What's Hot in Guestroom Tech

By Jennifer Goforth Gregory, Contributing Editor | March 06, 2015

This year hotel owners and operators will spend more money than in previous years on guestroom technology. According to Hospitality Technology’s 2015 Lodging Technology Study, properties surveyed will allocate nearly 17% of their overall IT budget to guestroom tech, up from 15% in 2014. Where will the funding go? Many are planning to upgrade their existing wireless access (45%), add new or enhance existing HD content (36%), add or upgrade their next-gen room locks to include such features as RFID and mobile key (34%), and even boost the in-room energy efficiency through room control systems.

Before moving ahead with a new upgrade, however, there are significant factors to consider. Is it right for the guest? Will it drive revenue? How soon will it be replaced by something else? HT has connected with industry executives to find out what hotels are forging ahead with in 2015.

Mobile invasion: keys, content and more
Not surprisingly, mobile enabled features are a priority for a variety of applications, from door lock access, to television controls. It’s becoming a major trend for hotels to reengineer the check-in experience for guests, notes Douglas Rice, executive vice president & CEO of Hotel Technology Next Generation (www.htng.org), a global trade organization dedicated to enhancing the deployment of technology in hotels. For many, his retooling will include a streamlined process for accessing the guestroom through either RFID keys or mobile devices.

Danielle Gaccione, director of digital product management, Caesars Entertainment (www.caesars.com), says that the company already has mobile key, and that a retooled check-in process is on the horizon. The company is constantly researching ways to make the experience at its resorts more convenient and connected, says Gaccione. “Mobile keys are a great feature to have as part of this program,” she explains. “We are working on a comprehensive digital self-check experience that will combine mobile and e-mail features that offer guests the ability to customize their check-in / check-out experience.”

Caesars Entertainment rolled out mobile keys utilizing cloud-based, BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) enabled locks from Kaba (www.kabalodging.com) featuring Legic ID Connect. “As we progress with our program, we will integrate our mobile key into our play by TR app which allows guests to book rooms, make dinner reservations, buy show tickets and more, all from their fingertips,” Gaccione reveals.

Personality Hotels Collection (www.personalityhotels.com) implemented OpenWays (www.openways.com) at two of its properties to offer guests an easier, seamless way to access rooms while also improving guest engagement and avoiding complications that arise from guests losing keys or having them deactivated. David Chin, chief operating officer of Personality Hotels, believes mobile key technology will become a standard in the next couple of years. “One day it won’t be an opt-in feature — it will be an opt-out feature,” he says. “Soon it will be a primary option versus a secondary option.”

Chin is also looking to implement OpenWays at more properties in the future and plans to utilize the newly added BLE capabilities that OpenWays offers. “Using Bluetooth will mean that connectivity streams would not be an issue,” he explains. “It would be a lot more stable.”

 Once inside the room, guests’ mobile devices are also influencing hotels’ television choices. Guests are now bringing their own content when they stay in a hotel, says Rice, and many want a way to access their Netflix, Hulu or Amazon account through in-room devices instead of paying for movies. About 15% of hotels are currently using Smart TVs. Another 16% will add them in 2015, according to HT’s 2015 Lodging Technology Study.

Smart televisions allow guests to connect to mobile devices, log into subscription content services (either their own or hotel provided), and serve as a content management system that eliminates the needs for external boxes. For 2015, Samsung (www.samsung.com) is releasing a new lineup of Smart TV model products, including the SUHD series that has a curved form factor as well as the ability to provide ultra-high definition content.

Retooling the telephone
Hotels continue to look for a way to reinvent the in-room telephone. About 28% currently have VoIP phones in the guestroom according to the HT study, and another 14% plan to add them in 2015. Meanwhile, other hotels have opted to completely replace phones with interactive control devices. For example, guests at the Hotel Bel-Air in Beverly Hills (www.dorchestercollection.com) can turn off the bathroom light without ever getting out of their bed. Recently, the property replaced the guest telephones with OmniTouch 8400 Instant Communications Suite from Alcatel-Lucent (www.alcatel-lucent.com) that allows guests to communicate to hotel staff for such things as turndown service, privacy or housekeeping needs as well as controlling all elements of the room including lights, thermostat and curtains.

When a guest makes a request, the telephone sends the message directly to handheld devices carried by the staff so they know privacy requests as well as housekeeping needs. “This gives us metrics and information so we can better anticipate our guest’s needs,” said Adam Jones director of information technology at The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows & Hotel Bel-Air. Although the hotel is not currently using the feature, the OnmiTouch can also be integrated to work with guests’ mobile devices as well.

Raising hotels’ “green IQ” with smart thermostats and room controls
Since heating and cooling is the number one expense behind labor, Rice also sees properties focusing on smarter environmental control management by determining if a room is occupied through sensors and automating room temperature. New smart thermostats allow hotels to save considerable money and energy by automatically increasing or decreasing room temperature when the guest is not in the room. Some models will learn the guest’s habits and automatically adjust based on their schedule. These products are also becoming integrated with the door locks, lights and curtains in the room to further save energy and costs. New advances in this market include a new version of the Telkonet EcoTouch thermostat resembling the iPhone 6 with capacity touch ability which will be released in late summer 2015.     

The Westin Buckhead Atlanta (www.westinbuckheadatlanta.com), for example, installed INNCOM (www.inncom.com) thermostats in all 365 guest rooms two years ago. This resulted in as much as 50 percent reduction in energy costs in some months and a significant decrease in guest complaints regarding room temperature. “We are also better able to control guest comfort because if a room is not returning to the correct temperature quick enough, the product alerts our engineer and we can correct the problem before the guest is even aware of the issue,” says Robert Attaway, director of engineering, Westin Buckhead Atlanta.

As soon as a guest is checked in at the front desk at Potawatomi Hotel in Milwaukee (www.paysbig.com/hotel), the EcoSmart in-room energy management system from Telkonet (www.telkonet.com) installed in each room begins heating or cooling the room until it reaches 72 degrees. “The system knows when a guest leaves the room and will allow the temperature to fluctuate four degrees from the guest’s preferred temperature. The product can also be integrated with the room lights and curtains to save additional energy. As soon as the guest puts the key in the door lock, the system immediately turns on to return the room to the guest’s individual preference,” says Shane Cherney, director of engineering. “We have been able to save money, conserve energy and increase guest satisfaction.”

Focus on infrastructure
Rice stresses that the needs of the specific demographic at the property should drive all technology decisions. Guests’ “needs” should also include consideration of their interests and ability to adapt to new technology. Finally, properties must also consider who will pay for the products. Will the technology increase revenue through higher occupancy rates, he asks, or will guests pay additional charges for use?

He also stresses that it is important to consider the hotel’s infrastructure and connectivity capabilities for today’s needs, as well as the needs for the next five years, especially if a renovation is planned. “You can’t provide the new and innovative technology without the infrastructure to support it,” Rice says. “Infrastructure isn’t the sexy part, but you can’t give the guests what they want without investing in it.”

Personality Hotels’ Chin agrees that having the infrastructure in place is the first step, but once it’s there, properties have endless possibilities. “Once the
infrastructure is there, guests should be able to use mobile devices to do anything from accessing temperature controls to utilizing the entertainment center to actually enhancing engagement with staff,” he states. “The mobile phone should be the conduit for guest needs and basically be your central device, as opposed to having it limited to what you have in the guestroom.”     
        

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