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Future Room: The Tesla Guestroom

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June 01, 2016
Future Room
Trevor Warner - trevorwarner@warnerconsultinggroup.com

Tesla has put all the technologies into one package and created a consumer experience that can’t be duplicated.

On March 31, 2016, Tesla, one of the hottest technology companies of this decade, announced the latest product in its automobile line, the Model 3. This scaled down, more affordable car starts at $35,000, before options and that doesn’t include federal and state incentives that make the car even less expensive. It’s likely that the car will cost you over $40,000 with options too good to pass up but it’s a far cry from the Model S or Model X which will run $80,000 to $120,000 or more per vehicle. Even at that price point owners are waiting a year on average to take receipt of their new Tesla vehicle. The Model 3 is now estimated to take two years from deposit to receipt of the car. 

As a technology geek and a 20-year veteran of the hotel industry, I’m trying to find out what Tesla has accomplished that is striking to the core of its consumer.  From the outside the Tesla is a pretty simple design.  No more attractive than cars one-third its price point.  Its color choices are limited and tend to be basic in nature. 
There are no exotic colors, and no exotic names. When you step inside the Tesla you see the reverse of what is typically found in a car – simplicity.  The lines are clean, the colors are simple. There are not many if any gadgets and buttons, only one single 17-inch display to accompany your heads up display, steering wheel, bucket seat, pedal and break. From this display one can manage the car from door locks to radio to moon roof to seat warmer. What Tesla has accomplished with the 17-inch display is nothing short of remarkable.  Functions that in any other car require a multitude of buttons throughout the car are now centralized into one easy to use, intuitive console. Let’s not forget the performance.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to drive a Tesla in ludicrous model, let’s just say speed has a whole new meaning.  It handles like a race car while providing the smooth ride of an SUV.  It’s almost impossible to drive a Tesla and not fall in love.   

 Vice president of IT for Interstate Hotels and Resorts Jeff Parker compared Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk to Steve Jobs. “Like Steve Jobs (late CEO and founder of Apple) Elon has created a product you didn’t know you wanted until he told you that you wanted it,” Parker said. We might have never known we wanted an electric vehicle that went zero to 60 in 2.8 seconds and where price was almost no object, Parker contended. “He made it very sexy.” 

Yes, I remember the long lines for the iPhone. Albeit a different price point than a Tesla, it’s a very good parallel. 

How do we take the simply complex sexy Tesla and translate that into the hotel guestroom?

I posed this comparison to industry experts looking for the ultimate goal: to give the guest what they want when they want. Senior Vice President of IT for Thayer Lodging Nelson Garrido said, “Guests want what they have at home, ready to go, simple, and easy to use.” 

Parker said,“And it has to work.” 

But it’s difficult to target exactly what a guest wants once you leave the 30,000-foot view of the home away from home experience. “Do people want Hulu, Netflix or don’t they. Do guests want to Cast? Mobile pay, keyless entry?,” Garrido said. “Consumers want what they have at home, simple, easy to use but it’s very hard to impossible to duplicate.”

A few examples of home technologies that are increasing in marketshare are media services (AppleTV®, Chromecast, Sonos, etc) and home controls (such as Nest, Ring, Wi-Fi lighting, etc). All have applications in the hotel guestroom especially when you take on the task of working with all devices and easy to use. If we look specifically at the Tesla as a consumer technology, the car self drives, opens the door for you, knows your settings based on the key fob as you approach, has remote start, etc. The list continues to grow and will likely be out of date when this article is printed. 

I was recently at the Hospitality Upgrade Executive Vendor Summit in Atlanta, where Mark McBeth, VP of IT for Starwood, lamented on the amount of money the W Buckhead spent to be technology forward, but since implementation found that nobody is using it.  From keyless entry, mobile payment solutions, and in-room entertainment services the take rates are extremely low. Some of this is simply the evolution of technology. 

In many cases we are rolling out the technology before the demand is felt.  In other cases, the technology is great but it’s not driving the buying decision. In some cases, it’s too late. Parker said, “Franchise hotels can be especially difficult. The brand mandates can be out of date by the time they become a requirement for the hotel owners to install.” 

Guest Wi-Fi, a staple of the hotel industry, is a great service/product example. A product that has been around for more than 15 years. When first developed for the hotel industry, CAIS and Wayport were way ahead of their time. Fantastic, forward thinking companies that never made it very far out of the gate because they were just too far ahead. It’s not been until the last few years in which guest networks are finally meeting guest expectations. The guest networks now, often described as being as important as running water, have caught up to the guest expectations and the guest devices. “No matter the technology, no matter the solution it needs to work with the guest device, regardless of make and model,” Parker said.

The next evolution of technology may mirror the Tesla in some ways. Consider that through all the innovation, bumps in the road, delays and successes, Tesla has the highest customer satisfaction of any car company– ever –reported at 97 percent (April 2016).  Technology has a significant role in creating this fiercely loyal contingent but as Parker pointed out, “Tesla is selling an experience.” 

This is a very valid point. Individually most of the technologies can be delivered by other companies and likely at a lower price point.  What Tesla has accomplished is putting all the technologies into one package and creating a consumer experience that can’t be duplicated.  An experience that has people lined up for two years with their pocket books open. When the iPod™ and iPhone® were released it created an experience, of which cost significantly more than standard music options but that didn’t stop people from making it a landmark technology in our culture. The key to success again was creating the consumer experience. 

All of the technologies we see today at HITEC are evolutions to the next step. Independently they are exciting and worth a visit but independently they may not create the parallel of the Tesla experience. Guest technology and the behind the scenes that drive it must find a way to work together to service the guest and create that desired experience. As Parker mentioned in his article (see page 16 of this issue), the creation of a single guest profile may help bring this to the next level.
By identifying the guest and setting/monitoring preferences we could actually deliver a more at-home experience.  Imagine the flow, mobile key gives the guest access to the hotel which also identifies preferences such as device pairings, room controls, preferred media, a dedicated communication platform with the hotel, and so on. The guest authenticates but does not need to learn, type, scroll or download. It’s automatic, syst-o-matic, hydro-matic, ultro-matic... All of these technologies we will see at HITEC or that are in development must find a way to simplify, consolidate, and without question work as a singular flow to create the home away from home experience that will truly impact the guest and create that fiercely loyal customer.

Unlike Wi-Fi, we hope it won’t take 15 years to develop (and I hope that I don’t have to wait two years to receive my Tesla). It’s not simple. The brands, vendors and organizations such as HFTP and HTNG are looking to solve known issues such as integration, human error and the security component. It also requires a great deal of teamwork among these groups, more than we’ve seen in the past. Collaboration is vital to not only making sure it works seamlessly but bringing down the cost of development and implementation. There is no appetite in the industry for increased costs without a return on the investment, but we see progress and new products continue to push the envelope.

Like any technology Garrido and Parker agree it can be derailed by the human element. But for now let’s all agree: we’ll work on the human element. No robots, at least for now. 

Trevor Warner is the Chef de la Direction at Warner Consulting Group. He can be reached at trevorwarner@warnerconsultinggroup.com.

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