FEATURE: Guest Entertainment

Are your rooms equipped with entertainment facilities that will keep all your guests happy? The services you provide beyond a basic TV service can have a big impact on guest’s experience and therefore, ultimately, on online reviews. Bill Lumley reports.

Many loopholes stand between B&Bs with no guestroom entertainment facilities and those equipped throughout with a fully functional TV show and/or movie offering. Internet facilities are increasingly incorporated into such systems. While the cost of installing and maintaining such a system can seem high, such considerations must be set against guest expectations and associated reviews.

HotelTVCompany supplies TV hardware and accessories and distribution systems. It offers device-mirroring solutions, local and cloud based interactive guest communication plat- forms, hard-wired and Wi-Fi internet solutions, as well as digital signage and conference solutions. Its services also include consultation and site survey, installation, finance, maintenance and extended warranty.

Marketing executive Natali Barbova says  there are many distinct trends that are currently emerging in the provision of guest room entertainment as guests’ expectations of what should be on offer evolve.

The first relates to high-speed Internet. “Free, high-speed Wi-Fi is one of the most desired services by guests,” she says. “Nowadays most hotel arrive with multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops etc.) and expect good quality, free Wi-Fi access in their rooms. Providing equally distributed bandwidth throughout the building can be a challenge for many hotels, both large and small. For this reason, we offer a solution that can provide internet without the need to re-cable the building.”

The second trend is about more TV Channels. Barbova says: “TV Channels are key to providing guests with a top level of hospitality. Guests expect the same channels or more than those they can watch at home, when visiting a hotel or guesthouse. In addition, a lot of hoteliers are missing free channels which are available to them. Many hotels also face higher demand from international guests, thus, need more foreign language channels as well as Freeview channels. Therefore, we focus on communicating with hoteliers regarding the channels they would like to have, and we devise a solution to add these channels to their channel list.”

SCREEN SHARING

The third trend relates to screen sharing. She tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast magazine: “Screen sharing is becoming more and more popular, especially with the increase in demand for devices such as Chromecast. Furthermore, many hotels gain more interest in adopting such devices in their hotel rooms. Our screen-sharing product, ScriptCast offers wireless screen sharing and is compatible with all mobile devices making it more suitable to a hospitality environment. In other words, guests can connect any smart device and screen share instantly.”

Many B&B properties are in rural areas that, for the time being, are poorly serviced by broadband. While they wait for government and telecoms monopolists to address the under-performance of broadband in so many areas in the next two years, she says there is a certain level of advice she can give to proprietors of inns wishing to ensure their guests’ in-room entertainment expectations are not dashed by poor or non-existent Wi-Fi.

Barbova says: “Broadband issues are fairly common not only amongst properties in rural areas but also in listed buildings. In this case, we offer several solutions to help distribute Internet throughout these types of properties.

For instance, Internet can be run via the hotel coax cabling if the building does not have cat 5/6 and/or if it cannot be re-cabled. This way, Internet can be distributed evenly throughout the building using its existing cabling and avoiding any disruptions that re-cabling can cause. “Alternatively, Internet can also be run over the power line, allowing guest houses without any coaxial or cat 5/6 cabling to provide guests with Internet and TV Channels. In this case, internet is run through the power line to the TV and online TV apps are used to provide guests with TV Channels in their room.”

The kind of services being sold to smaller hotels, bed & breakfast operations and pubs with accommodation is constantly evolving.

The majority of products and services HotelTVCompany sells to B&B’s comprise new Smart TVs, Internet & TV Channel solutions and in- room Screen Mirroring. She says: “Most small hotels are looking to upgrade their TVs and Internet offering before adopting any entertainment solutions. Many small hotels also opt in for our Screen Sharing services and Movie on Demand as these can be seen as more cost-effective entertainment services. Information and Interactive TV Systems, on the other hand, are less desired by small hotels.”

CUSTOMISED CONTENT

While they offer hotels the opportunity to have customised content on the TV and allow guests to buy hotel products off the TV, small hotels and B&Bs are less likely to buy a TV system due to the cost associated with putting one into place, she says. Assuming there is a good broadband service at a given guest house, and since many guests carry with them their active subscriptions to online providers such as Netflix and simply want to access these in the room to catch up.

Where there is good broadband, there are several in-room entertainment services that can be provided. Barbova says: “One of the most in-demand services is in-room screen sharing. This solution allows guests to share content from their devices (mobile phone, tablet, laptop  etc.) to the TV. In other words, they can watch videos, listen to music and access apps on their devices to display any content  they like. Screen mirroring devices also allow guests to use streaming apps such as Netflix, which are otherwise unfit for use in commercial environment.”

For example, she says, adding the Netflix app directly onto a smart hospitality TV rais- es the risk of the guests’ log in details being stored on the TV and other guests using these log in details. “Our screen mirroring device simply shares/mirrors the guest’s content to the TV, and, since the guest logs into Netflix on his/her device instead of via the TV, no personal information is stored. Our screen mirroring product is also compatible with both Android and Apple devices as well as Windows and Chrome OS.”

PORTABLE SUBSCRIPTIONS

The days of making money out of expensive on demand video services are long gone, so guests should just be allowed access to the system they carry around with them. That is the view of RoomNetTV business development manager James Coonan, who says the company’s mission is to create a home-from-home entertainment experience in guest rooms.

The guest room streaming specialist pro- vides its solutions predominantly using Apple products, with Apple TV as the base of its plat- form, the latest version of which it is bringing to the guesthouse and hotel market.

“Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are very familiar with the Apple interface, and most non-Apple users would find it easy to understand, the interface being quite like that  of a smart phone or tablet that they would use daily,” says Coonan.

