Travel experiences shouldn’t include mismatched outlets

While there are an abundance of hot topics that are abuzz in the hospitality technology community—namely data security and disruptive technologies—there are also many small and important details to consider when you are designing a new-build or working on upgrades. This came to my attention recently while having a conversation with HFTP International Hospitality Hall of Fame inductee Fraser Hickox, who is the managing director at The Conceptual Group and former group general manager of research and technology for The Peninsula Hotels.

He brought to light some of the vital technology considerations when his team works on outfitting a guestroom. At the top of the list is incorporating electrical outlets—how many and where—and also the conundrum of the electrical plug itself.

There are 15 different kinds of electrical outlet plugs in common use today across the globe. The variety expanded as countries decided to develop a unique plug type, initially in the interest to design a safer version from the original 1945 U.S. standard. Each type, determined by national standards set by the country, are primarily grouped by region and in some regions, multiple types are used.

Voltage ranges between 110 volts and 250 volts. Conveniently, plug types are regional, and residents and regional travelers do not encounter day-to-day issues: It is basically plug and go without a thought about whether your plug will fit. But travel a little further and an adapter is required. In some cases, you might need a voltage converter, although some appliances have a switch that allows the device to adjust the voltage between 90v to 250v.

Why It Is Important

In an era where multiple personal electronics are part of a traveler’s arsenal, the international traveler might also need multiple, matching adapters so his or her electronics can be in use simultaneously. A concern is that some of these adapters are in fact more dangerous and subject to fire risk if thin conductors become overheated. Hickox said that it all comes down to a massive inconvenience for guests. While varying regional socket types are established, the travel industry has made some steps toward universal sockets that can accommodate different plugs. 

One solution has come from the airlines, which offer a multipin power outlet that can provide for all pin configurations, eliminating the need for an adapter. However, this outlet is illegal to use in a stationary environment. So while mobile environments such as U.S.-registered airplanes and cruise ships can bypass regional standards, stationary buildings where our hotels are housed cannot install this style of electrical outlet, which comes across as an unfair advantage. This is not unique to the U.S. and in fact most authorities will not accept these sockets even though they are produced for mobile environments in various countries.

Gradually though, these sockets are now finding their way in hotels around the Middle East and some Asian cities. Hickox received approval to use them at the Peninsula Tokyo, but he said it took 12 months to obtain approval from the authorities. Acceptance is slowly coming, but not without a lot of effort from the hotels’ side. 

Mobile Phones

Another workaround for mobile phone charging that is gaining ground is induction charging for mobile devices. This is a wireless method where one can place a device on or near the charger. Mobile phone companies are now accommodating for this type of charge, and recently even Apple has reverted to the Qi protocol, an open interface standard, along with Asus, Samsung, LG Electronics, Sony and others. By providing an induction charger in rooms for guests, the need for a plug and adapter is eliminated (at least for some of the traveler’s personal electronics).

The boundaries between regions are fading, but there are still differences that require attention. While the point of travel is to experience the unique characteristics of an area, a different outlet type shouldn’t be a quality our guests need to embrace. As hospitality technologists, we can take advantage of tools available to make a stay in our hotels an easy experience and direct our guests’ attention toward the adventure they are looking for in their travels.