Today’s guests seek the comforts of home during their stays, and whether it is at check-in or in the guestroom, technology plays a part in helping hotels deliver on that expectation. During the Hotel Business Hot Topics session “Seamless Stay: Creating a Memorable Guest Experience,” sponsored by DIRECTV Hospitality, executives discussed how guests’ expectations have evolved and what hotels are doing about it.
The discussion was moderated by Glenn Haussman, founder/host, “No Vacancy Live” podcast, and panelists included Jeff Bzdawka, CEO, Knowland; Jon Giegengack, principal, Hub Entertainment Research; Stephanie Maniscalco, senior director, technology sourcing, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; Dan Morton, VP/guest experience, Hilton; and Kimberly Twiggs, associate VP, DIRECTV Hospitality.
Bzdawka, who was inducted into the HFTP International Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame this year, opened the session by providing his definition of what seamless means to hoteliers.
“Seamless, in my view, is really about enabling choice for the guests,” he said. “We’re all in a different place; we’re all staying for different reasons—and it’s [about]matching our expectations. It’s not just about getting the technology in place, but it’s ensuring that technology works and you continue to monitor it and ensure that you’re getting the intended outcome. As I look at seamless, it’s more about [being]frictionless in delivery and getting that intended result.
Morton pointed out that seamless also is about integrating hotel staff and technology together into the overall hotel experience.
“In the hotel business, we’re in the business of people serving people, and we want to make that as easy as possible—and we want to make that seamless both for the team members and for the guests,” the Hilton executive said. “They want to be able to engage our staff and our great members, and they also want to be able to engage technologies to do various things and provide them information and access and other things during their stay. We want to make that as easy and as seamless as possible.”
Streaming from one’s electronic devices—i.e., cellphone, tablet and laptop— to the in-room television is one of those technologies that today’s guests are seeking and, in some respect, expect.
“The number of streaming platforms that the average person uses more than doubled between 2018 and 2022, and most of that growth was a byproduct of the pandemic,” said Giegengack. “Things were moving that way anyhow, but [COVID] really turbocharged it.”
He added that guests want to be able to access the same technology they do at home, noting, “People become quickly very accustomed to a high level of convenience or a high level of access, and anything that is even the tiniest speed bump goes from a molehill to a mountain in their minds.”
But, in order to present that seamless experience, Maniscalco noted, the proper backbone and network technology must be in place.
“For us here at Wyndham—where we have a wide breadth of property types from economy to luxury—what we’re having to work towards is helping our owners and general managers understand what’s required to get there,” she said. “Let’s take a multi-phased approach to eventually meet the customer needs because some of the challenges are going to be that we don’t have the physical infrastructure to support that experience.”
Twiggs pointed out that any technological advancements—whether they be streaming capabilities, digital key, mobile check-in, etc.—have to be affordable for the hotel owner.
“We’re in a time right now where cost pressures are at an all-time high on the consumer level, but also on the business owner level,” she said. “So, it’s the responsibility of providers like DIRECTV and others in the space to make sure that we’re removing that burden, removing that barrier of CapEx, to make sure that the latest and greatest technology that performs consistently is also affordable and accessible to hotels all across the U.S.”
Going back to Maniscalco’s point about infrastructure, Bzdawka agreed that the backbone is the most important piece to the seamless-stay puzzle.
“Prior to joining Knowland, I was SVP of global hotel technology at Hyatt, and we were focused on bringing experiences to life,” he said. “You can have a great marketing vision and a brand vision but without the infrastructure to deliver that, it’s problematic and challenging. So, part of it is taking an assessment of initially what you have available. One of the first things I realized when I joined Hyatt was just how important WiFi was at that time. It was evolving to be just as important as running water and electricity.”
At Hyatt, Bzdawka said, “We wanted to provide this friction-free experience where a guest walks in one hotel, authenticates once and never has to authenticate again as they go from hotel to hotel. That started with cleaning up the infrastructure.”
Giving guests what they want
Twiggs pointed out that to create a friction-free experience with in-room entertainment, there are two components: what guests want to watch and how they want to watch it.
“DIRECTV is focused on both of these places, giving guests access to all the content they have at home and even more content that they don’t have in their homes through one seamless, easy-to-use, easy-to-navigate interface,” she said. “[Then, there’s] the TV. We know that consumers at home and in the guestroom choose the largest screen in the room to watch the content that they’re interested in. So, whether it’s live, linear content; on-demand series; or streaming services that they’re subscribed to or that are made available by the hotel, we want to make sure that all of those are available through a singular interface and also available on that biggest screen in the room.”
Casting——taking content that you have on your mobile device or iPad and casting it to the TV—has gained traction inside guestrooms served by DIRECTV, and the company is striving to make it easier for every guest to do it.
“The use of QR codes is starting to make this easier,” said Twiggs. “But, there is still a bit of friction depending on a guest’s comfort level with that type of technology. So, as DIRECTV continues down our product roadmap path, we want to make sure that we can take the content that you have on your iPad, and intuitively serve it up to you on the screen in the guestroom by making all of those apps available through a singular interface.”
For Wyndham, whose brands run the gamut from economy to luxury, the technology and in-room entertainment offering changes by chain scale.
“What we implemented last year was increasing our WiFi minimum standards,” Maniscalco said. “That’s where we direct our properties on what’s the bare minimum that our guests need to deliver the minimum experience; today, what you will get in the basic DIRECTV packaging in a linear format is that minimum WiFi experience. Now, as we work towards [future]strategy conversations we’re exploring with DIRECTV, if our brand standard is a WiFi bandwidth minimum, where does it need to be to deliver these enhanced guest experiences?”
She continued, “As an organization that supports such a wide range of guest users and experiences, we will have a varied strategy based on property segmentation. The current strategy and experience that you see today may very well work for our Super 8s and Days Inn, and when you go up to say La Quinta or even higher to the Dolces or the Wyndham Grands, that’s where we would expect to see some of the higher packages that DIRECTV offers.”
While guests turn to their mobile devices more and more to watch their favorite shows or movies, Giegengack pointed to a survey that shows that we’re still pretty far away from the point at which hoteliers abandon TV sets in the hotel room.
“About three-quarters of travelers say that a TV set in the room is essential or very important; 43% of people say that it’s essential, they just can’t do without it,” he said. “In terms of looking to save money, that’s not one of the things that should be cut. What we’re also finding is that when we tested different features that people said would influence their choice of where to stay, the features that people said were the most appealing were letting them aggregate traditional TV—so broadcast or cable and local content from wherever they’re staying—together with streaming content from a bunch of the different providers that they use. I think that is because that’s the way they’re used to watching at home and they want to be able to take that with them on the road ideally with as frictionless as possible and be able to watch through their own accounts and their own profile so they can pick up where they left off.”
Hausmann then took a question from the audience: What is Hilton doing to assist guests with seamless transactions and provide reliable guest technologies that are both cost-efficient for hoteliers and secure for guest use?
Morton noted that the company is looking across its entire experience from when a stay is booked all the way through the guest getting into the room and then to checkout.
“Many of you may or may not be familiar with the vast majority of our properties that enable you to do digital check-in and get a digital key,” he said. “You may choose to go to the front desk or you may not, and we want to make that easy for either situation for the guests. We also want to make sure that we’re empowering our team members to be able to help guests with whichever journey they want and then when they get to their room.
He added that the interface is as important as the hardware, so it needs to be “as good or better than what you’ve come to expect at your house.”