Smartphones on Track to Become Room Control Devices

By Tammy Mastroberte, Contributing Editor | December 11, 2012

As smartphones and tablets continue to infiltrate the consumer market, the probability of someone not having one of these devices is slimming. Even those who have yet to purchase a smartphone have likely used one and are familiar with the touchscreen interface and ease of use. The same is true for interactive televisions, and the ability to view movies from a computer or mobile device on a television screen.

So what does this mean for hotel operators? As consumer technology grows, so does the expectation for hotel guestrooms and connectivity.

“Guests expect technology now because it’s what they have at home,” says Rod Mano, director of guest technology at Wyndham Worldwide (www.wyndhamworldwide.com), based in Parsippany, N.J. and operating more than 7,000 locations worldwide. “More people have these intelligent devices and carry them everywhere. A phone isn’t just a phone anymore — it’s e-mail, contacts, pictures and music — it’s your life on the road. The more we can get separate systems to talk to the mobile devices, the better we will be.”

The newest trend in the hotel space is allowing guests to control everything in the room with one device. Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG, www.htng.org), a global trade association run by and for hotel IT executives, recently announced a new standard to enable a single remote control to support multiple devices. A recent demo at the HTNG conference in Chicago showed how a variety of devices in the guestroom can connect to a standard television remote, according to Bryan Steele, chairman of the HTNG workgroup responsible for the standard, and founding and managing director of Jireh-Tek Limited (www.jireh-tek.co.uk), an IT consulting firm focused on the hospitality sector.

Additionally, with the popularity of smartphones and tablets, HTNG is also working on standards for these devices, and Steele believes they will replace the television as the focal point of control.

“People are familiar with smartphones and tablet applications and therefore adoption using those devices rather than a television is more likely,” he explains. “Many people already use apps on these devices to control their devices at home.”

Going mobile for the masses
While televisions have offered check out functionality for some time now, usage rates for this service still remain low and don’t compare to the high usage rates for tablets, according to Greg Stafford, general manager at The Inn at Penn, a Hilton Hotel (www.theinnatpenn.com) based in Philadelphia, Pa.

In conversations with vendors while shopping for guestroom control options, Stafford discovered usage rates for technology delivered over the television ranged from 30 to 40 percent, with iPads or other tablets ranked much higher. For this reason, the property chose to install iPads in May 2011, using Intelity’s ICE (Interactive Customer Experience) (www.intelitycorp.com), which integrates with all other hotel systems including the property management system (PMS).

“Since we have installed iPads in our rooms, every week we see a range of 74 to 90 percent usage,” he notes. “On average about 85 percent of guests use the system across all demographics. In fact, I suspect we have more guests using the system than our soap. It might just be the most used amenity we have in the hotel.”

The iPads allow guests to seamlessly request services, whether it’s asking to have their luggage at a certain time, ordering room service or asking for additional towels from housekeeping. “Guests can order room service for the next morning, and the system will spit out a ticket a half hour before the time, and the guests get a confirmation that we received the order,” says Stafford.

Adopting a similar technology, CitizenM Hotels (www.citizenm.com), with four properties and seven under construction — including two in New York — offers guests an in-room Samsung (www.samsung.com) tablet using technology from Swisscom (www.swisscom.ch) to control all functions from the lighting, curtains and air conditioning to the television and wake up calls.

“Swisscom hooks up the IP-based technology and allows us to converge it over the network, and also integrate with our PMS,” explains Michael Levie, chief operating officer at CitizenM, based in the Netherlands. “People are getting used to navigating through a tablet and the smart navigation is very easy, even for somebody who is not tech savvy.”

The tablet also allows the operator to trouble shoot from the front desk, track usage down to what applications are the most popular and see how long it takes guests to accomplish certain tasks on the device.

With any technology, it takes a while for industries to adopt, and offering tablet devices in guestrooms is still new, says Stafford. “Today, for example, if you have not switched to flat-screen TVs you are probably angering a lot of customers. On the other hand, I don’t think the typical customer expects to find an iPad,” he notes, explaining the trend may shift to just offering apps because smartphone use is becoming even more widespread.

The missing link: television-to-mobile
While using the television to control the room may not have achieved widespread adoption, it is still an important element to consider for guestroom control. Whether it’s streaming movies from a computer, listening to music or playing games, guests are looking for these options to incorporate the in-room television. “A lot of people travel with their own movies that they want to look at in a larger format, and this allows them to stream it on the LED TVs,” Stafford says.

Wyndham Worldwide works with LodgeNet (www.lodgenet.com) to provide on-demand movies and more on its televisions. Some Wyndham locations have added the ability for guests to turn their iPhone or iPad into a remote control.

“Everybody has their own devices today so it’s more about accommodating our products to work on their devices,” says Mano. “There is a product you can load onto the iPhone that makes it the remote for the TV, and now it’s available for the iPad so guests can change channels and even preview movies right on the iPad,” Mano explains.

Wyndham also offers TeleAdapt’s MediaHub (www.teleadapt.com) to allow guests to charge their devices and hook them up to the television to watch movies, listen to music or view work presentations on PowerPoint, according to Mano. The Inn at Penn also offers the MediaHub devices along with cords to charge popular devices in case guests forget their own.


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