The present and future of in-room tech
 
The present and future of in-room tech
09 SEPTEMBER 2015 9:49 AM
Industry leaders talk about in-room tech—where it’s headed, what needs to change and what gets them excited.
GLOBAL REPORT—From cathode-ray tubes to flat-screen televisions to smart screens. From dial-up Web access to Wi-Fi.

In-room technology in hotels has evolved over the years, and it will only continue to do so. But what are the changes hoteliers can expect next? And in an industry often accused of being behind the curve when it comes to technology, what do hoteliers need to keep top of mind to add to the guestroom experience?

Five leaders responded to these questions in this Hotel News Now virtual roundtable. This is what they had to say.

         




   






From where it stands today, where do you see in-room technology headed in the next few years?


Mehul Patel, chairman and CEO of NewcrestImage
“Technology, notably Bluetooth, will increasingly make rooms more ‘open’—both literally and virtually. For example, mobile technology will allow guests to unlock and enter their rooms. And after they are in their room, guests will open their room to the virtual world with customized entertainment content and room management. Because today’s travelers have their own mobile devices, it enables us as hoteliers to provide them with technology that makes their stay with us smarter and simpler—‘smarter’ thanks to Bluetooth and ‘simpler’ by facilitating their use of personalized content in movies, television and music.”
   
Joachim Högefjord, managing director, and Gül Heper, commercial manager at HTL Hotels
“We believe it’s most important to stay relevant to the guests and their needs. In-room technology is not about filling a hotel room with all possible gadgets; it is about enhancing the guest experience and especially simplifying the stay at the hotel.
 
“We need to continue looking at existing behaviors and identify the right needs, what devices are the guests bringing with them and review how to incorporate this in the room in order to provide a better guest experience. One given area, where we already supply device independent solutions is in terms of in-room entertainment. Why equip the hotels with expensive hotel TV systems with on-demand movies when most guests today can and will be using their own devices to stream and mirror everything from movies to HBO and Netflix for free with their existing subscriptions?
 
“Mobile access to the room is of course also an area that will continue to develop and be more and more standardized. Today there are few hotels and chains that are fully offering this to all guests independent of distribution channel. From the start we decided that this should be one of our standard features, and already in spring of 2014 we launched our own app with mobile key.
 
“Of course there is a lot of talk about in-room control systems for lighting, heating, shades, entertainment controls, etc. They might grow in the future, but at the same time it is generally a learning curve to handle them, and with guests staying in general 1.5 days in a room, it might add more complexity to your stay than added value.”
   
Bashar Wali, president of Provenance Hotels
“In-room technology will focus on connectivity for the traveler’s personal phone, tablets and computer. Guest-provided media will stream to TVs, USB outlets will be within an arm’s length away from the bed and desk in every guestroom. Personal technology has surpassed in-room hotel technology to the point of no return. With annual upgrade cycles for consumer technology devices, hotels can no longer spend enough to catch up. Hoteliers, stop implementing technology of the day and just let travelers have power outlets, free, fast Wi-Fi and access to their own media.”
 
   
Anna Blount, market research manager of MMGY Global
“When asked which device they are most likely to watch television or cable movies on during a hotel stay, 86% of travelers chose the in-room television, while 13% chose their personal laptop, 6% their tablet and 4% their smartphone.
 
“Similarly, 84% of travelers said they were most likely to watch pay-per-view movies on the in-room television during a hotel room stay, while 9% chose their personal laptop, 9% their tablet and 3% their smartphone. Although in-room television is still dominate, we expect usage of personal laptops and tablets to consume in-room entertainment to increase considerably over the next five years.”
   
Euan McGlashan, co-founder and managing partner of Valor Hospitality Partners
“Technology will soon control the entire guestroom, and that’s a good thing. A guest will be connected to every element of the in-room experience—for example, entry locks, television, music, lighting, temperature, roomservice and in-room deliveries or services—through simple switches, remote controls and hand-held devices, which are either theirs or provided by the hotel.”
   






What is the most important change that needs to happen when it comes to in-room tech over the next few years, and why?

Mehul Patel, chairman and CEO of NewcrestImage
“The two Ts have to change dramatically: television and telephone. In most properties, how hotels provide these amenities is very dated. Televisions need to allow easy viewing of customized programming, including content guests bring with them, while telephones need to accommodate text devices and messages.”
   
Joachim Högefjord, managing director, and Gül Heper, commercial manager,  HTL Hotels
“Hotels should focus on making room technology easy to understand, accessible and relevant. Do not focus the efforts only on creating ‘fun’ technology such as mood lighting and such. It’s important to pay attention to the devices used by guests and add tech features, which can assist in an improved hotel experience.”
   
Bashar Wali, president of Provenance Hotels
“Wi-Fi is never fast and free enough. In the last year many operators made Wi-Fi free with pay-for-premium tiers. It’s time for Wi-Fi to be free and fast. Provenance Hotels made Wi-Fi free that is capable of high definition media streaming and cloud services at the same time.”
   
Anna Blount, market research manager of MMGY Global
“The most important change that needs to happen is more thorough integration with travelers’ personal devices. Travelers want to easily be able to take advantage of the in-room offerings hotels have, but on their own devices. Even now, 65% of travelers are very likely to use in-room Wi-Fi for multiple devices (such as a laptop and tablet) if the Wi-Fi is free or at a reasonable cost. And 26% assert that the ability to use in-room Wi-Fi for multiple devices very influential when choosing a hotel.”
   
