As an ex-hotelier, I remember well when telephone revenues were considered as much a profit center as the sale of rooms and food and beverage. Within the confines of a guest room, business and leisure travelers reluctantly but frequently had to resort to in-room phones to communicate with the outside world. With hefty charges for long distance and even local calls, hotel marketers continuously strategized as to how eek out more dollars from their captive audience’s travel budgets.
When BYOD (bring your own device) hit the streets, hotel phone sales took a hit as well. The first red flag appeared when guests started using their own calling cards versus in-room phones. However, the ultimate death knell was sounded when mobile phones allowed travelers to communicate anywhere in the world, at a fraction of the cost. As such, almost over night the hotel phone system transitioned from the black column of a profit-and-loss statement into the red. No longer a profit center, the cash cow was officially dead.
For hotels lacking food and beverage outlets, spas and health center facilities the need for an in-room is no longer essential. Many consider a phone-less room part of the new self-service trend sweeping the hospitality industry that includes automated check-ins, room service delivered by robots and our smartphones substituting as room keys.
Industry on Upswing
Now in its fourth year of recovery since the recession, the hotel industry has been experiencing an uptick in sales and new development. The Intercontinental Hotel Group reported revenues per available room increased globally by 4.4 percent in 2013 and by 6.6 percent in the Americas. Construction is also seeing a resurgence where Hilton Hotels added 1,000 hotels to its portfolio over the past several years.
VoIP as a Solution
With such a robust economy, it’s time for savvy hotel marketers to reconsider and perhaps reconfigure how telephone sales could work itself back into the P&L equation. Since in-room technology has added such amenities as broadband Internet, HD screen monitors and iPhone docks, and enhanced telephone service might have an opportunity to enhance the guest experience in a 21st Century way. For instance, IP phones could be provided with Bluetooth for cordless usage throughout the room. Their USB charging ports could include a built-in Wi-Fi access point as well.
Several Casinos in Las Vegas are using the color displays of IP phones for dynamic in-room advertising. Another appealing feature for a guest room phone could be high quality video-conferencing, which could be made available using a VoIP telephone service. Such services available in the market today also include value-added features such as call holding, call forwarding, music on hold, voice-to-voice conference calls, and voicemail.
For other hotels already experimenting in this space, the 45 Park Lane Hotels interface their ‘bedroom control’ system with VoIP to integrate all of the different technological components of the room, including the touch-screen, the thermostat, media options, lighting, and (of course) the phone itself. With a cloud VoIP service, a hotel could also entertain new customized options for guests, such as easier access to valet and food service. As VoIP phone systems are programmable guests could easily set wake-up calls, call for room service, or book reservations at connected restaurants, golf courses, spas or for future travel at one of the hotel’s sister properties.
No Longer On-Hold
Not perhaps returning as a full-fledged profit center, pushing the envelope on how VoIP could potentially improve the guest experience provides hoteliers with a justification for increasing room rates. As a perceived value-add, in-room VoIP is primed to supplant analog hotel phones. The cost factor alone is a no-brainer since APIs are improving and VoIP systems such as Telzio can be put into place for pay-as-you-go monthly service fees.
The time is now for exploring IP telephony for the hospitality industry. If the world economy continues to improve and new hotel constructions increase, it only makes sense. What will drive the interest and migration to VoIP technology? It will most likely be competition — and if there’s one thing I learned in the hotel business, you always strive to be as far ahead of your competitors as possible.
Ron is part of the marketing team at Telzio, covering everything from tips and tech for growing businesses to customer success stories for the Telzio blog. Previously a Director of Advertising and Public Relations at Marriott International, Ron has published several books including the award-winning graphic novel Facebucks.