Guestroom phones going mobile

The phone remains a ubiquitous feature of the guestroom.
The phone remains a ubiquitous feature of the guestroom.

The phone remains a ubiquitous feature of the guestroom.

With guests packing an ever-growing suite of mobile devices in their suitcases, what has become of the guestroom phone? Many hardware manufacturers are turning from the idea of the phone as a standalone piece of hardware to the phone as a hub for the guest’s devices.

“The guestroom telephone is really a safety device—hotels have to have it because it’s a liability issue if they don’t,” said Joe Zhang, CEO of Bittel Americas. “But most of the guests are using their mobile devices for making calls or consuming content.”

One major area in which guestroom phones are coming into play is as a convenient charging point for guest devices.

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“In many hotels, there’s not a good place on the nightstand for charging,” said Zhang. “But for most hotels, we’ve got a telephone there, so we can build the charging capability into the telephone and provide a good place for the user to leave their mobile device.”

Built-in charging can also help relieve one of the banes of travelers: losing a charger.

“It’s very common for hotels to get a huge bin of leftover chargers,” said Zhang. “By building this into the phone, guests don’t need to pull out their charger—they can just plug into the phone.”

Even with these new enhancements, traditional phones without these functions maintain one key advantage: cost.

➔  “It’s very common for hotels to get a huge bin of leftover chargers. By building this into the phone, guests don’t need to pull out their charger—they can just plug into the phone.”

“A traditional phone can be only $20 to $50, versus a more expensive phone, which can be over $100,” said Doug Zagha, president of Inn-Phone.

Moreover, the very factor that is driving mobile integration—guests’ increasing tendency to make calls on their mobile device rather than the guestroom phone—is making cost a more important consideration for many hotels.

“Since there’s not much revenue coming from guestroom phones these days, a lower cost can be what our customers prefer,” said Zagha.

Guestrooms—and phones—go sleek

High-tech guestroom amenities are pushing room design in a sleeker direction and phones are following suit, with an emphasis on a compact footprint and a streamlined shape.

Guestroom phone footprints are getting smaller.

Guestroom phone footprints are getting smaller.

“Hoteliers say that since they have flat-screen TVs now, they want a phone that matches that sleek form factor,” said Doug Zagha, president of Inn-Phone. “They’re definitely becoming less boxy.”

A shift to smaller guestroom furniture is also driving the move toward neater design.

“Hotels are looking for a smaller footprint,” said Joe Zhang, CEO of Bittel Americas. “The nightstand is getting smaller, and in some instances the nightstand is just a piece sticking out of the wall.”

In some instances, phones have shrunk to the point where the footprint is the size of the whole handset, noted Zhang.

“The other side of this is what we’re doing with integration,” said Zhang, citing models his company has introduced that combine a clock radio into the phone. “If you take the phone and add new functionality, the rest of the nightstand can be completely open.”

Rolling the clock radio into the phone saves space even beyond the footprint of the clock radio by eliminating the need for a power adaptor.

“With power over Ethernet, hoteliers can put the Ethernet switch in the closet and provide a lot of power directly into the phone through the Ethernet cable,” said Zhang. “The end result is really clean—there’s no local power adaptor, you just jack into the wall. With a fully integrated device, one cable powers everything.” 

Phone integration broadens reach

Tying guestroom phones into guest mobile devices allows for a wide variety of additional functions beyond acting as a charging station.

“Because you have the ability to charge, the next thing is, people want to play music,” said Joe Zhang, CEO of Bittel Americas. “So we’ve built a clock radio and music system into our telephone.”

Phones can integrate with guest mobile devices via a physical connection or Bluetooth.

Phones can integrate with guest mobile devices via a physical connection or Bluetooth.

In addition to saving space by eliminating the clock radio, integrating the music and clock functions into a mobile-friendly phone offers functional benefits as well, Zhang said. For example, if a guest is playing music from their smartphone through the guestroom phone’s speakers and a call comes in, the music will mute itself automatically when the guest answers. Once the guest hangs up, the music resumes.

“This kind of behavior has almost come to be expected on cellphones, but it hasn’t happened in the hotel guestroom,” said Zhang. “With integration, this can happen automatically.”

Playing music through a guestroom phone’s higher-quality speakers can also be advantageous, and ties into another area ripe for integration: conference calls, said Zhang.

“In a hotel room, if I’m on a two-hour conference call, it’s uncomfortable to use my cellphone because the speaker still isn’t good,” said Zhang. “So we developed our all-in-one phone into a conference station.”

To use the phone as a conference station, guests can connect their mobile device either via Bluetooth or by plugging into an audio connector.

At this year’s HITEC, Bittel rolled out an additional means to connect mobile devices to a guestroom phone: near-field communications (NFC).

“The beauty of NFC is that you don’t really need to figure out how to connect,” said Zhang.

“Regular Bluetooth is pretty easy already, but with NFC you don’t need to press any button—you just put your cellphone next to the guestroom phone and it connects automatically. It really simplifies the whole thing,” he added.

While new features offer new opportunities for the guest experience, perennial qualities remain important to choosing a guestroom phone.

“Hoteliers should look at the design of the phone, the durability and the reputation of the company that’s selling it,” said Doug Zagha, president of Inn-Phone. “Hoteliers have to find a balance between quality and price, which is sometimes hard to do.”

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