Live and local: The ongoing shift of guestroom entertainment

RLH Corporation broadcasts performances held on Hotel RL properties' living stage event spaces directly to the hotel guestroom. Photo credit: RLH Corporation

For some hotels, entertaining guests has become something of a hands-off experience thanks to the prevalence of media guests carry with them, but it doesn't have to be that way. Hotels can still find ways to provide guestroom programming that is unique to each property, as long as the right infrastructure is in place.

Take RLH Corporation's Hotel RL brand, for example. These properties offer a "Living Stage" in their public areas where local groups can organize anything from music performances and stand-up routines to talent shows, and all of these events are recorded and broadcast to guestrooms. 

John Edwards, chief technology officer for RLH Corporation, said the Hotel RL Baltimore recently launched AppleTVs in each of its guestrooms. The goal of this rollout, he said, is to eventually stream these events live on mobile, over AppleTV and on the web.

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"This is all about local content and giving people an easy place to find the content they want without a lot of work or planning," Edwards said. "We want to deliver a quality experience, not just a live experience, which is why we went with AppleTV."

Creating an easy path to the content an individual guest is looking for remains a struggle in the industry. Alistair Chatwin, VP of Dish Business, said the greatest challenge right now in the guestroom entertainment space is not centered around providing high-quality entertainment, but how to meet the unique needs of each individual guest. In some ways, Chatwin said guestroom entertainment is evolving to encompass everything from the guestroom TV to voice controls and the ability for guests to control their environment, and how hotels can tailor the experience to guests' interests before they even arrive.

"Imagine walking into your hotel room and the TV is set to your favorite channel or app, the temperature is already at your desired level, the lights are on, the drapes are closed and you're already connected to the Wi-Fi," Chatwin said. "We believe this is where the experience is headed."

Shannon Foster, corporate director of operations at Pivot Hotels & Resorts, said voice technology will remain a staple investment from hotel companies in 2019. Despite isolated instances of pushback against this technology, Foster said its continued popularity in the residential sector has solidified it as a must-have in hospitality.

The challenge, she said, is not how to implement this technology but in finding ways to fund it.

"Frankly, it's tremendously difficult to measure the return on investment on including a Google Home in the guestroom," Foster said. "It's similar to trying to measure the ROI on investing in a fantastic fitness center. Also, with the pace at which technology evolves, the last thing you want to do is invest a lot of money in something that will quickly be obsolete."

Foster recommended hotels looking to make a serious investment into voice technology—or any experimental guest-facing solution—also invest heavily into third-party relationships for support along the way.

"If you put a Google Home in a room, you must be able to control the content it accesses," Foster said. "There will be a lot of lessons learned from the properties that are using it already."

Any on-property device that provides entertainment must be fully controlled by the hotel. This includes smart TVs and voice technology. Photo credit: Pivot Hotels & Resorts

Personal Touch

Guests clearly favor their own devices while on the road, which is why hotels have been determined to find the ideal casting technology to captivate them in the guestroom. The conceit is simple: allow hotel guests to broadcast their own media onto the guestroom TV. Implementing this process, however, is anything but simple, and the jury is still out on the most effective way for guests to to control the content.

Peter Agnvall, VP of enterprise TV at service provider Spectrum Enterprise, said the remaining challenge in the casting space is the lingering requirement for guests to input personal information to log in to existing systems. This extra step is necessary for security, but it also acts as a barrier between a true plug-and-play guestroom entertainment experience.

"Our solution, Moviebeam, uses a Chromecast device to stream content to the TV and supports Airplay," Agnvall said. "I think the industry is heading in that direction for the future." Agnvall also stated that Moviebeam requires no personal information from guests to begin casting entertainment.

Jeff Edwards, SVP of hotel and owner solutions at IHG, said he anticipates continued investment into casting technology until it reaches a level of seamlessness that the company is aiming for.

"We've always taken a view that we don't want to provide technology for technology's sake to our hotels," Edwards said. "We have to provide entertainment solutions that deliver the experience that guests want, and also drive value for owners."

Chatwin said that by and large guests and hoteliers are receptive to casting technology, but have been dissuaded by the complexity of the solutions available today. The goal of technology providers right now is to create something that a guest would naturally use at home, and not something that they have to learn and relearn each stay.

"Switching inputs, downloading apps or entering codes on your phone all have the potential to create confusion and frustration," Chatwin said. "But when you make casting easy to use, it is much more likely to be seen as a preferred method for accessing their personal content. It is a simple and secure way for a guest to view their favorite content on the hotel TV."

Edwards echoed this concern.

"I never remember my Netflix password, and every time I have to log into a new device I have to reset my password," Edwards said. "In our guest-facing world, this is a work in progress. We have to get more customer feedback and squash the technical challenges. But as an industry, we're on the right track."