Technology in hotel rooms is evolving at a rapid pace, making it very difficult for owners and operators to know when and how to incorporate the latest advances in their rooms, according to experts at the Hotel Show in Dubai.

One challenge facing hotels is that not all guests want the same thing from their in-room technology, said Patrick Antaki, general manager at Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort. “The business traveller wants efficiency on every front and he wants connectivity for all of the gadgets that he has brought, while the leisure traveller wants something really quite simple, not too complicated,” he noted.

Adding to the difficulty is that fact that guests generally expect more technology in their hotel room compared to what they have at home. “The perceptional value of a hotel room is largely dictated by what the customer is used to,” said Henning Fries, general manager of the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi. “So depending on how large my room’s TV is, how sophisticated the equipment is, and so on, if it doesn’t measure up to what I have at home then I might feel it is not a great proposition.”

Six-second rule needed for gadgets

Ease of use is also a challenge for hotels as they try to cater their technology to customers whose familiarity with technology can vary widely. Panelists agreed that hotels should adopt the ‘six-second rule’, which was advocated by fellow speaker Douglas Rice, executive vice president and CEO of trade association Hotel Technology Next Generation.

“The six-second rule says if you cannot figure out how to use the technology in a guest room in six seconds, you are probably not going to use it,” Rice explained. “You might be willing to spend an hour reading a manual for your home entertainment system, but you are not willing to spend an hour to learn how to use the entertainment system in a hotel.”

Another dilemma for hotels is that while a new piece of technology might be a unique selling feature today, it will become a cost of doing business tomorrow.

“There is certain technology today where we are able to pass that charge onto a customer, whereas tomorrow you are probably not going to be able to do that anymore,” Fries noted. “So how much should we as a hotel ask our owners to invest in realising that it is very difficult for them to recuperate those costs especially as technology is moving so rapidly?”

However, although there are risks to investing in new technology, there are rewards as well. “Technology doesn’t just serve the guests, it serves the owner,” Rice noted. He pointed out that the second largest controllable cost in a hotel is energy, and noted that most of the energy used is in guest rooms.

When considering that most of the energy used in guest rooms is wasted because the guest isn’t in the room, either because the guest is out of the room or the room is unoccupied, a typical hotel can cut their energy bill by 30% by using some of the intelligent technologies for energy management, he said.

Mobile phones to gain prominence

Looking ahead, Rice sees mobile phones playing a greater role in-room technology. “I see a future where you walk into a hotel room where you won’t be using the hotel’s device to control things – there won’t be a remote control that you have to figure out – you’ll be using your own hand held that you know how to use and it will work pretty much the same way it works at home and in every other hotel room,” he said.

Rice also believes that investment in infrastructure is key, as it will be supporting these future devices. “If you don’t get that right, you’re going to find that every new device that you want to deploy is going to require extensive changes to your infrastructure. The one thing that I can tell you that is not going to change in the next 15 years is that everything is going to run on IP technology,” he said.
Fries believes that some of the most important advances in hotel technology in the future will be related to the control of ambient and atmospheric conditions of a room. “That is an area that, aside from the energy savings part, can be a real differentiator,” he said.

Still, the experts warned that hotels cannot get carried away with technology to the extent that the human touch is lost. “Technology is not the only thing that is changing in our business,” Antaki said. “Sometimes we get too focused on technology and forget about hospitality.”