things and not have them work.”

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