Two decades ago, when the idea of luxury morphed from an indulgence into a branding opportunity, the hospitality industry quickly figured out that they could productize an aspirational proposition.
Consumers would come to want to emulate the hotel experience in their own homes, buying everything from towels to bath robes and toiletries bearing the hotel logos from the lobby gift shop and in the process creating new revenue streams from stuff that guests used to just take home for free.
The dynamic has come full circle. Now those hotel guests want to have the same level of entertainment and home control experience they enjoy in their homes, and that’s changing the A/V business in the hospitality industry in some significant ways.
When A/V systems integrators talk about hotel projects, their displays, touchscreens and cabling generally go no further than the hotel lobby, restaurant and bar. Beyond that line is another universe which for decades has been the domain of a handful of companies that focus very intensively and almost exclusively on the control of the entertainment, lighting, communications and other technology aspects of what the hospitality industry refers to as the “guest experience.”
But after decades of developing and refining residential and commercial A/V and control systems, companies including Creston and Control4 are looking to take market share in a business sector that’s been rebounding nicely in the aftermath of the global recession — after falling to $127.2 billion in sales in 2009 after a record $140.6 billion in 2008, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the industry is recovering slowly but steadily: according to market research firm STR, which tracks the hospitality sector, a mid-year-over-year comparison between 2010 and 2011 shows occupancy rose 3.1 percent to 67.3 percent, average daily rate increased 4.4 percent to $101.80, and revenue per available room finished the week up 7.6 percent to $68.53.
As with other highly specialized sectors, such as health care, in-room hotel technology has been the province of companies that have dealt directly and almost exclusively with hotel chains and owners since about the time color televisions began to become a normal part of the in-room guest experience. In addition to handling each systems’ specific tasks, many of these dedicated systems and products also have to integrate seamlessly with other backbone systems, such as ones that use sensors to detect the presence of guests in the room in order to adjust HVAC settings for empty rooms, and door lock status to coordinate housekeeping and room availability.
Hotel guest rooms have long been a separate silo from the most common areas that most A/V systems integrators will encounter in hotels, which are the lobbies, lounges, restaurants and bars.
“The guest room space is its own little world and guests are only going to be using them for a night or two, so the technology has to be very specific, very intuitive and very easy to use,” says John Tavares, vice president of marketing and sales at INNCOM, which makes and installs guest room-specific automation and interfaces. By comparison, he says, the A/V technology routinely used in hotel bars and restaurants can be quite complex.
“That equipment is going to be controlled by an assistant manager who will work with it night after night and know what needs to be known about it,” he says.
The Right Balance
That need to balance functionality with user-friendliness consistently is why the brands that are common in the rest of the commercial A/V control space are largely absent in the hospitality sector, at least until lately.
“They don’t translate well,” is how Avi Rosenthal, vice president of technology at Evolve Guest Control, explains the inability of most conventional residential and commercial automation control systems makers to get traction in hotel guest rooms in the past.
“We’ve seen companies modify their systems for hotels but the reality is that these systems, which are very good and sophisticated, require a learning curve that there’s just not time for in a hotel environment. A guest isn’t going to take 20 minutes to learn a control system. And you don’t want to intimidate the guest.”
Rosenthal adds that the costs of conventional residential automation systems do not scale quickly enough to cover a hotel compared to a single home. “You can charge $10,000 for a house but you can’t charge that per room in a 1,000-room hotel,” he explains.