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Counter Point: In-room Client - Today’s Forecast: Partly Cloudy

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March 31, 2011
Craig Ziegler

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A recent survey of hospitality IT professionals indicates that keeping pace with rapidly changing guest expectations is among their greatest concerns, second only to limited IT budgets.  To understand why this is so, consider the in-room and onsite media environment in hotels 10 years ago and contrast that with the present day.  What passed for cutting-edge in-room entertainment systems back then would now be considered passe.  In a service-based industry like hospitality, where guest expectations are a moving target, digital amenities must do more than keep pace -- they must add demonstrable value.  It is not enough to just put the latest TVs or tech-toys in-room and talkative touchscreens in the lobby.  These devices need to enable relevant services, dynamic content choices, and a valuable dialogue.  Oh yes, and they all need to be easily managed at the local level.  For in the constant battle for hearts, minds and marketshare, the best marketing strategies and systems are useless if your frontline staff cannot implement them effectively.   

Many in the industry are looking skyward for such solutions. The business efficiencies to be gained from cloud-based delivery networks are indeed real and valuable as hoteliers face guests with increasing appetites for content and bandwidth.  But, these same guests are hungry for continental breakfasts and burgers, too.  And that revenue opportunity from onsite commerce needs to be pursuable regardless of whether the infrastructure is aged or ultra-modern.  By controlling the head-end and media delivery to the property directly, and carefully selecting which services to deliver via cloud, hotels can reliably provide integrated content, connectivity, and commerce experiences on a large scale.

Major IT services and platform providers like Microsoft, VMWare and Amazon are actively researching and building cloud solutions for hospitality and the potential is quite exciting.  However, it is important to remember that the cloud is a mere infant in terms of capabilities that can be offered today.  Care must be exercised to not rush into a platform that isn’t completely ready to serve the totality of the industry. 

The demands of large hospitality brands, with a multitude of media delivery and system integration needs, still require a hybrid solution where localized management is at the core.  At many properties, multiple lines of business - F&B, marketing, special events and more - can benefit immensely from engaging guests during their stay when the opportunity to delight is greatest.  Tapping the wealth of transactional history, preferences and prior behaviors available in resident CRM databases to create a completely customized guest experience is the ultimate goal.  But doing so requires maximizing real-time, on-premise data management and delivery, regardless of where these data repositories may reside.  

At SuiteLinq, we deliver an expanding array of entertainment, interactivity, marketing and commerce services to hotel guests.  We do this via a variety of digital touch-points, including in-room televisions and customized thin-client computers, public area digital displays and mobile.  Making these otherwise innocuous devices into smart delivery platforms that bring real value to the guest experience requires more rainmaking than present cloud solutions can supply.  We therefore use on-premise integration of these devices with the back-of-house hotel systems to contain the information within local area networks. This approach provides maximum efficiency and quality as well as being beneficial from a security and connectivity perspective. For real-time dependent services, such as room-service ordering, the localized solution is still the only realistic option.  From the cloud, we cull other content and services of a non-critical nature.  This hybrid platform delivers the wide array of relevant services to the guests that we serve.

By streamlining the media delivery process and providing a set of digital marketing rails to the room, utilization of various data elements can be leveraged very effectively. The ideal system is one that is architected to interact and integrate with other systems, operating under the differing levels of bandwidth available at the local properties, regardless of their adoption of cloud technologies.  Imagine a luxury property in the Maldives, catering to a high-end clientele.  What assumptions can be made regarding the local bandwidth available to reliably run the required systems from the cloud?  Viewed from this perspective, the current forecast for best practices is clear.

Making a positive impression on hotel guests is still a matter of seamlessly blending both virtual and physical services, everything from the increasingly important digital platforms onsite and the content available on them, to the waiting bottle of wine in the room.  Integrating man and machine for efficient delivery of services, and doing so at scale, is a concept that will be found in the cloud soon.  But until then the possibilities of the present are just too exciting.  Why not step into the sunshine now?

©2011 Hospitality Upgrade
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