Guests want in-room entertainment that exceeds what they have at home, but are hoteliers working hard enough to provide it? Elly Earls finds out
Everyone in hospitality now realises the value of providing high-speed Wi-Fi free of charge. A recent survey conducted by The Caterer in conjunction with Sky found that Wi-Fi is now the most common form of entertainment offered to guests in hotels, ahead of even restaurants, bars, music and radio.
Nearly all survey respondents also strongly agreed that guests expect free Wi-Fi wherever they go, a finding that comes as no surprise to Damian Saunders, commercial and strategy director for Sky Business. "Whether they're staying for business or leisure, the ability to connect to reliable, fast internet is vital if guests are to make the most of their stay," he says.
"We know that guests will make decisions on where to stay based on the availability and quality of the service hotels provide. In fact, business travellers rate Wi-Fi as the third-most-important factor after price and location."
It's a trend AccorHotels began responding to several years ago, when the group decided to offer free, high-quality Wi-Fi to all its guests.
"Wi-Fi is now part of our way of life and today we include, as standard, free high- speed internet connections in all of our hotels and brands," says Carla Milovanov, vice-president of Digital Services and IT at AccorHotels UK & Ireland.
"A few years ago, high-speed Wi-Fi was seen as an added-value benefit by hotel guests. Now it is an expectation and they will get increasingly disgruntled at being asked to pay for higher-speed services."
Saunders agrees: "Although charging guests who want a higher-quality service is a compelling model for hotels, we've found that there are very few business benefits to the hotelier. Most guests will continue to use the standard service, including streaming videos without upgrading to the higher level of service.
This puts greater demand on the service and the hotel risks guests not complaining and simply staying away and booking somewhere else next time, or making complaints to the hotel directly or through social media."
When it comes to premium TV, the survey's findings are more surprising. Although most hoteliers agree that providing a home-from-home experience is important for their business, only 30% offer premium TV as a form of entertainment. Yet more than 12 million people subscribe to Sky at home.
"Research shows that a significant proportion of hotel guests are willing to pay more for their hotel room when Sky TV is available, particularly families and younger guests that have been brought up with pay TV at home," says Saunders.
"Most guests also have a large HD screen and they expect the same or better when travelling. Offering an entertainment experience that matches or exceeds what their guests enjoy in their own homes will help keep guest satisfaction levels up and help hoteliers to retain spend on premise, drive great social media reviews and repeat bookings."
The bottom line for Saunders is that in room, TV and Wi-Fi should go hand in hand.
"Guests want the convenience and quality that comes with watching TV, sports and movies on a large-screen television, but they also want Wi-Fi to make it easy to stay connected for work, social media and emails," he says.
The benefits of this approach for operators include preventing negative online reviews and increasing spend within the hotel. "Technology is one feature of a hotel's offering that guests are increasingly vocal about online - it has been a source of real advocacy where a hotel gets it right, and can generate strong, positive online reviews," Saunders remarks, adding that as the number of younger-generation business travellers increases, this will become only more important.
"We know that they expect premium entertainment content and good Wi-Fi to stay connected to emails and social media, instead of having to venture outside the hotel for entertainment," he adds. "Hoteliers that provide this to their guests will benefit from increased spend, whether in the room or in the bar."
At five-star boutique London property Eccleston Square Hotel, all guests, whether they're staying or just passing through the property's F&B outlets, have access to superfast complimentary Wi-Fi. And while company director Olivia Byrne agrees with Saunders that Wi-Fi alone is not enough, she has struggled to find the right premium TV offer to satisfy the expectations of her guests. "When travelling, guests want a continuation of the technology, comfort and convenience they enjoy at home," she says. "A lot of our clients already have high-speed Wi-Fi and premium TV in their homes and this is becoming more and more of an expectation. If we want to stay relevant and meet client expectations, we need to offer these kinds of services."
On top of free, high-quality Wi-Fi, the hotel offers complimentary phonecalls to landlines and mobiles throughout the UK and to many overseas countries, as well as complimentary 3G for guests while they're exploring London through its recently upgraded Handy smartphones, but when it comes to premium TV, it's been more difficult to find the right solution.
"The biggest issue we face is the lack of premium TV services out there for commercial properties," says Byrne. "Licensing for commercial properties is very different from that within private homes, and providers are not efficiently innovating their interactive content forthe hotel industry."
This is precisely the challenge Sky has set out to address with its Sky Select service, the first centralised HD distribution system in the UK aimed specifically at hoteliers.
"Sky Select will allow hotels to deliver HD-quality content to multiple TVs across their hotel, giving hoteliers an unrivalled choice of Sky's HD channels, while also incorporating their guests' favourite Freeview and foreign channels distributed over the existing infrastructure," says Saunders.
Operators will also have the flexibility to easily swap existing channels and add more to suit their guest profile at any time. Plus, they have the choice to incorporate a tailored welcome channel to greet their guests alongside Sky's familiar electronic programming guide with channel synopsis information.
Saunders says: "It's important for us to be able to provide hoteliers with the flexibility they need to deliver a range of unmissable sport, entertainment and movies in stunning high definition to exceed guest expectations and drive great guest satisfaction and reviews.
"Hoteliers work hard to ensure their guests have the perfect stay, anticipating what they need, what they want and how to provide it. Whether they want to offer a good selection of sports and movie channels midweek to encourage their business guests to stay in the hotel longer, spending more on room service, or changing their channels to provide a good range of children's programming to keep their leisure guests happy over the weekend, Sky Select gives them the flexibility to choose their channels based on their guests' needs. Hoteliers, in turn, will reap the revenue rewards."
When it comes to the back end, Sky Select has been specially designed for hotels and is compatible with coaxial and IP network cabling, making installation simple and low cost.
Each to their own
For Mark Campbell, chief information officer at Dorchester Collection, which offers a tiered internet service across all properties, as well as a large selection of international TV channels, even the combination of high-quality Wi-Fi and premium TV is not enough.
"The majority of our customers are bringing their own devices that have the content that they wish to watch," he says. "Therefore, seamless connectivity of their devices to our Bang & Olufsen televisions remains a priority, so they can take advantage of the brilliant picture and sound quality."
It's for that reason that the company has recently introduced Chromecast, which allows guests to automatically stream content from their own device on to the TV without any cables, to Hotel Eden, in Rome. "We're trialling this level of connectivity and the plan is to roll it out more widely as we update our TV systems," says Campbell. "Allowing the customer to put their content on to our exceptionally high-quality screens and to take advantage of that is where we see the future."
It's a similar story at AccorHotels. "More and more, we are seeing that guests want to personalise their content and use their own devices, so we have been investing in this area," says Milovanov.
For example, the recently opened Novotel London Canary Wharf has free Wi-Fi throughout, which includes the ability to synchronise the TVs with guests' own content.
When asked about the future of in-room entertainment, survey respondents felt that the most important developments they needed to keep in mind were smart concierge apps, the Internet of Things and wireless charging. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality were lower down the priority list.
In the meantime, according to Saunders, guests expect technology that will enhance their stay and make life simpler and, above all, delivering an entertainment experience that matches or exceeds what they have at home.
"A quality in-room entertainment and Wi-Fi offering that rivals what guests enjoy in their omes will help keep satisfaction levels up and help hoteliers retain spend and drive great social media reviews and repeat bookings," he says.