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ROAD TO RUIN Hotel Technology Overkill Part 1

Category: Hotels, Posted:20 Sep 2011 | 06:00 am

I don't think I am the only person baffled by the growing trend of all manner and shape of gizmos in hotel rooms ranging from the mainstream to the obscure. Are hotel chains only interested in keeping up with the Jones's or have brand standard gone ballistic?
It remains extremly subjective exactly how many of these copycats are really requested by guests, influence travelers booking or at just a series of one upmanship.
Our friend and leading Asian hotel technology expert Terence Ronson of Pertlink it Hong Kong has this to say on the subject:
STOP, LOOK, LISTEN – three simple, potentially life-saving actions drilled into us by our parents and teachers when we are about to cross the road. This sound advice is relevant to all manner of junctions we encounter in life, but for the purpose of this BLOG – none more so than understanding where we are, and where we are headed with Hotel tech.

During the preceding thirty or so years, the Hotel industry has been hooked on placing more and more tech into Hotel rooms believing the Guest wants it, needs it; it's become a way to stay competitive. In a few cases, some rooms have filled up with so much tech, that they have almost reached bursting point.

Reflecting back, one of the first pieces of tech to go into Hotel rooms was the Telephone. We had a simple rationale for doing this. We put them there because travellers needed to be contactable and make calls while on the road, and the only fixed point was the Hotel. We later supplemented these with the Telex and Fax.

Around the same time came the TV. Guests wanted to be entertained in their rooms, and have the ability to keep up with current affairs by watching News. Hoteliers thought Guests wanted movies, so they attached a VOD system to the TV and later added a DVD player with (questionably legal) on-demand libraries either from the Concierge or Business Centers. Statistics show that apart from News, Guests really only wanted to watch Porn.

Then came the Fridge – a place where the Hotel could put a couple bottles of (comp) water, and for the Guests to keep their stuff cool. Not quite the case. Hoteliers morphed them into a mini-bar, offering all manner of over-priced goodies within the impulsive reach of the Guest – that became a nightmare to control. The electronic door lock quickly followed these innovations.

Room control systems soon appeared in Hotel rooms, with the kind of functionality one might experience at home – mood lighting settings, opening and closing of curtains from the comfort of one's bed, some of these employ motion-sensing controls to raise/lower the temperature, or cut some of the power when the Guest exits the room.

Then suddenly, if by the flick of Harry Potter's Magic Wand, all of the above became more and more sophisticated, more and more complex to install and manage, and more and more expensive to purchase and maintain. Am I right?

Hotel Owners started to question the cost and ROI. As Operators you became increasingly concerned over recurring support expenses. And then there is the Guest – heard on a frequent basis complaining that the tech is just too difficult to use. Oh, one must not lose sight of the fact that there is the obsolescence factor with many of the items being superseded by new models at an ever-quickening pace.

So what do we need to do? STOP, LOOK and LISTEN of course!

In all this while, we've moved on generationally more than at any other time in our evolutionary cycle. However, for most of the Hotel industry, and from an in-room tech perspective – it has not.

Just look around and see what Hotels are doing? They dispatch Scouts on reconnaissance missions to see what their competitive set is up to – examining each of their Marketing bullets one by one. They take hundreds of photos and measurements, and then write up copious notes to include a SWOT analysis. Out of perceived fear or the FUD factor, many copy what they believe to be the most important, and end up with a mashup product. Only a handful seems to innovate – most replicate in this cut and paste industry.

In the "i-this" and "i-that" app-centric era we now (thankfully) live, you can no longer cut and paste – you have to innovate to survive – so please, STOP, LOOK and LISTEN

OK – so maybe now I've gotten your attention and you've stopped, and are asking yourself the question: "What am I supposed to be looking at, and listening to?"

People, of course – your peers, your siblings, your kids and other people's kids. Fellow travelers on your bus, the train, and on your plane. The people next to you in the Coffee shop or those across the way in the airport lounge, in the Doctor's waiting room, or beside you in the elevator. The people in the queue at the supermarket, shoppers in the mall, fellow partygoers, and those you interact with at the bar. What do they all have in common?

They are all interacting with daily life – in their own unique way, or so they believe. Observe them, see what they do, and it will give you some insight about the kind of tech you should, or more importantly, not be putting into your Hotel rooms. Remember the old saying – Less is more…

For a start, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that you can ever compete with the media library that the average person owns and carries with them on a device that neatly fits into their pocket, purse or small case. So why are Hotels adding Blu-ray players or IPTV systems with VOD functions?

Why are you adding connectivity panels so the Guest can tether their device to the TV, when most are very comfortable at either holding it their hand (like a book) or prefer to connect it wirelessly?

What justification do you have for putting an expensive dedicated Shaver socket into the bathroom, when the Guest really needs a universal power socket?

Then, unless you offer really cheap or free phone calls, will you ever be able to entice Guests to use all three of the in-room phones you install to make revenue-generating calls. Most will simply collect dust and be a pain for the Housekeeping department to clean. Hotel Rating Agencies need to wake-up to this new world phenomenon, and relax the requirements in this area. It's time to change the rules of the game.

And when it comes to adding bedside control panels that resemble 'Boeing 777' flight-deck controls, all the Guest really wants to know is "how can I turn off the damn bathroom light"?
Want to know more, check out Part II of the story.

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