The term “in-room entertainment” doesn’t capture the essence of the space a hotel guest enjoys, nor is it even a true reflection of that guest’s needs. Entertainment provided by pay-per-view television or Blu-ray equipment is unconnected to the customer. Today, guest, technology and entertainment are blended — coming together at the swipe of a fingertip.
The hospitality and lodging industry is embracing disruptive technology across segments. It is the era of the “on” generation, focused on immediacy and controlling their world through a device in the palm of their hand. They’re a cohort who know what they want and when — from food and music to shopping and accommodations. Smart hoteliers are opting for smart technology. And so they should; customers of all ages check in with two or, often three devices — smart phone, tablet and laptop. These catalysts of disruptive technology — rather than traditional media — now define in-room entertainment, according to Mitch Heinlein, vice-president Sales and Marketing at Bittel Americas.
“All the brands are looking at how guests are checking in and using multiple mobile devices,” says Heinlein. “So how we support the mobile device and give the guest options to promote their personal content to the TV is the challenge. It’s where we are headed with our products.”
Bittel’s solution to this challenge is the iMediaCast. Introduced in June 2016, this device measures roughly 6″ by 8″ and allows hotel guests to connect a mobile device to stream content to the room’s television.
“Our technology allows whatever is on your device to be mirrored over to the TV, as long as there aren’t digital rights issues which prevent you from promoting the content,” says Heinlein.
Guests connect their device to iMediaCast not through an app, but via a wired connection to stream their content to the television — whether it be Netflix, traditional television or a PowerPoint presentation. A wireless connectivity module can also be used to connect to Apple Airplay and Miracast-certified devices. With more than 100 hotels around the world, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.’s Aloft brand is designed for the connected next-generation traveller. It’s a lifestyle, explains Sarah Downing, vice president, Global Guest Initiatives, Aloft Hotels, so Aloft asks their hotels to provide the capacity to give customers quick and seamless access to the content they desire.
“More and more, we know our travellers want to be in control, and they want to be able to watch and listen to what they want on their terms and on their time,” she says. To make this possible, Aloft introduced RoomCast powered by Chromecast earlier this year: This point-and-click technology allows guests to stream content from their devices directly to the television in their room. The platform is secure and requires no administration or account set-up — essentially creating a private wireless world within each guest’s hotel room.
At Samsung Electronics Canada, in-room entertainment isn’t just about the hardware, according to Mary Peterson, vice-president IT & Enterprise Solutions. “It’s about creating a personalized, distinctive and enhanced guest experience through premium TVs that display content beautifully and offer guests a smarter, more connected experience,” she explains.
Because a majority of guests are accustomed to syncing their smart devices with their televisions sets at home, this method of content sharing is a convenience they have come to crave while travelling. “[Guests] now expect these types of features when visiting hotels too,” she adds. Smart TVs get guests connected quickly giving them what Samsung calls “a home-away-from-home experience.” With the availability of systems such as LED and immersive curved screens, in-room entertainment can offer tremendous quality and an elevated experience which brings guests “closer to their favourite content.”
Whether travelling on business or for pleasure, quick access to streamed content and premium audio and visual quality are critical, says Peterson. “Whether allowing them to connect their personal devices to the TV to stream their favourite content, or get real-time updates on conference-room changes and weather, guests are more seamlessly connected than ever before.”
Franchise Services for Choice Hotels Canada, with 340 mid-scale and economy hotels currently open or under development across the country. He’s observed a shift away from providing traditional in-room entertainment to focusing on other aspects of a guest’s multi-device check in.
At Choice, investing in in-room movie systems has seen only a small ROI, which comes as no surprise since today’s customer prefers to use their tablet as their main source of entertainment, Gidney notes. As a result, fewer and fewer Choice hotels — perhaps only 20 per cent, Gibney estimates — have traditional television systems today. “Instead, we encourage our owners to make sure they’re investing in great Wi-Fi and making sure it’s available in every corner of the room,” he explains. “It can’t just be at the desk anymore.”
The evidence is clear, both quantitatively and qualitatively. “We see it in consumer research, which tells us this is the era of the multi-device check in,” Gibney says. “We’re also seeing it anecdotally in the demand for Wi-Fi.” That shouldn’t come as a surprise: kids watch Netflix, Millennials certainly rely on smart devices and increasingly older guests do too. There isn’t an age demographic that hasn’t been impacted by mobile technology.
KNOW THY CUSTOMER
While knowing your customer is key — getting too tech-focused or too far ahead of the curve may not be what a particular market demands. There is a difference between being trendy and being on-trend, says Downing. Aloft finds its market by piloting technology in concept rooms and collecting customer and operator feedback and data. “The pilot approach works and has allowed us to be nimble,” she adds. Sports teams are a prime example of a market with particular entertainment demands. Choice’s Gibney says many of its customers check in with their own Xbox or PlayStation systems, which they connect to in-room TVs. “They use the Wi-Fi to play with friends back home or down the hall. Construction crews in the market on special projects for a month or so will also use Wi-Fi for gaming,” he adds.
In Saskatoon, Cam McDonald is general manager of a Travelodge with 261 rooms, 16,000 sq.-ft. of conference space and two swimming pools, one of which features a 250-ft. water slide. The property is attractive for leisure travel and sports team business, so it offers an interactive on-screen guide with 54 HD channels, on-demand movies free-of-charge and a multi-channel sports package.
“The team business we do was one of the reasons we went down the sports-package path, for sure,” McDonald says. “Everyone comes in with at least one, if not two devices.” Testing done at another property also influenced the hotel’s entertainment decisions. “They found guests really liked the guide,” McDonald says. “InfiNET is a popular television service in Saskatchewan and lots of people have it at home. They come in here and know the channels already. It was important to us to find a service provider who could get us the guide.” The hotel also offers the Internet speed guests crave, thanks to a recent upgrade — 520 Mbps on downloads and 60 Mbps on uploads.
ON THE HORIZON
Staying on top of entertainment technology can be difficult, especially when the only constant is change. Heinlein acknowledges a shrinking number of people are tied to scheduled content. “They are not thinking about what’s on television on a Tuesday at 8 p.m.,” Heinlein says.
For McDonald in Saskatoon, consideration is being given to smart TVs so guests can have full control of their content. “We’ve also considered whether to get into Apple TV or Chromecast so that guests would still have the capability to get their content on the TV.” This, he says, will be determined by further research to ensure the technology is agnostic.
Choice Hotels Canada tries not to build brand standards based on what the next “it” device or platform will be. Gibney says it is more concerned with the nuts and bolts of the hotel that will permit that seamlessness, rather than an intense focus on trends. To this end, the company recently announced that by March 2017 all of its hotels must meet standards that provide guests with faster uploading and downloading. “We try to make sure they have the infrastructure to support whatever comes down the pipe,” Gibney adds.
Aloft is also looking to bandwidth — and the associated hotel infrastructure — in order to meet the demand of constant change that more sophisticated hotel customers represent. “Seamlessness for the guests is important,” as is not having to ask them to log in to three different websites and enter personal information, she says. “We want the ability to make that available to our guests, so they can build their [own] experience.”
Written By: Andrew Coppolino
Volumer 28, Number 6