National Report – Once upon a time, the hospitality sector boasted the premiere TV viewing experience, but with the recent explosion in guest content, hotels are struggling to keep pace, said Michael Ribero, CEO of content and connectivity solutions provider SONIFI Solutions.
Pictured: In May 2014, the Donovan House in Washington, D.C., completed a redesign that included new 55-inch TVs and desks with built-in, flip-up outlets with standard power and USB sockets.
“People forget that hospitality invented pay-per-view and video-on-demand,” said Ribero. “The market hasn’t seen a lot of innovation taking place even though the technology has changed so much.”
Travelers are using more devices than ever during their trip, and it is changing how they interact with in-room content. According to SONIFI’s “Hotel Guest Channel Preferences Away and at Home, October 2013” survey, 81 percent of travelers use a smartphone while traveling, 79 percent use a laptop and 48 percent use a tablet. At the same time, revenue from in-room movie rentals has fallen—a drop of 41.6 percent from 2007 through 2013, according to the “Trends in the Hotel Industry” report from PKF Hospitality Research, LLC.
The decline in in-room movie rentals is part of a larger drop-off in in-room revenue driven by a variety of economic and social reasons, said Robert Mandelbaum, director of research information services at PKF Hospitality Research. Part of the decline can be traced to the rise of online streaming through portable devices, as well as overall belt-tightening in response to the great recession.
“Since the great recession, executive travel and meeting planners have had to control their budgets,” said Mandelbaum. “It is taboo to put a $5 can of soda or $10 chocolate bar on your expense report.” Additionally, hotels looking to control their operating costs have been cutting back on expensive operations like minibars and room service.
Part of the change, however, is a reflection of broader social shifts. “Younger travelers prefer to be outside the room,” said Mandelbaum. “That is why hotels have invested in offering more F&B outlets in their lobbies.”
Guests are selecting hotels with these new expectations in mind. “We’re seeing a few key factors important for our guests in selecting a hotel: flexible spaces with ample outlets to plug in and charge up anywhere and everywhere, reliable high-speed wireless Internet connections, and comfortably designed rooms in which to enjoy their entertainment options,” said Faith Yi of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.
A Generational Shift
The degree to which guests embrace mobile content depends in large parts on their demographics.
“The younger audience tends to travel with more devices and has a lower dependence on TV,” said Ribero. “Those that do use the TV use it in tandem with a second device.”
According to the SONIFI study, millennials (born 1978 – 1987) lead the way in second-screen viewing, with 38 percent of them viewing TV while using a laptop and 32 percent while using a tablet. For Generation X (born 1965 – 1977), these numbers fall to 31 percent and 24 percent respectively, and for baby boomers (born 1946 – 1964), they fall to 21 percent and 13 percent.
“One third of the millennial audience doesn’t even see the TV as their primary entertainment medium,” said Ribero. “Generally, the younger the audience, the more comfortable they are with technology and curating their own content.”
At the same time, according to MMGY Global’s 2014 Portrait of American Travelers, millennials (1979 – 1994) were most likely to demand in-room TV options when selecting a hotel. According to the survey, 34 percent of millennials selected “Free access to premium content on in-room television” as being influential when selecting a hotel or resort, as opposed to 28 percent of Gen Xers (1965 – 1978) and boomers (1946 – 1964). 35 percent of millennials selected “Variety of in-room entertainment options available on the television” as being influential, as compared to 27 percent of Gen Xers and 22 percent of boomers.
Certain trend lines, however, cut across demographics. “Over 90 percent of all demographics want the ability to put their own content on the TV or watch proprietary content,” said Ribero. “The threshold is, how big is too big of a challenge before they give up and go with what they know works.”
The Challenges of the New Guest Experience
Even as guests increase their demand for content, hotels continue to face challenges in delivering. Ribero cited one example of a five-star hotel in which he had stayed that had a set-top box balanced atop the guestroom’s flatscreen TV, with exposed wiring connecting the two—not a stylish impression.
“You have to give guests something comparable to what they have at home or better,” Ribero said.
Putting guest content on the guestroom TV is more complicated in a hospitality environment, in which hundreds of TVs can share a common wiring system, Ribero said. Set-top boxes, which originally solved many of the problems of coordinating and distributing content, have lost prominence as wall-mounted flatscreens have gained prominence. Delivering guestroom entertainment that can match or exceed what guests experience at home will require a new approach.
Pictured: The Eventi Hotel in New York City has a “Business Bar” with a variety of tech devices on loan for guests, including iPads, Macbook Pros, reading tablets, digital cameras and tech accessories.
“It will take an ecosystem to reestablish hospitality as the pre-eminent viewing experience,” said Ribero.
Many hotels have moved to offer amenities that work with guest devices. Kimpton offers complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi for guests who are part of the brand’s free loyalty program; a menu of commonly forgotten items to borrow such as chargers, USB cords and international plug adaptors; and free on-demand TV programming, including 24-hour yoga and Pilates channels, said Yi.
“On average, a typical Kimpton guestroom offers four or more outlet plugs and two USB ports per room,” said Kimpton’s Yi. “Our new and more recently renovated guestrooms have desks with built-in power units, additional lamps with power outlets bedside, and smartphone docking stations for recharging and listening to music.”
Given the pace at which potential tech amenities evolve, hoteliers cite the capital commitment required to upgrade as their biggest challenge in keeping on top of guest demand, said Ribero.
“We’re close to being able to offer an expense-based, shorter-term non-capital lease that some hotels have asked for,” said Ribero. “We want to offer a shorter-term option because it obviates the need to go to the capital committee for approval.”
As hotels move to adapt, the relationship between guest and hotelier is changing when it comes to in-room content.
“We have to learn how to work with guests without losing control of the experience,” said Ribero. “As the technology changes what guests have access to, we have to change how we work with our customers.”
In-room revenue sources for U.S. hotels
Change: 2012 to 2013 -4.5%
Change: 2007 to 2013 -39.5%
Change: 2012 to 2013 -1.4%
Change: 2007 to 2013 -29.3%
Change: 2012 to 2013 1.3%
Change: 2007 to 2013 -41.6%
Change: 2012 to 2013 2.2%
Change: 2007 to 2013 -7.5%
Change: 2012 to 2013 -5.6%
Change: 2007 to 2013 -32.0%
Minibar Systems North America
Source: PKF Hospitality Research, LLC, Trends® in the Hotel Industry Report
Influential when selecting a hotel/resort
Millennials % Xers % Boomers%
Free internet access from guest rooms 53 59 58
Free access to premium content on in-room television 34 28 28
Variety of in-room entertainment options available on the television 35 27 22
MMGY Global Portrait of the American Traveler 2014