Hey Alexa: Will my guestroom phone soon be gone?

New technology is allowing hotels to further reduce the infrastructure needs for telephones. Photo credit: Bittel Americas

Telephone manufacturers have differing opinions about whether the technology behind Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home and similar devices will help or hurt guestroom telephone use. While most agree the guestroom phone will remain a mainstay no matter what other technology is employed, how the guestroom phone interacts with that technology is key. 

“I think there is a lot of buzz about these device,” said Brock Munsell, chief technology officer/VP of sales at Cetis. “[Amazon and Google] are spending billions on promoting these products. The hotel industry typically follows the consumer market. I believe the consumer market has peaked and the hotel industry is just beginning to test the water on if or where this technology may have an application.”

According to Bittel Americas President Joe Zhang, guestroom telephones are a perfect fit with Alexa or Google.

“It is a perfect complement for those voice devices. We made our guestroom phone ‘voice ready,’ meaning that it is ready to work with the Alexa or Google or any other voice assistant. Having a smart guestroom telephone capable of working with the voice assistant will allow the voice assistant access to the hotel telephony network where hotel services and emergency services are readily available.”

While digital personal assistants are picking up speed across industries, the hotel phone remains crucial to any hotel offering, said Chad Collins, VP/sales, Americas for VTech Communications. “Imagine walking into a hotel room that had no phone,” he said. “While millennials and Gen X guests are quite comfortable with emerging technologies and may not notice, the baby boomers and [others] are generally more comfortable with technologies that they are familiar with and would consider it a fail to not have a phone in their rooms. This will remain the case for many years.”

Angie Hospitality CEO Ted Helvey believes the only reason to keep a telephone in a guestroom is to make emergency calls and engage with the front desk. “Telephones are just regulated to internal calls and emergency calls, although extremely rare,” he said. “But I believe Angie and other voice-enabled devices could replace the phone. Something like ‘Hey Angie, I’m hungry’ can take the place of the phone call to room service since Angie will direct the guest request.” 

Because this technology offers automated or artificial intelligence-driven responses to guest requests, voice-response technologies such as these will help to replace the guestroom phone, said Frank Melville, Phonesuite's president/CEO. “The few remaining uses for a guestroom phone—emergency calls and requests for hotel services—can be provided to guests without a mobile device or whose mobile battery is dead. So the simple answer is: someday the guestroom phone will be gone.”

Must-Have Telephone Features

While a number of hotels have moved to voice-enabled smart devices in the guestrooms, the telephone remains an important mainstay. There are many features that are important for hoteliers and guests but Collins believes cordless handsets and speakerphones, which give guests more freedom to move about their rooms, are two of the most important. 

Emergency 911 call reporting immediately on placing the call that includes identifying the guestroom and guest name to several key staff roles and locations is another key feature, Melville said. “Emergency service is the leading reason brand executives whose job it is to worry about the guest’s safety continue to require a guestroom phone,” he said. 

Wake-up calls, including logs of who set, cleared, answered or missed the call, are key as well. “Most of our larger hotel installations still do a lot of guest wake-up calls, especially those near airports,” Melville said. “It is perhaps the largest remaining actual use of the guestroom phone.”

Smaller phone footprints, which allow for easy placement and more space on the nightstand, and USB charging ports, which make it easy for guests to charge their smartphones and other electronic devices, are crucial, Collins said. 

Another reason Melville believes hotels will continue to provide guestroom telephones is for housekeeping status updates. These updates do not require a telephone, but they are the simplest way to update a property-management system, he said. “When a housekeeper needs to update the PMS with room status (clean, dirty, maintenance required, etc.) they use the guestroom phone to dial a specific status code and the PBX passes this status-update message to the PMS,” he said. 

Why Technology is Making Guestroom Phones Smarter

New technology makes hotel telephones even easier for guests to use while technology is allowing hotels to further reduce their infrastructure needs for telephones. “We always had waterproof technology and magnetic hook switch to protect hotel phones from liquid damages (the number one damage to hotel phones); now we have voice-assistant technology to allow guests making phone calls by talking to a voice assistant like Alexa,” Zhang said. 

Phone manufacturers are taking advantage of the Wi-Fi network for telephone networks, and in turn, reducing the infrastructure cost of a hotel telephony network, Zhang continued. 

“VoIP (SIP) technology offers a great deal of benefits to a hotel,” Collins said.  From an operational standpoint, information technology managers can push firmware upgrades to every room on the property without ever setting foot in the room—preventing hundreds or sometimes thousands of disruptive in-room sessions, plus the legwork involved. 

“While this, among other benefits, is a plus for the hotel, it is transparent to the guests who frankly only care that the phone works and are more concerned with their overall hotel experience and would rather open the doors to room service or fresh towels,” he continued. 

Ashu Upa, CEO at Matrix Telcom, suggests the hybrid VOIP phone system that uses voice over IP trunk and a guest room analog phone, can reduce a hoteliers’ operation costs since an analog phone is much easier to maintain compared to VOIP phones. 

At Phonesuite, Melville said he does not see technological improvements in the hotel guest room phone or the technology behind it improving to the point where the phone evolves and remains in the room. “The technology and purpose behind the basic guestroom phone are going away, and will likely be replaced by some combination of a mobile app and voice-activated response systems like Amazon’s Echo,” he said. 

“The guestroom phone is similar to the land line you used to have at home,” he continued. “But this shift is not just away from the land line and toward the mobile phone or mobile app, there is also a shift in the method guests prefer to communicate over—to texting.” 

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