“It is something familiar, approachable and usable that people with perhaps a little encouragement would go on to explore and make into something of their own,” he says. It lends itself to both holidaymaker and businessman who should be able to get back at the end of the day and put on Netflix, he says. The kind of application RoomNetTV provides are ones that a typical legacy system would not accommodate, by being a system that can be tweaked or personalised.

Most people would know what an app store is these days, he says.  “They  know that is where they go to get things that they like. In many cases they will bring these with them. For instance, most of us today have subscriptions for our favourite content be it Netflix, Bloomberg or Huffington Post. If we want it, the chances are we are paying for it and that we travel with it. The idea is that on entering a guest room and logging on to those subscriptions that you have already paid, you should be able to get bang up to speed with any box set or game or TV series that you follow at home while you are away.”

Fundamentally everybody expects to  see a TV when they walk into a bedroom for which they are paying for the evening, he says. “When they turn the TV on they expect it to behave. Live linear TV should feature. There might be a welcome or landing page. Today we expect that businesses would seize that digital opportunity to inform guests of the facilities on offer, and both young and old would now even expect that to be offered.”

UPSELLING THE DIGITAL EXPERIENCE

There are many opportunities to seize with a digital signage panel, says Coonan. “Most of our clients in the hospitality sector prefer to be fairly discreet. Discretion tends to be more effective than loud upselling of services, but there is an opportunity. The easiest way for guests to take a glimpse at more added services is often simply to watch a tastefully filmed welcome video and to have that playing in the background while guests unwind when they first enter the room,” he says.

This is a very effective way of presenting an idea of what is going on at a venue, be it spa treatment, a restaurant or a local tour, he says. “It is convenient for a guest to be able to buy something like a beauty treatment with just a couple of clicks.”

Some information services or entertainment functions work well on a large screen, while others fare better on a mobile phone, he says. “There might be a film about local season produce, followed at the end for example by an invitation to order a local hamper to be delivered to your room. This is another effective way of upselling a digital experience. Video is a great medium to deliver an experience rather than just a printed list of phone numbers for the concierge, restaurant and so forth,” he says.

Music is less suited to the television, he says. “Most of us carry around with us access to digital music services such as Spotify, and  it is of benefit to a guest for him or her to get into a room and be able to share that with a speaker. Most of us also have some kind of audio wireless so that would be familiar to listen to some familiar music while

getting on with some work. If you are an avid Spotify user you should be able to enter a guestroom, log in to Spotify and just pick up where you left off. The onus should not be  on the innkeeper to guess what people like. People know the music and services they like,” stresses Coonan.

BANDWIDTH

All these forms of guestroom  entertainment hinge on bandwidth. There are some fundamentals that are more important than others, he says. “Great bandwidth into a building will facilitate lots of these services.   A broadband Wi-Fi service that works well is  a greater and more pleasant surprise than something that is a bit ‘legacy’ on the TV, be- cause it facilitates many of the other services a guest may like to use.”

A familiar, flexible and  seasonal  offering as the final endpoint is something an inn could put to good use and bend to its guests’ requirements, Coonan suggests.

Consumers are now being targeted with 4K, ultra-high definition. As consumers become more adoptive of ultra-high definition content as they did for HD content then the expectation will start to shift towards hotel rooms.

He says: “At present such expectations in the hospitality sector are fairly low given that guest rooms have typically been lacking in  the technological wow factor compared with home users because consumer technology has just leaped forward and become quite affordable. We are all pretty spoiled at home. I’d suggest nailing Wi-Fi and speeds of Wi-Fi.”

If a B&B has a problem getting access  to broadband it should consider that a  high proportion of its guests are bringing with them large 4G data packages. “Locally streamed content is important and a great information service when you turn the tv on with some discreet well-made content.

Knowing what is on locally is important when you go and stay somewhere,” he adds.

NEW GUEST EXPERIENCE IS A GEM

Hospitality technology specialist Global Entertainment Management (UK)  Ltd, has upgraded the guest experience at  the Holiday Inn, Salisbury-Stonehenge with Samsung’s new state-of-the-art premium displays, which transform a standard hospitality venue TV screen into a multi-device content and entertainment hub with a host of interactive features.

The Samsung 43” HG43EE690 provides a secure private wireless connection between the TV and up to four mobile devices. Guests can transfer personal content, such as music, movies and photos from their mobile devices for viewing on the larger display screen creating the essential home-from-home experience.

The personalised home screen delivers welcome messages, promotional offers and information on local attractions, providing guests with easy access to up-to-date hotel information for the duration of their stay.

The hospitality operation is part of the larg- est hotel brand family in the world and is an independently managed franchise operation.

Global Entertainment Management UK sales manager Pradeep Kotak says: “With the average person using up to four different mobile devices a day, seamlessWi-Fi connectivity and the latest HD television technology have become ‘in room’ essentials for both business and leisure travellers.

“Guests still prefer to  watch  content on a TV rather than a mobile device – as long as the television is up to date. By using the latest TV technology, as we did with this project, hotels can differentiate their offer and elevate the all-important stay experience, something which is a priority in terms of meeting customer expectations and building brand loyalty in an increasingly competitive environment.” said Nick Rubin, director, Bowling Green Asset Management says:  “We have now used Pradeep and Global Entertainment Management for two hotel projects and they are efficient, great at what they do and always have the best information at hand. They are there to provide us with recommendations  for the most suitable products so that our guests are always happy. I look forward to continuing our work with Global Entertainment Management.” Global Entertainment Management upgraded the existing infrastructure to accommodate an IP network and supplied and installed 103 flat screen TVs to the hotel’s guest rooms and suites over a five day period to minimise operational disruption and hotel downtime.

The company is a hospitality technology specialist, supplying, installing and maintaining innovative in room entertainment systems to order with the aim of creating a home-from-home experience for hospitality guests.