Is There a Place for the Telephone in the Guestroom? Without a doubt, the answer is yes.

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March 01, 2010
CounterPoint
Derek Wood

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Without a doubt, the answer is a resounding Y-E-S! We may argue as to whether the phone goes on the desk, beside the bed or even in the water closet, but one thing is for sure, it will be in the room somewhere. Will this always be the case? Probably not. I foresee a time when your phone/communicating device will auto sync with the hotels communication system as you walk onto the property, and all links and communication with the hotel will be through this medium (but even then, I think you will still need a phone in the guestroom, even if its your own unit). However, that is a long way off and for the short and medium term hotels will most definitely require a phone of sorts in the guestroom.

First, there is the legal requirement, which varies from state to state, and certainly from country to country. So it’s a brave hotelier who removes all internal communication with the guest and then faces the questions as to why the guest could not ring 911 (or the front desk) when he or she was having a heart attack. A little dramatic, but you get my drift.

Second, some form of internal communication will always be required with reception/front desk, etc. admittedly this need not be a traditional phone, but installing a unit for internal communications only seems a retrograde step. Maybe the media center (the device formally known as the television) will have the ability to multifunction (make and receive phone calls), but surely you would build in the capability for private calls, not just hands-free, and therefore, you have a phone in the guestroom again.

The notion that guests are purchasing high-speed Internet and making all their calls over Skype is another common statement. And yes, this does happen (as I pack my Skype phone in my bag for my next trip). However, I for one am singularly unimpressed with the quality of this service and although great for ringing family and friends, I steer away from making business calls over this and similar types of service, which means an enormous cell phone bill is usually on my desk upon my return.

Which leads quite nicely into the question of cell phones. I think when people say the guestroom telephone in now obsolete, they are referring to the fact that everyone is using their cell phone because all your numbers are stored in the unit and, it’s far cheaper than using the hotel phone (the industry still has a reputation of ripping guests off in this respect, in case you had not noticed). Well, I will agree that has been the situation until now, but with the development of VoIP with specific hospitality applications this is no longer the case. Companies like TravelTalk are providing hotels with carrier-quality calls delivered over data circuits. Bundled costs mean that a guest in the U.S. would typically pay around $6 for 60 minutes of international phone calls to most countries in the world (5.95 Euros in Europe). With the cost to the hotel only being $3 this becomes an exciting revenue opportunity. These services are installed in hotels today within Europe (and connected to the existing telephone system), with guest take-up figures of around 30 percent to 40 percent of occupied rooms, this all of a sudden provides the hotel with a substantial revenue stream from international calls ($15,000-$20,000 per month from a 500-room hotel at 80 percent occupancy). I would suggest that blows away the cost arguments. It’s cheaper than your cell, and the hotelier makes money from the service, so why wouldn’t the guest use it, and the hotelier promote it?

Some hotels have already gone down the route of giving away phone calls (national, but also international in some cases) as a marketing exercise, and this works well as a good aid to maintain or increase occupancy. But you still need a phone in room to do this.
 
Another Reason to Keep One in the Guestroom
With regard to the convenience question, yes all of a guest’s numbers are stored on her personal device, but IP PBX manufacturers are currently looking at developing a Bluetooth® application to sync your phone to the bedroom IP telephone. And talking of IP telephones, we are beginning to see a turn around in hotels’ willingness to advertise services to their guests, partly due to the recession and the need to look at every revenue opportunity. This is great news if you have invested in a top of the range IP telephone in the room. All the major players have the ability to track information relating to number of calls connected via specific phones,  valuable information if you are selling advertising space within the hotel. So that’s yet another good reason to keep the bedroom telephone.

Being an IT consultant, I am often asked to argue the case for an IP telephone within the guestroom, and sometimes I will admit to loosing the argument in favor of analog telephones. This is often on a cost evaluation vs. a technological future-proof discussion. However, when talking to hoteliers, the question of whether or not to install a telephone at all has never been a subject for discussion, and it’s not one that I anticipate having anytime soon.
 

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