Safety concerns keep phones in guestrooms

The Bittel UNOMedia 5 Slim hotel telephone (Bittel UNOMedia 5 Slim)

This article is part one of a three-part series on guestroom telephones.

While the guestroom telephone may not be the revenue driver it once was, many phone experts believe it will always remain in the room for safety. Manufacturers are coming up with different bells and whistles that have nothing to do with the phone operation itself.

“They are adding features that guests are using, such as USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity, but those things aren’t necessarily making the phone relevant,” said Chad Collins, senior sales director, Americas for VTech Telecommunications.

“The biggest factor today on why the phone is even in the room is for life safety,” he said. “But brands are speaking loudly and the time is coming where phones will be the least relevant thing in the guestroom.”
While some hotels may have room intercoms instead of phones, Mitch Heinlein, VP of sales and marketing for Bittel Americas, said guests may not now how to operate the devices. “Phones are essential—guests know how they work and it’s easy for guests to use and staff to use in emergencies,” he said.

From a legal standpoint, room phones provide an important emergency lifeline for guests right inside the guestroom, said John Grubb, SVP of marketing for Cetis. “A phone plugged inside the room is a more reliable emergency location device than a mobile phone, because the room phone clearly identifies the exact location of the guest inside the guestroom in case of an emergency,” he said. “And even if disaster doesn’t strike, it may be difficult to convince the insurance company that removing guestroom phones doesn’t open the hotel up to potential lawsuits.”

Grubb said legislation is currently making its way through Congress that would require multi-line telephone systems, such as those in hotels, to be configured to allow users to directly dial 911 without having to dial an initial digit. The proposed law is the result of several cases in which hotel guests tried to call 911 without realizing they needed to dial another digit to reach an outside line.

Communication is Evolving

But the way guests are communicating and want to communicate in the future is changing; it’s all about mobile, texting, voice chat and video chat, said Keith Konicki, PhoneSuite Direct VP.

“Guests would prefer to use their cell phones as the primary device,” he said. “Hotels need to provide this as an option. Also, why does communication only have to occur within the guestroom? Why shouldn’t a guest be able to receive communication and messaging from the hotel and people trying to reach them through the hotel phone system via the multitude of devices they have with them and anywhere inside or outside the hotel, during their stay, [including] their personal mobile phone, tablet, watch, laptop?”

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Another Design Element

Heinlein said brands are looking at the guestroom phone more as a design element. “The phones must be in touch with the design brands are implementing in the room,” he said. “Phones are also getting smaller to take up less room on the nightstand or desk.”

Multimedia units are increasing in popularity for many brands, Heinlein said. “Instead of three devices, hotels are looking to one singular device that combines the phone, clock radio and iHome-type device,” he said. “New builds and properties that are updating are looking to these type of devices.”

From a financial perspective, and contrary to popular belief, the room phone continues to generate significant long-distance call and services revenues, Grubb said. A 500-room Los Angeles hotel has reported international call revenue from room phones at 80 percent occupancy of $15,000 to $20,000 per month, or $180,000 to $240,000 a year, he said.

“The same hotel reported guest service key orders totaled more than 65,000,” Grubb said. “At an average $20 per order that’s $1.3 million in service revenue.”

Additional service requests included 6,000 linen requests via the housekeeping button, 37,000 wake-up button requests, and 11,200 concierge button calls.