2011 Guestroom Tech Trends

By Christina Volpe, Associate Editor | March 03, 2011

Guestroom technology trends have long been known to ebb and flow with changing consumer trends and market conditions. To determine which trends and technologies are top-of-mind this year, Hospitality Technology asked a number of hotel executives to share their insights. For most, sustainability, in-room entertainment and mobility are top-of-mind. And one new piece of hardware, the iPad, is poised to reinvent the in-room experience.

The return of the green room
Sustainability efforts may have been stalled out due to the recession, but they have slowly been picking up steam as of late. And when it comes to sustainability in the guestroom, energy management systems are growing in popularity.

“Energy consumption in hotels represents a very large portion of costs and essentially there is a huge need for us to look at reducing our carbon footprint,” says Gustaaf Schrils, vice president of global technology, Americas, InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG; www.ichotelsgroup.com). IHG partnered with preferred vendor Inncom (www.inncom.com) to provide an in-room energy management system. “Essentially there is a server sitting centrally within the hotel with the intelligence necessary to determine whether or not the room is occupied, and is able to adjust the thermostat so that it is at maximum efficiency.”

The in-room energy management system feeds into a company-wide portal that tracks utility information for each of IHG’s properties, a LEED-certified program called Green Engage. The system compares each property to the whole portfolio so that upper management is able to determine whether or not a specific property is within reasonable usage.

“Sustainability is very important,” says Schrils. “We have noticed that over the past year, more and more big group reservations are making that a requirement in their proposals.”

Television content conundrum
Netflix, with more than 20 million U.S. and Canadian customers, as well as the progression of personal gaming devices, have presented hoteliers with an interesting guestroom entertainment challenge: how do you build upon technologies that many guests are already bringing into the guestroom?

“The ability for people to choose from a selective amount of movies that are available at the hotel, and to enhance that with something like a Netflix where essentially you have thousands of movies of choice rather than a dozen movies of choice is something that is gaining more and more popularity,” says Schrils. “And the ability to also play games not only with the TV, but competing with other people from around the world in real-time is also gaining in popularity.”

“I still find the whole world of television to be somewhat exciting…there are many more things that can be done with that video endpoint in the room, from social-based networking, to over-the-top TV content, to marketing opportunities for the hotelier as well as for the guest,” says John Lowes, executive director or program management for guest technologies, MGM Resorts International (www.mgmresorts.com). “Things can be very focused to guest preferences. As we start to collect more and more data on guest preferences, we can start to create a unique experience for that guest in the room, based on their history and their demographic.”

Meanwhile, Marroitt International (www.marriott.com) has made the choice to yank adult content from new hotel rooms it will open in the next several years, stating that revenue from the pay-per-view movies is on the decline. Marriott says its decision coincides with a pending shift to new in-room entertainment technology for its new hotels. Traditional video systems, which included access to adult content displayed in the menu selection, will be replaced by Internet-based video-on-demand systems. But the decision also comes after years of discussing whether the availability of lucrative adult films in guest rooms is appropriate and whether safeguards exist to prevent children from seeing it.

Cell phones become integrated into the guest’s stay
It isn’t any surprise that mobile technology, from smartphones to laptops, made this year’s guestroom trends list. As more and more travelers are opting to bring their personal devices with them while on the road, hotels are prepping to make sure that guests are able to use these solutions during their stay.

Las Vegas’ CityCenter rooms feature a media hub enabling guests to use their preferred devices. “[Portable devices] are becoming a very important part of mainstream culture,” says Lowes. “So the ability for the guest to use that portable device in the room was something that we looked at early on and we actually ended up having a product developed specifically to our requirements in order to support those portable devices.”

Yet Lowes notes that the most significant challenge with this technology is that guests often forget their device cables at home. “Having a process in place to get the guest the cable very quickly on a 24/7 basis has been something that has increased our guest satisfaction with that device itself.”

Schrils says that IHG is heavily investing in mobility. In addition to having iPhone and Android applications, the company is currently piloting a test in two of its properties where guests can unlock their hotel room door with their phone though a partnership with OpenWays (www.openways.com). “Essentially you get an e-mail before you check in that identifies the room you are going into, and through the acoustic noises that the telephone produces, which are very specific to that door lock and that particular phone, [it] allows that door lock to open. Theoretically, it allows you to go from the plane directly to your room,” says Schrils.

The immediate impact of iPad
This one single piece of hardware deserves its own trend category. Even before Apple’s public release of the iPad, IHG announced plans to put the tablets in the hands of its concierge teams at select properties. Since then, IHG and Best Western have each launched concierge-type apps that are designed for use on guests’ personal iPads.

The technology is now making its way from ‘official front-desk use’ to a provided in-room amenity. At New York City’s Plaza Hotel (www.theplaza.com, a Fairmont Hotel), each of the 282 rooms are equipped with an iPad that runs Intelity ICE (www.intelitycorp.com), a virtual concierge that enables guests to book reservations and request hotel services, among other things. “The thing that we like the most about Intelity is that the software and their backbone system infrastructure brings more than just the fact that we have iPads in the room,” says Shane Krige, the hotels general manager. For example, if guests use the iPad to request an additional pair of slippers, that request will be delivered directly to the appropriate staff member. “From a management standpoint we are able to keep track of efficiency. It will help us shape the amount of product that we put in the room, and if there are certain requests that are extremely high, it helps us keep efficient and reduces the opportunity for mistakes.”

The Plaza also leverages iPads to update its room service menu. “If the chef gets Atlantic salmon that’s come in fresh and he wants to put it on the room service menu, it can be done immediately,” says Krige. “It’s instant versus the old days of where you would have to go up and change the room service menu out of 282 rooms which would take you a couple of days.”
 
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