How technology can, and should be changing your guestroom experience
In today’s fast-paced, tech-centred environment, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the various advancements in consumer computing, entertainment and portable office paraphernalia. To wit, in last year’s articles on guestroom technology, you wouldn’t find mention of iPads or RFID-based key systems, but fast forward a year, and the two are both on the new wave of technological possibilities for your property. But, while it might seem an insurmountable challenge to keep pace, it’s important to remember there are those out there who most certainly are on the cutting edge: your guests. And to keep them coming back, you’ve got to play in some new ballparks.
To start, let’s get one thing clear: high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi are no longer enough to impress hotel guests. Providing these technologies is about on par with personal soap bars nowadays. Guests expect to be offered this technology as a bare minimum or they’ll go elsewhere. Going beyond these essentials means hotels must fine-tune their guestroom technology to suit their target customers. But there’s a bewildering array of gadgets and devices out there. Guests are already yawning at iPod docking stations and expecting HD television in their rooms. Enticing them with the latest and greatest in guestroom technology means constant upgrades, as hotels must provide more exciting techno-goodies than most people have in their homes. To help sort through the clutter, here are three categories for review.
Novelties and necessities // The St. Regis, a 65-room Vancou-ver-based hotel, caters to tech-savvy business travellers. The hotel introduced iPad rentals for $25 per day right after the much-ballyhooed launch of the new Apple product this spring, says general manager Jeremy Roncoroni. “It gives people an opportunity to check them out before they buy one. We have four iPads on hand loaded up with shopping and restaurant apps, and they’re very popular — the novelty hasn’t worn off yet.”
The St. Regis already offered iPod docking stations, and Roncoroni says the iPad works with existing equipment and doesn’t require extra gear. “But the iPad doesn’t have good sound quality,” he warns. Instead, the St. Regis is upgrading its docking stations and clock-radios in the fall to the iClock, another Apple product he says has better sound quality. “It’s a bigger unit and has a mini stereo system.”
The hotel’s in-room media hubs offer central control for Internet access, phone and lighting and provides extra electrical outlets. “It eliminates the need for extension cords. And guests can plug their laptops into their room’s 32-inch flatscreen LG HD television and use it as a monitor instead.”
Almost 40 per cent of the population has HD television at home at this point, so this is no longer a novelty but a necessity for hotels, he says. “In a few years, all the technology we offer will likely be standard at most hotels or people won’t stay with you. Offering guests the technology they have at home isn’t enough — you have to go above and beyond.”
But pricing this technology in a convenient way is another big issue for guests, he says. “Our technology charges are bundled into our room rate. You don’t have to pay extra for Internet or local calls. We cater to savvy business travellers, so when they come here, they won’t get nickeled and dimed for everything they do.”
To that end, Roncoroni says the next techno-goodie the St. Regis will be offering won’t be some new gizmo but something far more important to travellers who often get sticker-shock: free long distance phone calls. “The typical mark-up at most hotels for long-distance calls is 200 to 300 per cent. We’re switching to a new carrier in the fall that will allow us to eliminate charges for all North American calls.”
Sound luxuries // The Ritz-Carlton brand focuses on the high-end leisure market, but there’s strong demand during the week for business customers, says Tim Terceira, general manager of the Toronto-based property, which opens later this fall. The hotel will offer 32-inch flat panel LCD HD televisions, Blu-ray DVD players and media hubs, says Terceira. But the Ritz-Carlton will also offer some bonus luxury techno-amenities.
Guests will never be cold or bored in its bathrooms, which come with heated floors and entertainment. “We’ve equipped our bathroom mirrors with 22-inch televisions that display the same channel as the living room, but when the TV is off, you just see the mirror,” he says. “Other hotels are also starting to offer this in the luxury market, but you won’t find it the sub-luxury market.”
The Ritz is also paying particular attention to the audio experience. Luxury suites are equipped with Bose surround sound. “These systems offer phenomenal sound quality. And we also offer Bose clock-radios in our guestrooms, which come equipped with iPod adapters.”
Terceira says most of his guests have HD television at home, but not many have high-end surround sound. “You have to provide a stay that exceeds expectations and leaves people saying, ‘Gee, I wish I had that at home.’”
DVRs, eReaders and digital jukeboxes // Extended-stay hotel customers have technology needs that are different from regular guests, says Dawn Koenig, vice-president of Hotel Performance Support for Home2 Suites by Hilton. The company is building several new Home2 sites for extended stays of 10 days or more in the mid-tier market, and plans to open the first property in North Carolina in December 2010. “For extended-stay guests, you must ensure you’re replicating their lives at home to the extent possible,” says Koenig.
The lowly electrical outlet figures prominently in this equation. “It’s really important to our guests that we provide them with many outlets in the right locations, because they’re travelling with so many different devices. So we provide connectivity via pop-up electrical outlets on cables.”
She says Hilton upgraded its standard two years ago, and so all its extended-stay suites have, or will have, 42-inch flat-screen HD televisions by June 2011. “This is what’s happening in customer residences, and we followed suit.”
Home2 is also planning to offer media hubs in its one-bedroom suites in the fall. “Guests can play their own music using the speakers on the television. And if they have movies on their computers, iPhones or iPods, we provide a cable kit that allows them to use the portions of the hub that require cable connections.”
The next device Home2 is eyeing for its suites is DVRs. “We’re looking at ways we can introduce that. DVRs are commonplace in residences, and customers may want to record favourite programs during an extended stay, just as they do at home,” says Koenig.
New electronic replacements for the tried-and-true travel book are also popping up in certain hotels. Electronic readers are catching on, says Sony spokesperson Leanne Drown. “Sony eReaders are a hot product, and they’re finding their way into luxury hotels, particularly if they’re available poolside with a built-in library of bestsellers. The Epic Hotel in Miami, and Gansevoort and Algonquin Hotels in New York City are offering them. Some are striking deals with publishers to provide the freshest content on a monthly basis.”
Niche hotels are also finding innovative ways to introduce high-tech amenities in remote locations. In far-flung Punto del Diablo in Uruguay, the El Diablo Tranquilo hotel, which caters to surfers, has found innovative ways to please its guests.
“We provide an internal network that allows guests to access our full media collection offering thousands of movies and songs for live-streaming from their mobile or laptop. And we offer 25-inch HP Touch Screen computers that serve as ‘video jukeboxes’ to show our collection of surf videos categorized by type of wave, break, and surfer,” says owner, Brian Meissner.
Will personal tablet computers ever be as germane to the guestroom as the Gideon Bible? It’s difficult to say for sure, but hoteliers on the cutting edge sure aren’t willing to bet against it.