Euan McGlashan, co-founder and managing partner of Valor Hospitality Partners
“Two things will be essential to driving in-room technology: intuitiveness and consistency. By intuitiveness, I mean making technology more user-friendly and easy to use. By consistency, I refer to standardization as well as to robust construction quality that can stand up to the rigors of commercial usage.”
   





Is there any in-room tech that is standard in hotel rooms that you think needs to change or improve?

Mehul Patel, chairman and CEO of NewcrestImage
“In our technology-based society when so many of our guests travel with their own mobile devices, we need to put more of the hotel room under responsible and customized control of the guest through their mobile devices. Entry locks, lighting, drapes, television, temperature, and telephone are among the amenities that a guest should be able to control easily and quickly. Bluetooth allows this to happen, either through the guest’s own device or through a single device that the hotel provides.

“Our constant challenge as hoteliers is to enhance the hotel experience for our guests. Often we do it through FF&E. Now we can also do it effectively through technology, especially in appealing to tech-savvy millennials.”
   
Joachim Högefjord, managing director, and Gül Heper, commercial manager, HTL Hotels
“Hotel TV systems around the world work the same today as they have for the past 20 years. You have TV channels, on-demand channels you might be able to view the bill/check-out and (get) guest information. With today’s technologies, the TV screen can and should do a lot more for guests, whether it is interactive and smart room service, virtual concierge service or just a plain screen for mirroring the content on your portable devices.
 
“The second part is of course high-speed Wi-Fi—it should be as natural as free water in the taps that this is supplied for free in hotel rooms and as well as in public areas.”
   
Bashar Wali, president of Provenance Hotels
“The TV entertainment experience remains a huge opportunity for breakthrough and disruption. Our TVs at home are smart. Why shouldn’t hotel TVs be smarter? The hotel TV should be connected to mainstream streaming services with seamless privacy resets from one guest to another. Personal devices like phones and tablets should stream to the TV. Guests know and spend time on their phone and tablets far more than any proprietary hotel TV menu. Let their own devices shine.”
   
Anna Blount, market research manager of MMGY Global
“We believe hotels need to make it easier, cheaper and more convenient for travelers to fully integrate their personal mobile devices into the in-room hotel experience.”
   
Euan McGlashan, co-founder and managing partner of Valor Hospitality Partners
“ My biggest annoyance and frustration is the television. Variation in size is somewhat understandable to accommodate room layouts and owner budgets. Not acceptable are inconsistencies in picture and sound quality, and especially in channel lineup. The industry should have a simple, consistent screen guide for channel and music selection. Guests are increasingly connecting their own devices to the in-room television, so we should make usage and navigation easier for them. This is a simple, practical example of how we can enhance the hotel experience for our guests.”
   






Name one piece of in-room tech that you’re most excited about and why.

Mehul Patel, chairman and CEO of NewcrestImage
“I have two favorites: the mobile key and customized media content. Keyless room entry provides high convenience along with strong peace of mind, which is especially important in our security-conscious world. Customized media is very important so guests can watch or listen to their own selections, when they want to watch or listen.
 
Technology gives the guest more control, and control is exactly what modern travelers want. They have little control over almost every aspect of their trip, such as airplane travel, so when they check into their hotel we are in a unique position to return some control to them."
   
Joachim Högefjord, managing director, and Gül Heper, commercial manager, HTL Hotels
“From our perspective very interesting technology is Bluetooth low energy technology, which already is in place in hotel room door locks and assists us in delivering mobile key functionality. However, the really interesting part is the use of BLE in Beacons/IBeacon and the possible use for this in hotel rooms to maybe allow guest to use their own devices in many more ways—maybe they could use their own device and familiar apps to control the lighting and the climate in the rooms or any other functionality that the guest really needs.”
   
Bashar Wali, president of Provenance Hotels
“Voice control is prime in the next wave of in-room tech since it combines seamless technology and personalization. Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana brought voice control to the main stream. Now Amazon and its Echo product connects your voice with your physical space (lights, thermostat and window treatments). Ask your television to turn to a specific playoff sports game instead of fumbling through a TV menu. Window blinds are scheduled to open in sync with the wake-up call. The future of voice control is already in our homes. Let’s bring it to our hotels.”
   
Anna Blount, market research manager of MMGY Global
“Although it is not a physical piece of tech, we are excited about the developing realm of guest entertainment apps that can be added to guests’ mobile devices. Twenty-three percent of travelers find the ability to download content to such an app to watch in and outside of their room, while 22% find ability to order and watch movies on their mobiles devices appealing and 25% find the ability to use such an app for features not available on the in-room television (such as making spa appointments and requesting housekeeping services) appealing.”
   
Euan McGlashan, co-founder and managing partner of Valor Hospitality Partners
“Permit me to name two items. First, biometric technology for room entry. Handheld devices are emerging that are based on a digital scan of the guest’s eye or finger. This is certainly very appealing to security-conscious travelers of all ages and especially to the millennial mindset of ‘all technology, all the time.’
 
“The second area of technology that owners can be excited about is computer-linked energy management. New systems can significantly reduce a property’s operating costs, not to mention our collective global carbon footprint.”
   




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