In-room technology

26 April 2005
In-room technology

In-room technology is becoming more sophisticated as the demands of business and consumer travellers alike increase. Hoteliers must think about the mix of services they wish to offer, along with the costs of installing and maintaining them.

What in-room technology is on offer?

There are several in-room technologies on offer. Think about the following:

• In-room broadband network access, for busy guests who need to connect their laptop computers to the internet.
• Wireless access, giving a better experience to business travellers who don't want to be tethered to the desk in their room.
• In-room movies (including adult and family options).
• Internet access through the television, using keyboards that communicate wirelessly with a set-top box.
• Computer games that can be played on the television.
• Stereo equipment for in-room music. Some US hotels are beginning to offer branded compilation CDs to guests to accompany this equipment.
• Up-market services such as iPod MP3 players distributed to guests. Hotels in the US are beginning to offer this service.

How do I decide whether I need it or not?

It is important to ascertain the demand from your sector. If you are a rural hotel, catering to a tourist clientele, then upmarket technologies such as wireless network access in the rooms may not be appropriate. Even broadband access may not be necessary — Naunton Dickens, UK managing director for hotel internet connectivity provider Swisscom Europa, argues that simply putting a PC in the lobby can be enough.

Wireless access in the rooms is only just starting to take off. Swisscom Europa tried offering only wireless access, but believed that it was missing 60-70% of the market and so decided to offer access in the rooms via a network cable as well. However, many people remain cautious of wireless access because of security concerns.

With so many channels available on modern-day television, in-room movie-on-demand facilities are being used less. Often, says Finn Schultz, of hotel chain Rezidor SAS, it is the adult movies which pay for these systems, placing them squarely in the business traveller market. On the other hand, families may appreciate computer games for the kids.

Forget offering internet access through the TV, says Schultz. The resolution on television screens simply isn't conducive to accessing e-mail and browsing the web. He also doesn't believe in technology that is local to the rooms such as DVD players, stereo systems, or MP3 players. The technical support and management of these devices can make them prohibitively expensive. However, while MP3 players can be less intuitive to guests and more prone to theft, stereo and DVD players are relatively easy to operate.

What are the challenges of implementation?
Integrating in-room technologies with property management systems can be difficult, says Dickens, so it is best to check with your supplier to ensure that they can connect with the property management system that you decide to use. In the case of wireless network access, for example, some offerings will include integration features and some will be self-contained. One option is to sign a third-party supplier to take the whole system off your hands and handle the integration for you.

How do I decide which system is best for me?

Often, in-room entertainment services will be integrated into a single system. Techlive International's Roommate system, for example, includes on-demand movies, automated room checkout, video games and TV-based internet access in one package. This type of system can be good for a small hotel wanting to avoid integration costs.

How much will it cost me?

When setting up certain types of in-room access technology, the upfront infrastructure cost is generally the most expensive part. Wireless access will cost less than other types of internet access technology because the infrastructure is less expensive. You can simply set up access points in central locations, instead of running network cabling to each room.

Upfront investments can also be reduced by financing options. In-room entertainment systems can often be leased from the supplier over multiple years, resulting in a regular monthly payment.

What kinds of revenue and margin can I make?

Some hotels provide wireless access as a free service, says Dickens. Generally, very high-end hotels hide the cost in the price of the room, while low-end hotels provide a free service but it is very basic, with restricted bandwidth. In the middle market, companies charge for in-room wireless and cabled broadband access on a per-day basis in the rooms, but if offering a lobby-based service, it is wise to charge for shorter sessions, perhaps by the hour, as this will net another 2-3% of extra revenue from passing travellers.

What new options will emerge in the future?

Hyacinth Nwana of in-room technology provider Quadriga Worldwide argues that hotels should be thinking about "triple play" in-room services. This means that instead of running a separate phone line, television cable and network connection into a room, you run it all down a single, high-quality digital line.

This can make the back-end property management challenge much easier, and it also carries other benefits. You can begin to integrate services, so that, for example, when the phone rings, the incoming telephone number appears on your guest's television screen.

Hotels unwilling to recable their rooms for Internet access might consider Ethernet-over-power systems that run Internet signals through through a building's power line. Telkonet, for example, offers systems that connect an Ethernet access point to a conventional power outlet, giving guests broadband access without incurring the necessary investment in running Ethernet cables to each room.

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