Hoteliers admit failure to grasp technology
Tech is transforming guest experience but hotels struggling to keep up
Hotels are failing to meet guest expectations due to a lack of technological understanding, according to industry experts on an International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) panel.
As in-room connectivity gains importance for guests, traditional technologies are becoming obsolete, said the ‘Which technology should I invest in’ panelists speaking at the Berlin-based conference in March.
“When I joined the hotel industry I was told it’s a ‘bed, bath and breakfast business’, but now it’s a ‘bed, bath, breakfast and internet business’ and for many guests, internet’s more important than breakfast,” said Nick Price, CEO of Netsys Technology.
Price, who worked as chief information officer at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group for 11 years before setting up his own technology firm, suggested that offering a good internet connection in a hotel room is better than offering a free one, adding that most hotels only currently offered the options of a bad-but-free connection or paid, good connection.
The Rezidor Hotel Group chief operating officer and executive vice president Wolfgang Neumann commented: “Rezidor is not providing internet for free [across all hotels], but the Radisson Blu is. In our midscale brand, Park Inn, we charge for wifi in guestrooms and provide it for free in public areas.
“Radisson Blu is still the only international operator providing good, free internet. Access is like hot water or the bed in the guestroom in today’s age, it’s essential to provide good access.
Some of the players provide it for free, but it’s so frustrating when you can’t download anything because the bandwidth is limited,” added Neumann.
“Last year we provided to guests quality internet by updating the bandwidth for all hotels.”
Neumann revealed that one of the most common guest complaints is that they cannot access the internet “easy and quick enough and on top of that the hotel is charging for it”.
“We receive around 140,000 guest comments a year and the biggest reaction to something not working is related to wifi, even more so than not having hot water — it is something the guest complains about immediately,” confirmed European hotel firm NH Hoteles chief strategy and development officer Francisco Zinser Cieslik. However, he said offering good, free wifi across all hotels could be too expensive.
“I don’t believe in free internet for the sake of it. I’m sure it’s going to come, but it’s an investment issue. If you have 400 hotels and you want to change the internet model, it takes a significant investment.”
But Price said although hoteliers often imagined internet usage in hotels coming from business travellers on their laptops, the reality of usage was much broader: “It’s an explosion of usage happening right before us and we have to respond to it in an intelligent way — we can’t put a dissatisfy [factor] in front of our guests,” he asserted.
More than internet
But an adequate internet connection alone would not satisfy today’s traveller, according to the experts.
The panel said many leading hotels continue to force archaic technologies upon guests, rather than enabling in-room connectivity of their own devices. One example cited is the pay-TV function often available in guestrooms — allowing guests to select from a list of films, television programmes and albums at a charge — which will soon become “obsolete”.
“The end of pay-TV is happening in front of us already. If you look at hotels, only 3-4% of occupied room guests are using it and that’s declining fast. If you had that non-use in any other area of the hotel operation it wouldn’t be there,” said Price.
Price explained that today’s guests preferred to stream their own entertainment through ‘plug-and-play’ options such as iPod docs and televisions with USB ports.
“We have to make it [in-room technology] simpler rather than better. Making it simpler is when your own device can talk to the TV directly. If you’ve not bought into the internet it doesn’t matter. We’re not talking about a dream technology; it’s something that’s here today. It will be mainstream in our homes within the 2013-14 timeframe. Nothing is simpler than playing entertainment through our own television.”
Microsoft Corporation director of enterprise business architecture Bill Frizzel said technology providers had already begun looking at in-room technology from a connectivity — not entertainment — point of view.
“I’m having a laptop built that has wireless video capabilities and it’s not long until we will see TV manufacturers building those devices into their sets as standard.”
Neumann observed that guests are not interested in listening to a hotel’s music or watching its television.
“What you have at home you expect in a guestroom but we don’t necessarily provide that today, our homes are better equipped than the guest room. If my kids don’t have an opportunity to plug in they get upset.
Music plays a key role; it’s not only about the business traveller. It is how we have the whole connectivity in the bedroom to make it simple.
“The pace of development is so fast I can’t keep up with my kids, as an operator the key challenge is implementing what’s available today in 70 countries consistently with the brand,” added Neumann.
These challenges faced by hoteliers had led to a non-proactive service culture in relation to technology at many hotels, according to Price.
“One of the peculiarities is we’re a guest-service business, but in hotels we’re relying on the guests to be the eyes and ears of whether something is working or not in a hotel room. That should not be the case,” he asserted.
“The hotel should be intelligent enough to know when a device is not working in a room. That is related to having a connected infrastructure. It’s of huge dissatisfaction to guests if they find something doesn’t work, but technology is hard for operators to control on a room-by-room basis.”
The Rezidor Group is all too familiar with the challenge, according to Neumann: “Connectivity is a key demand in our generations X and Y markets. When we sit down with developers to look at what should be built in rooms it makes sense, but the challenge is implementing it,” he adds.
“It’s so easy to get carried away by the possibilities of technology, but we need to know we can roll it out in a consistent way so that the guest understands and uses it. The research shows the majority of our guests are not that tech savvy. Generations X and Y are, but our guests aren’t this generation. In 15 years they will be.”
But Price took the opinion of ‘build it and they will come’.
“In Mandarin Oriental, we put technology as a core pillar of our brand statement. [As a result] we saw the average age of our customers come down, which is a positive thing.
“We need to readjust our mindset to look at an infrastructure built to allow us to deliver these [connectivity] services, rather than offering a physical device,” Price asserted.
Cieslik added: “We have to provide the means for technology use. You can’t have an iPad in every room”.
“We’re enablers rather than providers,” concluded Price.