There is now a lot more to in-room technology than simply a TV set and an alarm clock. Ross Bentley rounds-up the innovation available to attract the tech-savvy guest
At its most basic level, in-room entertainment is a television set in the corner of the room but guest's expectations are such that these days hotels are usually required to provide a bit more.
According to Roger Taylor, CEO at in-room entertainment specialist firm Quadriga, the two cutting edge technologies in this space at the moment are 3D TV and Smart TV - which is a set offering both television and video services as well as internet access.
These are two technologies that are currently not widely used in people's homes and therefore offer something out of the ordinary to guests. Taylor suggests hoteliers interested in these services can trial them but to offer them in their executive suites - to differentiate the best rooms and also to gauge feedback from guests.
But regardless of what technology you provide for your guest's pleasure, Gary Frances, a founder of hotel TV entertainment company VDA, warns it must be easy to use. He says that while the emphasis has been on providing more content and digital services, operators have lost sight of the usability of devices, leaving guests scratching their head as they attempt to navigate a series of complicated on-screen menus. VDA's approach has been to develop a TV set where individual guest preferences can be programmed to a remote control device allowing them to simply push a button to choose their selection.
Some properties, especially smaller hotels and B&B's, will choose not to get involved in this entertainment technology arms race where to keep up with guest's expectations they must invest time and again. Others will see a hi-tech room as a way of setting them apart from their competitors.
The latest hotel to relaunch in this manner is the Ecclestone Square Hotel in central London, which as well as having HD, 3D and fast wi-fi also pre-configures rooms to guest's preferences, so their key card triggers lighting, curtains and temperature settings in the room.
Gimmicky? Perhaps. Something memorable that guests will remember for a while and tell friends about? Definitely.
The latest in-room entertainment
Touch-screen IP phones
Telecommunications company Avaya has launched an IP phone with a large touch-screen for guest rooms.
According to Martin Cross, director of Avaya partner Connect Communications: "These guest phones can provide a convenient, always-on interface for accessing hotel services, such as room service, review bill, schedule do not disturb, review hotel restaurants and bars, access local maps, view airline information."
Guests can also access web services such as YouTube and Flickr.
3D video on-demand
Working in partnership with TV manufacturer Samsung Electronics, in-room entertainment specialist Quadriga has announced plans for a 3D video on-demand service aimed at the hospitality sector. Roger Taylor, CEO of Quadriga said: "For a relatively small incremental investment hotels can offer 3D to guests in premium rooms, for example, allowing them to experience 3D ahead of it being widely viewed in the home environment."
Internet on the TV
Electronics giant Philips last month launched a new internet-enabled TV range called MediaSuite, which offers the full functionality of the internet without the need to unpack a laptop to access the web. Catch-up TV, online apps such as local weather and news, Facebook and Twitter can now be accessed through the TV, meaning guests can be as connected in their hotel room as they are at home. The easy-to-use system includes an innovative remote control specifically designed for intuitive navigation through the range of interactive services.
How to maximise income from in-room entertainment services
● In-room entertainment must be easy and intuitive to use, so guests don't get frustrated trying to access services
● Distinguish executive suites from standard rooms by trialling higher levels of technology and in-room entertainment
● Bundle internet and video-on-demand services to make it an attractive single purchase for guests
● Promote your pay-for in-room entertainment and upgrade options as early as possible, such as when guests are booking online or checking-in
● Advertise hotel services and paid for third-party services on guest room TVs
● Install a pay wall mechanism, which will give you the ability to charge guests to access premium content
Bespoke guest TV at the Lanesborough hotel
This July, the Lanesborough, a St Regis hotel located in Knightsbridge in London, installed 135 units of VDA's in-room entertainment system PowerTV in 93 guestrooms.
The hotel management's philosophy is to cater to each guest's individual requests and it even offers a personal butler service, so the flexibility of the system's software, which can be programmed to tune-in essentially any TV network requested by a guest, was key.
To change channels the station number is entered directly into the remote's keypad, eliminating the need to for guests to 'learn' a navigation procedure. The system also features 200 movie titles, a comprehensive CD music library and preconfigured internet content.
The Eccleston Square hotel takes up in-room 3D licences
A 3D DVD Concierge Licence that enables guesthouses, B&Bs and hotels to legally offer 3D DVDs to their guests for in-room use has been launched by film distribution company Filmbank. Central London property Eccleston Square hotel became the first hotel to take up the licence in August.
A standard licence fee is £45 +VAT per room, per annum, which enables properties to offer guests unlimited movies from participating studios during their stay.
Filmbank represents more than 25 Hollywood, Bollywood and independent film studios which hold the copyright for the movies. UK hoteliers and B&B owners will be required to report quarterly to Filmbank on the titles offered, so royalties can be accurately distributed.
Opinion: How to stay a technological step ahead
There used to be a time when the in-room entertainment offered by hotels far exceeded the technology that guests had in their home.
Back in the 1970s when most people still had black and white televisions, many hotels had upgraded to colour sets. Likewise, long before Sky TV became commonplace in British living rooms, the availability of scheduled movies and additional content was widespread in hotels.
However, today's hoteliers are struggling to stay one step ahead of their guests because the consumer technology buying cycle has shortened. People are changing televisions more regularly and gadgets such as iPads and iPods have become part of everyday life.
The technology investment for hotels is significant and is becoming increasingly difficult to provide a 'wow factor' in terms of in-room entertainment. There are a number of technologies available for the hotel sector which will guarantee to make guests sit up and take notice.
First, 3D TV is still a novelty to many guests but provides a great opportunity for hotels to be able to create an impressive differentiator against competitors. The move to 3D is an exciting leap forward in the TV space and for a relatively small incremental investment hotels can offer 3D in premium rooms, allowing guests to experience 3D ahead of it being widely viewed in the home environment.
Second, Smart TV - that is television integrated with the internet - is here. This is an exciting innovation that allows guests to watch programmes from the same screen they access e‑mail and Facebook.
One issue facing hotels is how to provide the bandwidth required for guests to download such data-rich content.
My belief is that we will see more hotels charging a premium to bandwidth-hungry guests. Consumer behaviour is changing - people are used to paying 99p for a song, people now accept that if they want premium content, technology or bandwidth they will have to pay.
Roger Taylor, CEO of Quadriga