Multiple electronic devices packed with personal media: that’s what travelers come armed with when they check into a hotel today. And it used to be that they could only watch their content on the device it was loaded on—whether a phone, tablet or laptop. This all happening while the guestroom TV sat there, power off, like a White Elephant. No more. Hotels now are moving quickly to allow guests to watch their content on that once-idle guestroom TV.
One such is the Hotel Vintage in Seattle, which added this capability during an April renovation. A smartphone dock in the hotel’s guestrooms sits at a bedside table that wirelessly streams data to the TV via a Bluetooth signal. Amanda Parsons, GM of the hotel, said the main benefit of the system is the flexibility it gives guests. To remove frustration from the excitement of discovering new guestroom options, the hotel trained its front desk staff and bellmen in the operation of the new hardware so they can assist guests if problems arise.
“Wherever people are traveling, they are always watching movies or TV on their devices,” Parsons said. “Hotels must remain flexible and explore these new options to make things easier and more intuitive for the guest.”
According to Jonas Tanenbaum, VP of hospitality for Samsung’s Enterprise Business Division, consumers have been able to stream video from their portable devices to their TVs for some time now, and hotels have been making an effort to match the experience.
“The goal on the design side is to try and shorten the difference between the living room and hotel room experiences,” Tanenbaum said. “We want to provide the same options on the road that a traveler has at home, backed up by video on demand and the library of media options available in a guestroom smart TV.”
One question that arises is: Should hotels pause to provide these options in fear of cutting into the already-diminishing-market of video on demand? Richard Lewis, VP of B2B research and technology for LG Electronics USA, said that VOD still has a value proposition for hotels that allow guests to use their own media on the TV thanks to VOD’s early release windows and convenience.
“People have been saying video on demand is dead for a long time, but it will co-exist with these new options,” Lewis said. “This just provides guests with more options; it’s not a death blow.”
Guests get hands-on with interactive digital screens
Guests want to watch their own media in the guestroom, but in public spaces they want to connect with interactive screens and digital signage in a more tangible manner.
Marriott International first installed the GoBoard digital signage options in its Courtyard properties as a way for front desk associates to engage with guests. But the opposite happened: The interactivity of the boards pulled in guests, eliminating the need or want to linger by the front desk. According to Scott Hansen, director of guest technology for Marriott International, the boards still have QR codes for phones though they are seldom used by travelers.
“We also did away with a texting system that would alert travelers to local information,” Hansen said. “Now we pushed time-sensitive information to the front of the board’s display. Local weather, traffic and a news crawl. Being able to produce and alter content on display has been a boon for the front desk.”
The Hyatt Regency in Bellevue, Wash., has its own take on interactive media boards. The hotel recently installed two 55-inch touch-screen coffee tables in the lobby for guests to interact with. These screens have multiple capabilities, including large three-dimensional maps of Bellevue and games, such as digital air hockey.
“It works well at creating dialogue in a public space,” said John D’Angelo, director of rooms for the hotel. “Our staff is trained on how to show the tables off and get guests talking to one another.” The screens have become such a conversation piece that the hotel even named them: Bill and Melinda.
What’s hindering smooth streaming?
If the technology to display media from a portable device on a large TV has been available in the public realm for so long, why is it just coming to hotels now? One barrier to the technology is accessibility.
“We keep a selection of adapters behind the front desk to be sure guests will be able to connect to their new media displays,” said Amanda Parsons, GM of Seattle’s Hotel Vintage. “Some devices still need adapters, but every device can connect.”
That issue is purely a physical limitation, and one with a simple solution, as the bedside media synching device in the Hotel Vintage broadcasts directly to that room’s TV. However, other properties are experimenting with allowing guests to synch directly with TVs without using a third-party device, and it is there that they are encountering difficulties.
➔ “Hotels and guests want the experience to be seamless, and they want a clear path to get there. And that is what we are all working on.”
Richard Lewis, VP of B2B research and technology for LG Electronics USA
Connecting your phone to a TV sounds simple, but consumer TVs and personal devices use a wide variety of protocols for interpreting Wi-Fi connections, and commercial TVs are often just repurposed from the consumer space. According to Richard Lewis, VP of B2B research and technology for LG Electronics USA, there has been a recent movement in the electronics industry toward a standardization of these protocols, allowing more devices to connect to more TVs with less effort.
Another obstacle hotels face comes from the synching process. “When someone at home starts searching for their TV to synch to on their phone, it pops right up because it’s in their living room,” Lewis said. “In a hotel, 800 TVs might pop up as options.”
Recent advances allow guests to locate their TV more easily, then require them to authenticate their mobile device on the TV before streaming is allowed to occur to prevent the wrong device synching with the wrong room. “Advances can always be made,” Lewis said. “Hotels and guests want the experience to be seamless, and they want a clear path to get there. And that is what we are all working on.”