5 Guest Room Tech Trends

By George Koroneos, Contributing Editor | February 11, 2010

Twenty years ago, technology wasn't something that controlled our lives. Sure, cars got us from point A to point B and portable tape decks were great for listening to tunes while jogging, but people did not rely on cutting-edge technology.
 
Today, people want to be connected; they drag around smart phones, laptops, e-readers, and expect similar amenities while they are travelling for business or vacation.
 
The trickle-down impact on hotels is the need for "wow" factor; the surprise guests receive when they walk into a room tricked out with the latest gear and gadgets. Modern-day business travelers also demand the latest technologies in the guest room.
 
For the past decade, hotels have been struggling to meet the demands of tech savvy guests. Where once hotels offered a great escape for business travelers looking for a relaxing and high tech experience, recent years have shown otherwise. Hotels have been slow to adopt new technology out of fear that by the time it was implemented, it would already be outdated.
 
Luckily, the tech world has hit a plateau. The cost of Internet and televisions has dropped significantly, and a ton of gadgets that were once the sole property of only high-end or boutique hotels are now being added to the shopping lists of almost every IT department. "Hotels, now, understand the importance of technology, not just as a cost factor, but as a strategic enabler," says Cihan Cobanoglu, PhD., associate professor of hospitality information technology at the University of Delaware.
 
"We found that there are several technologies that exist in a hotel's guest room that might have an influential impact on customer satisfaction," Cobanoglu says. For example, guests get annoyed when they can't easily access a power outlet, a problem that plagues many travelers. Some hotels are now investing in solutions like the Powermat (www.powermat.com) that allows devices such as smart phones to be wirelessly charged on a digital plank that resembles a skateboard sans wheels. If the guest doesn't have a Powermat-enabled device, they can borrow a wireless adapter from the front desk.
 
"As prices come down, and adoption by consumers increases, people will want to see these technologies in their guest rooms," Cobanoglu says. "I foresee that in the next five years, hotels will start to catch up. It's not a question of if they are going to implement these new technologies; it's just a matter of time."
 
Here are some of the hottest technologies being implemented in guest rooms today, and a few that are hovering over the horizon.

1. Television Wars Continue
Three years ago, plasma televisions were coveted by just about every gear geek, but greenification took hold, and plasmas gave way to far more energy-friendly LCD screens. In turn, plasma televisions have plummeted in price and LCD monitors have begun reaching the size of plasmas. What does the future hold for TVs? 3D LED televisions were the buzzword at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2010. With an influx of three-dimensional movies pouring into the movie theaters, it's only a matter of time before 3D begins spilling into living room and hotels. Samsung (www.samsung.com) unveiled its LED7000 Series television that features a 3D chip that converts two-dimensional pictures into 3D. The jury is still out as to whether 3D is a gimmick or here to stay.

2. High Definition
Blue Ray might have been all the rage last year, but word has it sales haven't been as stellar as they were for DVDs when they exploded on the market in the late '90s. The reason is that many analysts think people are holding out for high definition signals delivered on-demand through cable or video providers. With companies like RoomLinx (www.roomlinx.com) and LodgeNet (www.lodgenet.com) pumping out Blue Ray quality movies through the traditional Internet pipe, the death knell for physical media is beginning to sound. Ironically, the hotel industry was the first to jump on the HD video-on-demand bandwagon, which has just recently begun trickling out into the consumer market thanks to Netflix's on demand service.

3. Next Gen Game Consoles
The Nintendo Wii (www.nintendo.com) gets all the attention, but its big brothers the Microsoft XBOX 360 (www.microsoft.com) and the Sony Playstation 3 (www.sony.com) are proving to be tech powerhouses in guest rooms. Not only are both systems useful for renting video games (especially games that look amazing on a large flat screen), but both systems offer a massive range of connectivity, including on demand Netflix (www.netflix.com) viewing, onboard music storage, Twitter and Facebook access, and, in the case of the Sony, a top-of-the-line Blue Ray Player. Both systems have dropped to $299 in the past year ($199 for the low-end XBOX and the Wii) and XBOX and Playstation 3 can play traditional DVDs as well. The best part is that guests are apt to fork over more money for room service if they are on a ten-hour online binge of Modern Warfare 2 or Left4Dead 2.

4. In-Room Concierge
Imagine entering your guest room and being greeted by a digital image of the hotel's CEO or the bride and groom whose wedding you are attending. They give a small message and then the monitor switches to a touch screen display of all the things you can do on the property. This is the future of in-room concierge, a technology that puts all the amenities of the hotel into a compact touch screen monitor (or in the television).
 
Using a system such as Intelity's ICE (www.intelitycorp.com), guests can order food, place reservations for events, or look up the address of a local shop, all from the comfort of their desk.
 
"It doesn't matter whether you are in St. Augustine or Tallahassee. There is a move towards greater technology in the guest rooms," says Marc Bauer, general manager of the Hotel Duval in Tallahassee, Florida. "I was able to give us a point of distinction in the market place and it gave us the ability to appeal to a broad range of guests be they business or leisure travelers.
 
"People are immediately drawn to a 22-inch, flat-screen monitor that sits on their work desk," Bauer adds. "Almost instantaneously, they log on, and we have measured the length of time between logging on, and their first transaction and it's about two minutes."

5. In-Room Control
Finally, imagine pressing a button labeled "good night" that turns off the television, all lights, and closes the drapes. This technology exists today, and gives guests control over nearly every facet of the room, from the drapery to the heating. It's even beginning to trickle down into affordable guest rooms.
 
A controller behind the television feeds commands to every item in the room that can be remotely adjusted. The guest can use the TV to control the alarm clocks, access the bar, the safe; basically everything except the fire alarms. Another option is to use a small touch panel that can be mounted onto the wall. The next phase is to enable applications, similar to those in an iPhone that will allow hotels to access sites outside of its four walls via the Web.
 
"I would like to start interacting with the world," explains John Bollen, MGM MIRAGE vice president of technology, which installed the Control4 (www.control4.com) hotel room device at the new ARIA at CityCenter. "I want to give guests the capability to check the weather, access news feeds from their local market, even read the local paper. That's the type of interaction that we want to bring into the guest room."
 
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