As a professional speaker and consultant focusing on events technology, I stay in hotels about 130 nights each year. I have strong feelings on what constitutes the "ideal" stay – especially in how technology is implemented.
When using technology, it should be remembered that hotel guests, even experienced travelers, are in unfamiliar surroundings, so keep the technology as simple a possible – it should be easy enough that your grandmother can use it! When hoteliers help guests adapt through easy to use technology, the increase the chances of having loyal "heads in beds."
The following technology suggestions will improve the experience for business travelers, the road warriors and other guests else as well.
The Desk: For road warriors, a working office is essential part of the guest room experience. Therefore, a workable desk and an adjustable, ergonomic (Hermann Miller Aeron-like) chair are essential. I particularly like the split level desk that rolls out to provide more space with the lower counter level at a good height for keyboard inputting.
Provide at least four transformer-friendly outlets at desk-height for guest to plug in phones, iPads, computers and other gadgets. Please don’t make us crawl under the desk to find them! Also, provide an adjustable reading light with an easy to find switch.
Although wired room phones will be used with decreasing frequency (guests are using their own phones), speaker phone functionality on the desk phone is a nice touch. Also provide an electronic telephone wake-up service using the phone keypad. This is usually faster and more reliable than a "human interface."
Wi-Fi: Free basic Wi-Fi broadband internet access (with a minimum of 500kb/second download) is needed in the guest rooms and lobby. Although some luxury properties are clinging to internet fees as a profit center, internet access is increasingly viewed by guests as utility similar to lights and water. Do not nickel-and-dime us with add-on charges for basic internet access. If "Motel 6" can provide free wi-fi, so should the upper-upscale properties. If a guest needs more bandwidth, a dedicated IP address or other internet services, it is reasonable to charge for these. But basic access should be free.
Make logging onto the Wi-Fi network easy. Opening the browser and clicking "OK" is all that it should take. As mobile devices are being used for internet access with greater frequency so make the logon screen readable in smaller formats as well. Better yet, use autosensing technology and provide a mobile web log-in page optimized for a smaller screen. As multiple devices are being used (I regularly have both my laptop computer and my iPad on simultaneously), the ability to use them under one account regardless of location is needed as well.
The entertainment center: The TV/entertainment center is another spot where the proper use of technology can be a great differentiator for guests. Hotel guests are expecting a comparable experience to what they have at home.
A flat-panel HD TV of appropriate size (40" minimum) is a basic necessity. This main TV, either wall mounted or on a credenza, should be able to swivel so that it is easy to see from the bed and the work space area.
A channel lineup should have the broad range of HD channels commonly available in most homes, but simplified to eliminate the "junk" channels such as home shopping networks. Channels in other languages should be included in facilities with international guests. With the large number of channels and the relatively slowness of most digital TVs to change channels, a channel guide should be available both as a channel and as a paper booklet bedside.
Guests are bringing their own entertainment systems (computers, video players, iPads, Slingboxes, cameras, etc.) and will wish to use the TV for playback. Provide a variety number of AV input sockets (VGA, HDMI, 1/8" stereo, RCA video) mounted at counter height near the entertainment center as well as easily accessible transformer-friendly power outlets to plug in the above devices.
The TV remote control should be easy to use. The on/off switch, channel and volume switches in particular should be easy to find and, please avoid annoying repeating musical announcements often used when the guest turns on the TV. Guests will find the premium services if they want them without the audio assault.
A wireless keyboard using the TV for internet access is a nice luxury for some travelers, although this will be decreasingly used as most business travelers are relying on their own mobile devices for this purpose.
It is a natural to tie in the entertainment center to the property management system. The guest should be welcomed by name on the screen, should be able to view their bill, order room service (with pictured menus), see hotel information/activities, tie into an "event network" if desired by the planner, check-out and more.
Finally, a Blu-ray/DVD player and stereo audio/home theater system are welcome additions to luxury rooms as long as there is sufficient sound insulation between rooms.
The bed: A comfortable bed is a basic requirement for all hotel guests. Often, this area is neglected from a technology standpoint. Please provide an alarm clock that, above all else, is easy to use. It should not take a degree from MIT to set the alarm! I particularly like the "Hilton" clock with simple controls, and alarm instruction steps printed on the front.
As business travelers are using mobile devices as their principal phones and sometimes as alarm clocks, provide at least two transformer-friendly outlets at each nightstand to recharge them while providing quick access to reclining guests.
Also needed are halogen-type adjustable bed reading lights bright enough to read by and focused enough to not disturb a sleeping partner. A control panel to adjust all room lighting and the room-darkening shades at the bedside should be provided in luxury rooms.
Bathroom: A clean, easy-to-use bathroom is also of high importance to hotel guests. There are a few tech touches to improve this experience. The shower controls should be easy to use and have a maximum water temperature to avoid scalding. Lighting should be bright enough to shave/apply makeup by. An anti-fogging shaving/make-up mirror is a nice touch – especially the ones which are lighted (I often use this as a night light when an alternative is not provided). A second, smaller flat panel TV should be provided the bathroom in luxury properties.
Also, a night light can greatly help those getting up at night. Particularly nice are the systems that automatically actuate as the foot touches the floor by the bed.
General room considerations: The best use of technology is when it conforms to guests needs rather than the other way around. Thermostats, lighting controls, and even coffee makers have been overcomplicated by technology. Ease of use should be the key guide for the smart use of all technology.
The entry door should automatically close (and lock with an audible click) when the guest leaves the room. At a minimum, the door lock should be electronic and, increasingly, the key will use RFID (radio frequency identification) near field communication technology allowing guests to use the key as an electronic payment device throughout the property.
Provide a safe large enough to accommodate a 15" notebook computer (ideally with a power outlet for charging inside).
Check-in/Lobby/Public Space: You only get one change to make a first impression. Technology in the lobby can help make this a favorable one. Provide self-service check-in kiosks as an alternative to waiting in line. On the way out, provide free and easy to use airport boarding pass printout stations.
Also, the lobby is a natural space to show off technology: surface displays, touch screen signage, and other devices. Free, easily accessible Wi-Fi and lots of power outlets and desk space in the lobby (especially near the coffee shop) will encourage activity.
Mobile applications will be used increasingly to access a range of concierge and guest services functions including check-in/out, room service, valet services, spa reservations, nearby restaurant reservations/information, and much more. These can reduce labor costs and increase guest satisfaction. Eventually, apps will be used for check-in, door keys, lighting/heating/air conditioning controls and even the TV remote control.
Social media such as Twitter, Gowalla, Foursquare and Facebook Places are also increasing in use by hotel guests. Monitor these streams for mentions of your hotel and respond creatively to them. The power of viral marketing from delighted guests can provide very positive PR.
To conclude, the smart use of technology has great potential to improve the guest room experience. Technology should be easy to use and easily accessible. Small touches can make a big difference to those of us who spend much of their lives on the road. These tips, however, are not just for the road warrior; they will benefit all guests. Hotel owners and managers who recognize this, will see increased satisfaction and loyalty from their esteemed clients.
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