Skift Take

Hotels have made enormous investments in recent years to improve in-room entertainment options for their guests, which won't slow down anytime soon as travelers expect to have the comforts of home in their guest rooms.

A 2013 Skift Research report predicted that improving in-room entertainment would be a major point of emphasis for hotel industry executives, as digital devices were expected to become an even bigger part of the travel experience.

Skift Research also projected that bring your own entertainment — such as laptops and smartphones — would become more popular with travelers while hotels could also look to incorporate streaming services like Netflix and Hulu into guest room TVs. Streaming services have indeed become increasingly popular with consumers in recent years, with 85 percent of U.S. households having at least one video streaming subscription. In addition, the streaming industry is expected to be worth $330 billion by 2030.

So how has the landscape regarding in-room entertainment changed since that 2013 report? Have hotels provided more in-room entertainment options for their guests over the last decade? Are hotels also looking to virtual assistant technology like Amazon Alexa to entertain customers? Here’s a brief look at the evolution of in-room hotel entertainment throughout the years as well as possible future developments in the sector.

Hotels and Streaming Services

Marriott became in June 2015 the first hotel chain to permit guests to watch Netflix from guest room TVs. It worked with hospitality technology company Enseo to allow customers to sign into their Netflix accounts in their in-room TVs. The hotel giant sought to sign contracts with 1,000 hotels prior to the end of 2017. It’s gone on to significantly surpass that figure, with Marriott Senior Director for Guest Technology Scott Hansen saying recently the company has contracts with more than 6,000 hotels.

Hyatt followed in Marriott’s footsteps in 2017 when it partnered with in-room technology company Sonifi Solutions to launch a streaming service named Staycast. Hyatt enabled its guests to connect and stream entertainment channels in their guest room TVs without needing to enter a code or personal credentials on the TV. Sonifi CEO Ahmad Ouri and Jeff Bzdawka, Hyatt’s then-senior vice president of global hotel technology, argued Hyatt was the first brand to implement an in-room entertainment streaming service via a mobile app, adding guests don’t necessarily need to be loyalty members to use the service.

As JW Marriott Houston Downtown General Manager Jelle Vandenbroucke believes guests expect to be able to sign into their Hulu and Netflix accounts on a TV, how are hotels working to improve the streaming experience?

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Chief Information Officer Scott Strickland outlines a simple first step. “A great streaming experience starts with rock-solid Wi-Fi,” he said. “Over the last year, we’ve been working with franchisees to enhance their offerings through (the) use of preferred suppliers, helping ensure their hotels have the speed and stability needed by today’s travelers.”

And as Skift Research once reported that tablet-toting travelers are making it hard for hotels to keep up with the demand for their bandwidth, Strickland adds companies need to provide the speed, simplicity and security guests are looking for.

“Missing on any of these marks can be a costly mistake. Guests have high standards based on their at-home experiences and hotels need to match that experience,” Strickland said. “All it takes is a guest missing the winning goal of the big game due to buffering and suddenly, they’re looking for a different hotel on their next stay.”

Rise of Bring Your Own Entertainment

Skift Research also reported that guests were increasingly using their own entertainment devices, citing a survey that found digital travelers tended to favor laptops and smartphones that “make it easy to pay little attention to an in-room TV or clock radio.”

So have hotels made it easier for guests to use their own devices? A 2021 survey revealed that 75 percent of Millennial travelers try to connect their devices to their room’s TV, either via cable or streaming device.

Marriott believes they’ve taken steps to do so.

“We have done this primarily through furniture design,” Hansen said. “So communal and side tables, for example, provide outlets and USB for guests to use, and we try to ensure there’s ample supply as our guests become increasingly mobile.”

When guests do hook up their devices to room TVs, they’re getting a different look at their favorite programming. Mike Kosla, hospitality vice president at LG Business Solutions USA, said recently the economics of flat-panel TV production have helped make the standard in-room TV larger than before.

“Hotels are seeing the benefits of mounting on walls instead of furniture or in credenzas,” said Kosla, whose company has sold TVs to hotel giants such as Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt.

“For one thing, mounting a flat-screen TV on a wall adds to the distance guests can watch, improving the viewing experience. For another, hotel designers can use the extra space to streamline interior design and increase guest comfort.”

Kosla added the rise of 4K content, especially in platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix, is forcing hotels to have higher bandwidth networks, acknowledging that linear TV channels have not generally transitioned to 4K resolution in the commercial space.

Smartphones and Virtual Assistant Technology

Skift Research said in 2013 the smartphone could emerge as the one device that does it all for hotel guests, including controlling everything in a room. Indeed, Hilton introduced its Digital Key at the end of 2014, which enables members of its Hilton Honors loyalty program to use their phones to bypass the front desk and head straight to their rooms.

So how might smartphones impact in-room hotel entertainment in the future? Kosla believes they’re helping his business in terms of entertainment customization.

“Some guests may not find it convenient or desirable to enter their login information into a hotel TV. Therefore, a second, emerging method of (bring your own device) entertainment is beginning to take shape,” he said.

“Our commercial TVs allow for wireless ‘casting’ through which guests can take certain content from their smartphones, laptops or tablets and ‘cast’ it onto the hotel TV, so it appears on the big screen.”

As for the impact virtual assistant technology platforms could have on in-room hotel entertainment, Wyndham’s Strickland said recently it currently doesn’t do anything centered around Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant technology, when asked how the platform and others like it were impacting how it’s providing in-room entertainment for guests. Marriott had entered a partnership with Amazon in 2018 to bring a service called Alexa for Hospitality to 10 different hotels from five of its brands.

Marriott’s Hansen echoed Strickland’s point, noting while virtual assistant technology is a product the company has considered, it doesn’t offer it for in-room entertainment.

Hansen cited “complexities” regarding guest expectations as a reason it hasn’t utilized virtual assistants for in-room entertainment.

“An example of complexity is ensuring the quality and accuracy of the information being provided by virtual assistants meets the service levels our guests expect from Marriott,” Hansen said.

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Tags: apps, entertainment, future of lodging, guest experience, hilton, hotel technology, marriott, technology, wyndham

Photo credit: Hotels have made improving their in-room entertainment a major point of emphasis. Source: LG Business Solutions USA

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