Why upgrading the in-room experience is vital

Hotel suites, like this one at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, potentially could take the place of coworking spaces. Photo credit: The Beverly Hilton (The Beverly Hilton Presidential Suite)

How would you behave in a hotel right now? This is the question all hotel operators are asking their prospective guests these days. We know that with the effects of the pandemic, both physical and psychological, the guest experience has changed and that in some ways will never go back to what it was. The most productive course of action for the hotel operator at this point is to understand the guest’s mindset and create an experience that meets them where they are. I believe that for the foreseeable future that this will be maximized in the guestroom. 

Prepandemic, guests spent about 70 percent of their time exploring the larger hotel property—hanging out at pools, lounge areas, restaurants and especially in conference facilities that in many cases drew them to the hotel in the first place. And these are the spaces where most upgrades and investments in hotel properties were made—think immersive touch screens in lobbies and jaw-droppingly huge displays in restaurant and bar areas. What we’re hearing from our members at Hospitality Technology Next Generation, a global not-for-profit trade association that fosters collaboration between hospitality professionals and technology providers, is that the ratio is about to flip. Moving forward, guests will spend 70 percent of the time on-property in their rooms. No matter how much signage is added detailing the new sanitation procedures and social distancing protocols, those large beautiful communal spaces just won’t feel as safe as they used to. Knowing that, the next question hotel operators should be asking is how will guests spend their time? If there is nothing to do in the room, that is a problem. 

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The best bet is for hotels to accommodate the current needs of guests and the needs they will have in the future when they stay at a hotel—the ability to relax like they are in their living room and work like they are in their home office, while also giving them a break from home. 

Work From Home Can Mean Work From Anywhere

Much has been written on the stability of the housing market amid the coronavirus-driven economic downturn. Since people want and need to stay at home, and work at home if possible, they need more space. This has translated to a strong real estate market for suburban single-family homes. But, in a related phenomenon, people who are working from home may soon realize, with good Wi-Fi and tech, they can work from anywhere, as long as it’s safe, secure and has the right technology.

When considering a move, whether it be to the city, suburbs or country, people have been asking themselves, “If I don’t need to go into the office, why do I live here?” The extension of that thought is simply “why be here?” And the answer has come from forethinking hotel brands such as Cambria Hotels, franchised by Choice Hotels International, which is running an advertising campaign with the theme “Now WFH = Work From Hotel.” “Ready for a change of scenery? Upgrade your home office and explore a new city.” To accommodate this new type of guest, hotels need to update tech in their rooms and suites, especially by adding more conferencing and collaboration capabilities. 

Displays and In-Room Entertainment

Everyone who checks into a hotel probably has a multitude of digital content streaming subscriptions, and being able to seamlessly access them will instantly make the guest feel at home. Rather than struggling with a strange hotel interface that only shows a few cable channels and promotions for the property, it’s a much better experience for guests to pick up where they left off in the binge-watching session they were in the middle of at home. And the in-room display should be better than what guests have at home in their living room, too. The average TV size is expected to eclipse 50 inches by 2021 and will continue to grow. Hotels that invest in 60-inch and larger displays will position themselves better for the future. Upgrading rooms with large high-quality displays, bring-your-own-device streaming capabilities and artificial intelligence controls for all the tech in the room is what guests will need to feel at home.

Conference and Collaboration Options in Rooms and Suites

The Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association defines conferencing and collaboration technology as solutions that enable communication between sites. In other words, a suite of tools that includes headsets, in-room speakers and audio systems, displays, video cameras, lighting and control systems that bring these elements together. In the past few months, it’s become sometimes painfully clear how things such as professional-looking lighting and clear audio can leave a strong impression on a videoconference—and it’s something many people struggle with or just don’t have the capacity to pull off from home. A high-tech polished “work from home/hotel” set-up in a suite could attract new guests. If a hotel can offer a better work experience in the room than a client has at home, people may check in just to take advantage—especially those dealing with a lot of interruptions at home. A private hotel suite potentially could take the place of coworking spaces. Larger suites also could be upgraded with conference room-style set-ups to accommodate teams who want to collaborate in person.

Prepandemic, the hospitality industry was making big investments in pro AV technology to capture the attention of a new generation of guests by providing immersive experiences they just can’t get at an Airbnb. Unfortunately, the industry was hit hard and early in the 2020 economic downturn. The industry is expected to bounce back strongly in 2021, though AVIXA market research suggests that it won’t fully recover to its 2019 level until 2022. According to the "2020 AVIXA Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis" report, the global hospitality industry will spend $8.7 billion in 2020 on pro AV products and services with an annual compound annual growth rate of 5.9 percent, reaching $11.2 billion by 2025. 

The 2020 AVIXA report also indicates that conference and collaboration technology services and solutions are the largest revenue drivers in the AV technology market, with $38 billion of annual revenue in 2020 and a CAGR of 3.3 percent. That growth and size of the category reflects a demand for these solutions in spaces of all types—corporate offices, homes, and schools—that hotel operators should take note of and be prepared to offer in their spaces. 

Look for the pre-2020 trend of adding technology to hotel spaces to continue as we emerge from the pandemic, but shift to the technology investments going into different parts of the properties—the in-room technology and small conference and collaboration spaces. 

Michael Blake is the CEO of Hospitality Technology Next Generation and a member of the AVIXA market trends advisory board.