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But I Like Technology

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October 01, 2005
A Look At | Technology
Michael Schubach - michael.schubach@clubcorp.com

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© 2005 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

Another HITEC has come and gone, and I seem to have firmly cemented my reputation as the great anti-technologist. In discussions of future technology I am usually the odd man out on matters of how much hotel technology is enough.

In fact, in our prep session for a HITEC panel that would touch on future technologies, it was proposed that there be a limit on the number of times I could describe myself as a Luddite.

During the actual presentation, when I failed to express enthusiasm for an iPod-downloadable clock radio, it was suggested (and not in a kind way, I might add) that perhaps I am now of an age that precludes a strong empathy for a younger generation that craves the latest wave.

When I preach from the pulpit of fiscal realism I manage to make myself sound like I’m in favor of bringing back crank telephones. To restore some balance to this perspective, I would now like to publicly proclaim: I like technology. No, I love it. Finding new solutions and seeing the positive changes they can make for guests and those of us who serve them is the most rewarding thing I do. Any hesitancy that I might express has nothing to do with any particular type of technology, nor the quantity in which it may be installed – generally more is better. The reminder that I try to offer to HITEC shoppers is that technology improperly maintained, explained or managed can be worse than no technology at all.

Let’s use my recent visit to Los Angeles as an example. This year, by combining some vacation time with HITEC, I was able to take advantage of comparative back-to-back hotel stays. I was a guest of two different hotels operated by two different hotel companies. Both had the same general location (considering that southern California is all one oversized city), with same general style and clientele (urban business travelers) and same approximate price class. My HITEC hotel is a venerable old classic – over 80 years old – and my vacation hotel is nearing its 20th birthday. I was the same traveler in both environments: I was expecting to keep up with the office while I traveled on business or pleasure and I expected to be comfortable while I did it. In these very different environments, here are the technologies I noticed:

Locking Systems: This trip, both hotels had the identical card-key system installed – and it was one I hadn’t used before. I thought it was odd that there was no deadbolt mechanism on the door of the first hotel, but being braver than I look I simply engaged the door chain and went with the flow. At the second hotel I discovered the locking system indeed offered a deadbolt option – the door handle had to be raised to engage it. I hadn’t gotten smarter by the second check in; the process was illustrated in a simple diagram on the door. The result: better guest security in the second hotel using exactly the same system. The lesson: unexplained technology is nonexistent technology – and the worst waste of money imaginable.

Internet Access: A 50 percent success here—both locations offered an in-room high-speed Internet connection but neither system permitted actual access. I suspect that most hotels still have miles to go in this arena, including better onsite support and user familiarization.

Electrical Power: Neither guestroom had enough plugs to accommodate a laptop and a cell phone charger, but the newer hotel at least offered a power strip on the floor under the bed. Since I do so little of my processing under the bed, I continue to wonder why desktop power isn’t a clear standard. Bonus points go to the new hotel for making a tiny investment in this hugely important guest accommodation but I would still like everyone to start thinking about raising the bar here – about 36 inches.

Television: Both rooms had conventional color televisions, both offered premium viewing services, and both sets were big enough to watch from the bed and loud enough to be heard from the next room. One of our panel questions this year was how soon the industry needed flat-panel televisions in every guestroom. That time is rapidly approaching but I don’t see myself storming out of a hotel that doesn’t offer them for at least another year or two.

Now let’s take a moment and look into the second most used area of guestroom accommodation, the bathroom. Believe it or not, this area is also of interest and use to the technically minded.

The Shower: In the 12 or so minutes I spend in a hotel shower, it has never been my intention to convert the bathroom into a water theme park, but I’ve managed to do it with annoying regularity. It’s not that I don’t understand shower curtain technology, but ill-fitted fixtures make it difficult if not impossible to apply. The newer hotel had installed crescent curtain rods with properly sized curtains, and they make a wonderful difference. Now that is guestroom technology I firmly advocate.

Speaking of the shower, I can’t help but wonder when plumbing technologists will convert water temperature controls from an analog crank to a digital controller. Why can’t I just set the temperature like I do in my car and have the shower take control of the situation? The shower should adjust the water pressure (just as a car adjusts the fan) rather than blasting me with a jet of scalding or freezing water while I’m standing there completely vulnerable.

Hair Dryers: Again, both hotels offered hair dryers; one had a handheld model hidden in the closet and the other had the wall-mounted version. I find there is a distinct advantage to the wall-mounted unit, provided that it is actually mounted to the wall. This trip the wall-mounted unit was lying on a shelf over the toilet, making it cumbersome and a little dangerous to use. Repeating the hot technology tip I hope I made about the power strip: if a hotel plans to offer a guest convenience, it should actually attempt to make it convenient.

In-Room Coffee Service: Why isn’t this part of the guestroom baseline? I noticed a certain level of a.m. crankiness prevailed at the uncoffeed hotel. Was this merely coincidence? I think not.

As technologists we should realize that our function is to support what best serves the guest. Predicting what guests most desire requires a balanced perspective to achieve the best application of the total dollars each hotel spends. Sometimes we facilitate that goal by pioneering, sometimes by installing or updating time-proven technologies, and sometimes just by standing aside as other guest service offerings are deployed. Technology helps define the difference between a good and great stay, but so do a myriad of other services, comforts and personalized details. All aspects of accommodation must be on target, remembering that innovative technologies never make up for poor service or uncomfortable surroundings.

My “anti-technology” technology advice: the Holy Grail is not electronics, but rather the totality of the guest experience. Be a part of a whole team that buys well and wisely… and get those damn shower curtains fixed.

Michael Schubach is the vice president of resort technology for ClubResorts, the destination resort division of ClubCorp based in Dallas, Texas. Mr. Schubach offices at Pinehurst, site of the 2005 U.S. Open golf championship. He is a veteran of hotel stays worldwide, having slept in every conceivable accommodation from the Presidential Suite down to a rental car in the garage after an unfortunate incident with a deadbolt lock. He receives his e-mail at michael.schubach@clubcorp.com.

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