Not that long ago, when a hotel guestroom underwent renovation, it entailed new wallcoverings, window treatments and replacement of some furniture pieces. Although that still applies today, trends point toward bathtubs being removed for walk-in showers; carpeting giving way to wood planking, ceramic or luxury vinyl tile; and upgrading everything associated with technology.
Throughout the renovation process, it is imperative that contemplated technologies are validated as being truly beneficial for guests and/or staff. In the hospitality industry, one must always recognize a guest stays at a hotel for just a few days; how to operate everything in their room must be intuitive. Further, as there can be significant variation on the level of understanding or acceptance for some of today’s technology-driven concepts, it is important to know the mindset of the target/anticipated guests. Market research and/or guest feedback is typically the initiator for change with subsequent vetting by a hotel company’s IT, Design, Financial Feasibility and Operations groups to verify a positive impact will result. Systems that are over-complicated to use, “gimmicky” or provide minimal gains should not be considered.
Unlike individuals that can (as examples) upgrade their cell phone annually or change their internet service provider with a month’s notice, a hotel’s major capital expenditure investments are expected to be in place for five to seven years. This is dictated by a number of factors, including tax-code depreciation benefits, the desire to minimize service disruptions that typically occur to guests and staff during installation/construction, and to realize a financial payback from the installation. Because of this expectation of a significant service life, the hardware component of a deployed technology must be robust and durable, and its software (or operating system) must be easily upgradable to install the inevitable updates that will be issued. The ability to install updates seamlessly with little-to-no disruption of service is vital; hotels operate 24/7/365 and cannot afford for a guest-facing or administrative technology to be down or offline.
Because guestroom technology makeovers often occur in phases, a clear understanding of the sequence the overall program must follow is critical. For hotels that previously had minimal connectivity for guests’ general use, upgrading to support the myriad internet protocol (IP) devices that exist today is often the first (and significantly expensive) step in their technology makeover process. Today’s internet/Wi-Fi infrastructure must be able to support concurrent operation of an unlimited number of guest devices (each with their own potentially high-bandwidth requirements), in addition to the IP devices to be incorporated into the guestroom. Further, hotels must ensure their guest-facing and administrative IT systems remain secure when IP door locks, thermostats, lighting controls, TVs, telephones, smart speakers, etc., are deployed. All components considered for integration, especially those to which a guest will connect or have access, must be subjected to thorough evaluation to identify and eliminate any potential for hacking. Most (if not all) hotel companies have their own internal cybersecurity departments that establish strict protocols for third parties that interact with their networks.
Although the vast majority of today’s IT-based systems have a high reliability, not all are perfect. There must be a clear understanding of what “failure mode” looks like for each system and any potential for a cascading negative impact on other devices/functions they interact with if a single malfunction occurs. As an example, a centralized, online guestroom access control system must continue to allow independent operation of individual door locks even if its server goes down. A temporary loss of “nice to have” features may be tolerated; any interruption of basic or critical functions will not be.
Once the prerequisites are completed, the only limitation on the desired technologies to be incorporated is the available budget. Following are systems that are commonly being updated today:
RFID Locks/Mobile Entry – Mechanical keys vanished long ago for hotel guestrooms and their replacement, the magnetic stripe card, also is rapidly disappearing. Radio frequency identification, or RFID, key card technology—with inherent better security and the ability to hold more data—has become the standard. (Please note, this increased storage is NOT for guests’ personal information but required to give a guest additional access rights to other hotel doors with an RFID lock, such as an exterior entrance or fitness center.) Many existing RFID locks can be upgraded through field installation of a small antenna; new locks have this feature factory installed.
Today, the movement toward cell phones acting as a key (similar to how they function as a payment device) has necessitated the inclusion of Bluetooth or Near Field Communication into guestroom door locks. These “digital keys” typically are sent to a guest’s mobile device via a hotel’s loyalty app.
A further enhancement of the guestroom door lock is the option for locks to be online. Although all door locks provide a local record of when and from which side of the door they were opened, online locks provide this information in real time to a server. Automatic alarms are generated if a door is propped open, slightly ajar or forced open.