Outdated In-Room Technology
Why In-Room Tablets are a Thing of the Past By Byron Webster, Executive Director - Sales & Marketing at SABA Hospitality 28 February 2022
Why In-Room Tablets are a Thing of the Past — Source: SABA Hospitality
You might remember my last article where I was comparing four guest facing technologies that we are often asked about by current and prospective clients. The purpose of this piece was to stimulate thought processes, and assist hoteliers in making decisions on which technology to implement to position themselves for the long term, post-pandemic. If you haven’t seen the article, and are interested, check out “Avoid Your Own Kodak Moment”. It looks at in-room tablets, native applications, IPTV systems and progressive web applications, rating them according to uptake, content management and cost. I tried to keep the article well balanced, presenting information based not only on current research and trends, but on 60 plus years of experience in hotel operations and technology from the SABA Hospitality team.
The article certainly achieved its goal. It got people talking. We received emails, LinkedIn messages, and even a few texts on the article’s content. Many people agreed with us. Some disagreed, which is also great, as diversity of opinion is healthy and ultimately drives innovation. However, by far the greatest number of comments came from our assessment of in-room tablets, with some questioning why we ranked this type of technology so poorly in comparison to the other options. I can assure you, it’s not that we don’t like tablets. Our whole team, like most people, own and use tablets on a regular basis. They are common place. Which ironically negates the reasoning many hoteliers past and present implemented in-room tablets in the first place. They were a sign of luxury, of innovation. Something guests couldn’t help but try. But then again, so WAS the Walkman, or the DVD. And I’m pretty sure not too many operators are looking to place DVD players into their rooms to separate themselves from the competition. The reason we ranked tablets poorly is that we just don’t see as much value in them when compared to alternative technologies. Why? Well hopefully the following provides some clarity to our position:
Costs upon Costs upon Costs: Unlike alternative technologies that leverage the guest’s own mobile device, in-room tablets require investment into hardware (likely going straight into the CAPEX budget), as well as ongoing operational costs. Given the cheapest tablet currently available on Amazon is US$60, a 100-room property is looking at $6000 in hardware costs alone. In reality, the average cost of most tablets will be $200 or more, which represent an initial outlay of $20,000 for a 100-room property or $60,000 for a 300-room property. And that’s before spares, which you will inevitably require for breakages, theft or poor battery life (let’s face it, most in-room tablets spend the majority of their life cycle attached to the charger - the exact opposite of what you are told when purchasing any mobile device). And expect that cost every 3 years, which is the average lifespan of such a tablet. So open that cheque book, you’ll need it!
The great uptake dilemma (you can’t use what you don’t have!): It’s no secret, the key to success for any guest-facing technology is uptake. You can have the greatest technology, but if no one uses it, you may as well not have it. And if people do use your technology, the goal should be to ensure it’s used frequently, giving guests the capability to browse your offerings, order food & beverage, ask questions, or make a booking at your venues whenever they like. Now, without putting too strong of a point on it, by their very nature, in-room tablets only exist IN THE ROOM, which only makes up a tiny fraction of the guest journey. Much planning happens pre-arrival. Dinner plans, day tours, recreation. Many of these decisions, and a guest’s itinerary, are locked in prior to even entering the room. And once on property, how much time does a guest actually spend in their 4 walls. Very little. They lie by the pool. They explore the local area. Use the hotel facilities. They don’t simply sit in the room using the tablet. I’m sure you can see where this is going. How can a piece of technology achieve high volume and high frequency uptake when a guest only has access to it for a fraction of their entire stay? This question is rhetorical because the answer is simple: IT CAN’T. Which forms a large part of our thinking in why the effectiveness of in-room tablets pales in comparison to other guest facing technologies.
When we connect, magic happens: No this isn’t a 1990’s romantic comedy. What I mean is that many proponents of the tablet point to their ability to connect to existing hotel infrastructure such as the PMS, Point of Sale system, table management platform or job dispatch system. And we agree, in many instances, these connections allow for end-to-end automation of amenity requests, room service orders or restaurant bookings. Great for saving costs and improving operational efficiency. But other technologies such as the progressive web application, or native hotel applications, also provide seamless integrations with such systems. And because they are accessed through the guest’s own personal device, they live with the guest throughout their entire hotel journey, not simply time spent in the room. Also consider the most popular technologies since the COVID-19 pandemic began; anything contactless (not only is the in-room tablet not contactless, but requires constant cleaning by housekeeping staff), keyless entry and online check-in. There will be many ways a guest can check in to a hotel and access their room in the future, but the tablet will never be one of them. Again, by virtue of the fact, the technology can only be accessed once IN THE ROOM. Progressive web applications provide a seamless connection to your digital wallet or can be connected to a native application via deep links should a download be required. It therefore allows a contactless guest journey fully integrated with the most popular technologies of the today and tomorrow.
Show me the money: There’s no doubt, tablets provide a mechanism to advertise or send push notifications to guests, enticing them to spend more money while staying at a hotel. But in order to do so, the guest must be actively interested in, and using the device. According to a 2020 Deloitte survey, the average American household owns 25 connected devices. All of which not only draw the guest’s attention away from the in-room tablet, but also require charging. And with limited points of power available in all hotel rooms, which device do you think gets discarded first? You guessed it, the tablet.
But Guests love streaming: True, they certainly do. And many tablets connect through to a hotel’s IPTV system for easy access to streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Binge. But it’s not the streaming that guests love, it’s the ability to switch on a device, and continue watching their favorite show from where they left off, much like in their living room at home. By far the easiest, cheapest and best way for a hotel to achieve such convenience is via casting off the guest’s own mobile device. Our advice for streaming: invest in Smart TV’s, not tablets!
If it’s not safe, we don’t want it: If the last few years has showed us anything, it’s that the safety of guests is, and rightly so, a hotels number 1 priority. In fact, the vast majority of current technological investment is going towards solutions that make guests feel comfortable within the hotel environment. However, each week, the London Fire Brigade attends 24 fires that have resulted from mobile device chargers, batteries and cables. In fact, their official recommendation is that you should not “leave items continuously on charge after the charge cycle is complete”. Given the propensity for operators to leave in-room tablets continually charging (you can’t provide content on a flat device), such devices may present a real fire hazard.
We’re going Green: A great decision, we love it. We are huge believers in environmental sustainability. In fact, we actually plant trees for every new client we work with. And there’s no doubt, going digital does save on paper and other physical collateral. But adding another device made of plastic, rare metals, and many other hard to recycle materials to an already energy-hungry world, won’t exactly win you any environmental awards.
And there you have it. A synopsis of our thoughts on in-room tablets. It’s not that such technology doesn’t have value. As always, it’s about identifying what goals you are trying to achieve, and what type of technology will best help you achieve that goal, accounting for considerations such as guest demographic, cost and other hotel technologies. Our simple point is that the days of in-room tablets being symbolic high-end luxury are well gone. And the remainder of potential advantages can be achieved at lower cost, with greater guest uptake, using other types of technology. And at the end of the day, achieving the same outcome, with less money, and higher guest usage, well that should be the goal when rolling out any new technology into the hotel environment.
This opinion article can be found on HospitalityNet.Org