In-Room Tech Test

By Cihan Cobanoglu | February 11, 2009

It's been nearly 16 months since the University of Delaware launched X-Room: Experimental Guestroom in partnership with the Marriott Courtyard hotel on the school's campus. The room is outfitted with technologies with varying degrees of next-gen sophistication. The project is intended to track the response of guests who stay in the room to determine user adoption and appeal.

To date, the school has tested approximately 25 different technologies and welcomed more than 100 overnight guests to the room. The feedback is pointing to one simple fact: technology does make a difference in the guest experience; however, this difference can yield positive or negative results and is highly correlated to the technology expertise of the guest. Overall, findings indicate that in-room technology should not require the use of a manual. Solutions that are intuitive will be used.

Technologies tested in X-Room are grouped in four major categories: green tech (i.e. energy management systems, water-saving shower head); room control technologies (i.e. temperature and light controls); entertainment systems (i.e. HDTV, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Media Center); and comfort technologies (i.e. battery charger, flame free candles, walking alarm clock).

Green tech gets praise
Green technologies garner significant guest attention and praise, as many indicate that they appreciate the opportunity to conserve resources. Several guests, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the lower water pressure from the water-saving showerhead and said they should be given the option to use green technologies. One possible solution would be to use showerheads equipped with a switch or button that allows guests to opt in or out of water-saving features.  

Similarly, guests do not have a choice to override the energy management system. The system sets the temperature to a predetermined level when motion sensors indicate that the room is unoccupied for 30 minutes. These systems can save up to 40 percent on energy consumption. Unlike the mixed reviews associated with water conservation systems, however, the temperature control system was highly praised.

Entertainment: simple savvy
When it comes to in-room entertainment, feedback is mixed. About 30 percent of guests do not use any of the in-room entertainment systems. The remaining 70 percent experiment with the television, multi-media and gaming systems. Even more telling will be the level of acceptance as it relates to paid versus complimentary access to entertainment systems; a future area of study for the project.

Nearly all guests indicate confusion over the eight remotes currently in use in the room. Even the most technologically-seasoned guest is unsure as to which remote works which device. There's a tremendous need to integrate devices in the room for ease-of-operation; voice recognition is another possible solution. On the security front, guests asked us to integrate the digital door viewer with the HDTV, which would allow them to view anyone at the door via the television screen.

Finally, comfort technologies receive high marks and many guests even ask about the possibility of purchasing some of the gadgets in the room. While comfort-enhancing technologies do play a role in increasing guest satisfaction, they do not determine hotel selection.

The age factor
Joe McInerney, president and CEO of American Hotel and Lodging Association, stayed in X-Room and offered telling feedback on the experience in his April 2008 interview with The New York Times: "While praising the 'bells and whistles,' he said he could not figure out the alarm clock or how to turn on the television. 'All I wanted to do was watch CNN,'" he told The New York Times.

McInerney was not the only guest with this kind of experience. We found a direct relationship between guest age and their level of satisfaction. In general, as age increased, dissatisfaction also increased. In addition, responses indicate that older guests prefer essential guest room technologies such as a television and Internet access. Younger guests, conversely, are three times more likely to experiment with new technologies and were significantly more satisfied with the technologies present than were older guests.

As the experiment continues, we plan to include biometrics and voice recognition technology, as well as wireless electricity. "The X-Room is a real plus to our hotel," notes Bill Sullivan, managing director of the Marriot Courtyard Newark Delaware. "It helps us position this hotel as not only a leader in customer service, as we are consistently ranked in the top five of all Marriott Courtyards, but also as a leader in delivering leading technology to our guests in a real hotel room environment."

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