For the past decade or more, hotel operators have been upgrading their in-room entertainment systems as guest preferences and technology evolves. The past two years, however, have accelerated their efforts as guests are spending more time in their rooms due to COVID-19 restrictions, and access to endless libraries of streaming content have taken over more traditional entertainment options.
“Entertainment has always been a part of relaxation, luxury and enjoyment, and as more Canadians integrate premium entertainment technology into their day-to-day at home, they expect the same experience or better as hotel guests,” says Mary Peterson, vice-president, IT & Enterprise Solutions, Samsung Electronics Canada in Toronto “Today’s guests are looking for a hotel experience that’s similar or better than what they’re used to in their daily lives.
“Two years ago, people familiar with YouTube TV, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO and Disney+, and other streaming/casting services, have been adopted strongly on the consumer side, [this doesn’t make sense] which means the commercial side needs to provide those entertainment options,” says Kara Heermans, SVP User Experience & Product Management for Sonifi in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Since the pandemic began, guests have been staying a bit longer at hotels because of quarantining. Heermans says Sonifi’s internal studies of 3,500 properties show that the amount of time watching cast content has skyrocketed in the past two years. “Guests are casting an average of an hour-and-a-half per time, seven times over a two- to three-day stay. To date, guests have been casting over 2,300 individual apps.”
One added advantage of casting from personal devices is enabling foreign-language content, she notes. “Three years ago, that wasn’t even available. Now guests can stream content of their own choosing in their own language.”
All brands are recognizing the importance of streaming as another opportunity to provide a positive guest experience, says Heermans. “Marriott, IHG and Hyatt are using their own flavours [???] as well.”
Platforms that are personalized and innovative are becoming one of the most important aspects of the guest journey for modern travellers, says Jeff Edwards, senior vice-president, Property, Owner & Stay Experience Products and Platforms, for IHG Hotels & Resorts.
The IHG Studio in-room entertainment system, part of its IHG Connect bandwidth and Wi-Fi platform, allows guests to instantly and securely cast from their own smartphones or personal devices to the in-room television, he explains. “Being able to cast their content directly from their mobile devices without having to enter anything on the TV gives guests the peace of mind that their credentials are staying on their device.”
This is a big leap from previous iterations, when guests had to wait in front of the TV at a certain time to catch their favourite shows on a certain channel. Today, guests travel with their content library and can access it from any smart device on their time, says Edwards. “This is a fundamental shift in how people watch their favourite shows. So, we must change the way we think about how guests like to watch their shows and cater to that.”
For Ana Yuristy, Chief Services Officer at The Drake in Toronto, the hotel’s recent expansion provided the perfect opportunity to explore new in-room entertainment options. “With ongoing construction and COVID delays, we had time to make sure we were making good selections. We knew the pay-per-view-system moment had passed. We also knew it was very important for guests to be able to cast their own streaming services.”
The Drake opted to use Sonifi’s STAYCAST streaming platform. “The nice thing for a boutique hotel like ours is that it doesn’t require $80,000 to $100,000 head-end system to power it. It’s based on a monthly fee and scalable.”
While there is some setup involved, she adds, “it’s not to the degree of other systems. Guests can simply turn on their TV using their device. They don’t have to work through the remote and go through multiple fields of choices. The whole system is all on one TV.” The televisions can also be used to live stream the Drake’s Underground closed-circuit content.
In addition, The Drake has integrated an Intelity guest-engagement platform that allows guests to use the in-room tablet to play music, speak to guest services, order from the menu and explore the room compendium to find services and local hot spots. “It’s all interactively loaded into the system,” says Yuristy. “With both Sonifi and Intelity, there’s no need to download apps.”
Whatever the choice, the fundamental part of any in-room entertainment offering is solid infrastructure, says Garth Ruggiero, director of Product/Purchasing for Atlific Hotels in Montreal, “Guestroom entertainment systems and casting platforms have become key drivers in guest offerings and customer satisfaction. Whether a property is running a guest-entertainment system solution or simply using Chromecast, at the end of the day, you need the backbone to run it. However, it’s often a delicate balance between technology and economics.”
Atlific is focusing its efforts on figuring out how to enable casting across the board, he adds. “Ask anyone how much bandwidth is enough and you’ll get 12 different answers. We’re trying to figure that out on an as-needed basis, whether we’re working with IP, coax, or satellite-based networks, and if and where we need to place wireless access points. We’re also transitioning to smart TVs in some locations and set top boxes in others.”
With the services that are available, Peterson stresses the importance of having televisions that enable new levels of interactivity for multiple functions, while providing guests with the opportunities and access to new experiences in a personalized way. “Innovative in-room TV features include mobile mirroring, where guests can enjoy content from their personal mobile devices with just a click, as well as seamless and intuitive access to embedded entertainment applications.”
Looking to the coming year, Heermans says it’s all about infrastructure. “Embracing the reality on entertainment demands today and forging a path for upgrades are solid recommendations for any hotel operator. Having a network that can be scalable would be a good area of focus for 2022.”
Written by DENISE DEVEAU