How VDA-Telkonet drives hotel appeal through sustainability

With sustainability increasingly top of mind for guests and cost efficiency top of mind for owners, companies like VDA-Telkonet are helping hoteliers better manage their energy use. The merger of Pordenone, Italy-based VDA and Waukesha, Wis.-based Telkonet has created a new company that is expanding opportunities for improved sustainability through automated guestroom management.

John Srouji, COO at VDA-Telkonet, noted that hotel guestrooms are only intermittently occupied, and if the temperature is kept at a comfortable temperature when nobody is inside, “you're effectively throwing dollars out the window.” According to the company, a guestroom can consume 40 to 80 percent of a hotel's total energy, so an unoccupied room increases the property's carbon footprint unnecessarily. 

A technology platform, however, can curtail energy consumption by relaxing the temperature settings once a room is unoccupied. “You can save up to 40 percent on your energy spend in that guestroom,” Srouji said, adding hoteliers can achieve a “relatively quick” return on their investment in terms of cost savings. 

Early Days

Telkonet launched in 1999 as a communication and network provider, but has since shifted its focus to intelligent automation and energy-management solutions. As technology evolved over the past two decades, Srouji said the company has “matured” and the solutions it provides have changed. The business has grown from an “electrical mechanical control-based logic group” to “a group that understands how to work with open [application programming interfaces] and cloud connectivity and cybersecurity,” he said. Basing its platform in the cloud has made it “accessible anytime, anywhere,” he added. “Not only does it still help conserve energy, but it also enables the hoteliers to operate more efficiently.” 

The platform’s algorithms are “constantly monitoring” what the current temperature is in a guestroom compared to what the guests want it to be, and also monitoring how quickly the temperature can return to the guest’s preference. That way, Srouji said, guests don’t have to wait to feel comfortable again once they return, and hotels don’t have to get angry complaints or negative reviews about rooms that are too warm or too cold. 

Guestroom Control

In early 2022, VDA Group, an Italian company specializing in hospitality guestroom management systems acquired 53 percent of Telkonet’s shares, creating a combined business that has worked with more than 7,000 hotels worldwide. Of the company’s 200 employees, Srouji said 40 are focused on research and development, working on creating different hardware, software and cloud-connected solutions. 

At its core, VDA-Telkonet’s distributed architecture centers around in-room controls. In 2021, Telkonet released its Touch Combo smart thermostat, combining three communication protocols used in Internet of Things devices (Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy) in one unit. The thermostats connect Rhapsody, Telkonet's cloud-connected energy-management supervisory solution, with everything from door locks and lights to panic buttons and location technology as well as property-management system platforms for assetwide control. “And that connected ecosystem is available to that hotelier from any web-enabled device, like their phone or computer,” Srouji said. 

The company's next release for the Rhapsody platform will include Aida, a new thermostat controller; a mobile installation application; and an updated set of supervisory applications focused on increasing operational efficiency. The platform Srouji explained, is part of the combined company's growth into the guestroom management solutions space, made possible through VDA's Etheos GRMS platform. "There's a fine distinction between EMS and GRMS," he explained. A guestroom management system is software-based and enables hotels to monitor, control and optimize aspects of the room’s environment, including lighting, temperature and room access. An energy-management system, meanwhile, focuses exclusively on energy usage through sensors, smart thermostats and other energy-efficient equipment. Notably, this kind of system can work anywhere in a hotel, not only in a guestroom. "With VDA, we expand from EMS to a GRMS offering in the United States," Srouji said. 

Ultimately, Srouji sees VDA-Telkonet as a value driver for hoteliers by improving an asset’s sustainability metrics and its appeal to guests, employees and investors. “As much as hoteliers are in the business of serving their guests, at the end of the day, they have a portfolio that they're trying to extract value out of,” he said. “Their ability to transform that portfolio or top-grade it from a sustainability perspective and help meet some of these carbon emission reduction goals ultimately [improve] their value. They see an increase in their asset values.” A sustainable hotel, he added, is not just a place that guests want to stay in, but also one that job seekers want to work in and that investors want to acquire. “[It] will garner a premium in the marketplace. So it's fun to be part of that.”

Clicking with Clients

VDA-Telkonet primarily targets ownership groups and operators. “That's where our engagement becomes meaningful,” Srouji said. “We seek to understand, really, what the business drivers are inside these organizations, and then what they're trying to accomplish with their hotel fleet.” Communicating with their clients, the team determines how to help with renovations, acquisitions and divestments. The company also has a certified partner channel—“system integrators that are distributed around the world that are part of the design, installation and ongoing service process,” Srouji said. These partners provide a local service presence to the customer and can be the first local line of support that VDA-Telkonet then can backstop with its product and technical support teams.

Logic in Logistics

VDA-Telkonet’s offices are arranged to support local markets, with project design engineers, project managers and operations infrastructure available to support the commercial teams that help hotel owners and operator groups. The research and development teams, however, are centralized, Srouji said. “We have maybe two core teams around the world, and they work cross-functionally with our product management team to make sure that our priorities are driven by customer needs. So, product management works closely with sales, and feeds and shapes projects into [research and development] that develop cool solutions, whether it's a hardware solution or a software solution or an application layer solution.”