Flat Screen TVs: On the Edge of Change

By Tim Clark | September 08, 2008

With the myriad of business and regulatory challenges already facing hospitality providers, another problem looms on the horizon: upgrading from standard tube television sets to flat screen sets. Next year, the standard TV analog signal becomes digital, so for obvious reasons, a flat screen upgrade seems logical. But for some hotels, providing flat screen TVs to guests is simply a matter of pleasant room aesthetics. For others, it is a brand requirement, particularly for new hotel builds. Either way, the flat screen upgrade process can be a tricky one as hotels figure out how to dispose of old tube sets and justify the ROI.

According to Don Shouldice, chief operating officer for RTM (www.rtmconsulting.net), a technology consulting firm to more than 1,200 hotels, many hotel franchises have delayed their upgrade plans due to cost.

"It is a brand requirement for any new build hotel [to upgrade to flat screen TVs] but many of the brands have pushed the requirement for flats into late 2009," says Shouldice. "They are hearing from the franchisees that there is a huge cost involved in the flat sets and high definition programming."

RTM recently helped Driftwood Hospitality (www.driftwoodhospitality.com) and InnKeepers Hospitality (www.innkeepershospitality.com) upgrade from traditional box set TVs to flat screens. RTM managed the process from a technology standpoint and helped the hotels understand issues that they might encounter with cabling and furniture. Shouldice says many hotels like Driftwood and InnKeepers are upgrading to flat screens for their "sex appeal" and to stay competitive.

"In both cases the motivation is a result of brand requirements and to stay current with the offerings of hotels in their competitive set," says Shouldice. "The implementation is rather large as they are both looking at converting the majority of their portfolio." 

And while Sholdice says it is difficult for hotels to extricate themselves from current box set TV contracts, the price for both flat screen TVs and high definition converter box sets are expected to drop in 2009, so the wait should be worthwhile. For hotels that do not have the luxury of waiting, a more calculated, phase-out approach of tube TVs is the most viable upgrade protocol.

A gradual deployment
Such is the case with Dallas-based Accor North America (www.accor-na.com), which operates more than 900 upscale and economy properties including nationwide economy leaders Studio 6 and Motel 6. The company is starting the process of purging its CRT TVs and upgrading to flat screens as its Motel 6 hotels are renovated, according to Dan Gilligan, vice president of energy and environmental services, Accor. "We will continue to utilize CRT TVs in properties that are going to be renovated later in the cycle," says Gillian. "It takes several years to renovate all of the locations."

Gillian says the flat screen TVs play a key role in the dynamic, new look of Motel 6's rooms. The new room design is dramatically different from the prior ones and extra attention was paid to incorporating LCD TVs into the new room prototypes, according to Gillian.

"We want existing Motel 6 rooms to adhere as closely as possible to the new room design prototypes," says Gillian. "A major part of this new signature look includes LCD TVs."

The new Motel 6 TVs will also be designed with the guest in mind; each LCD will come equipped with a "patch panel" extension to bring back panel connections to the front of the TV. This modification allows guests to easily obtain connectivity to other analog and digital inputs for DVD players, laptops, cameras and other devices.

Motel 6 continues to rely on older tube TVs for locations that are not under renovation. As such, the company plans to remove its mast antennas that receive analog signals and feed content to tube TVs via satellite as they await the upgrade to LCD and high-definition. "When we convert properties to new LCD TVs, we will also add HD receivers so guests can enjoy the higher quality HD programming," says Gillian.

Gillian says his company is considering LCD TVs from a multitude of manufacturers and will most likely invest in two to three different brands but cautions that the procurement process when selecting new TVs is tricky.

"We are trying to design our furniture in such a way that it doesn't matter which one we use," says Gillian. "The problem with some TV manufacturers is that they will discontinue models soon after they are first made. You have to be prepared in your entire procurement logic that you are going to get the TVs when you need them. Utilizing more than one source will be critical to our success."

Meeting space media
Like Motel 6, Hyatt Regency Chicago is also utilizing a multi-tiered approach to providing guests with cutting edge LCD technology. Hyatt Regency Chicago offers 2,019 guest rooms and 228,000 square feet of meeting space, along with a 70,000-square-foot exhibit hall and four ballrooms, including one that spans 24,000 square feet. Its large meetings serve many people who need updated and correct information on their meeting time and location. With this in mind, hotel management determined that digital signage using large screen LCDs with radio frequency identification technology (RFID) was a necessary investment to accommodate their guests.

Hyatt's management team selected AVT Communique (www.avt.com), a division of Hospitality Partners with international headquarters in Arlington Heights, Illinois, as its audio visual integrator. AVT Communique undertook a thorough evaluation of displays and decided on NEC Display Solutions' (www.necdisplay.com) 40" MultiSync LCD4010 and 32" (31.5" VIS) NEC MultiSync LCD3210 large screen displays. Hyatt needed a quick way to display meeting information that would be legible to many guests in a large space, while adapting to the hotel's interior design. Hospitality Partners and Hyatt were impressed with the NEC LCDs and found them to be a perfect fit for its way finding requirements. And with the embedded RFID technology, meeting attendees simply display their RFID name card, which signals the way finding system to display their personalized meeting agenda. Currently, RFID is being used in sales demonstrations and site inspections.

"Our goals for implementing this system have been fully achieved," says Patrick Donelly, general manager, Hyatt Regency Chicago "In addition to providing a valuable service, we wanted to impress our guests and clients with the technological capabilities of the system; providing them streamlined information, captivating motion graphics and demonstrating how the hotel is technologically ahead of its competition."

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