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Today’s Tech Adept Hotels - Check-In Time For Smart Rooms

Hotel-room automation is reaching the tipping point as energy concerns and guest expectations mount. It’s a brand-new experience when it comes to check-in time for smart rooms.

George Evans
Mar 05, 20240 Shares18 Views
How can recent technological advancements affect the check-in time for smart rooms?
Hotel guests hoping to check in to an automated room with interactive features and an overall technological “wow” factor may not have much longer to wait; movement toward eco-friendly, technologically savvy lodging clearly is gaining momentum.
John M. Tavares, director business development at INNCOM (acquired in 2012 by Honeywell, a software company in Charlotte, North Carolina) in Niantic, Connecticut, observed:
At one time, two to three decades ago, hotels were in the forefront of introducing technologies that the public did not have at home.- John M. Tavares
He continued:
Today, most guests have more advanced technologies at home than they are bound to find in many hotels. Hotels, however, are now under pressure to catch up.- John M. Tavares
Tavares concluded:
Most guests are showing up with two to three mobile devices and expect to have decent Internet connectivity as well as a baseline of automation in the rooms.- John M. Tavares
According to Tavares, the kind of automation hotel guests expect include:
  • “a welcome lighting scene”
  • “automated temperature control”
  • “guest-service request annunciation”
Indeed, the guest room energy management systems (GREMS) market, in spite of a slow start, has reached a tipping point and the energy savings and return-on-investment opportunities are generally understood and accepted, according to Navigant Research, a business management consultant in Chicago, Illinois.

Guest Room Energy Management System

GREMS are relatively new, having been introduced in the late 1990s, which, along with a stagnant economy, perhaps accounts for a low rate of implementation.
Unfortunately, even the most basic automation features-control of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and lighting have not been a priority for most hotels in recent years, even though energy costs for hotels are second only to labor.
Only about 20% of the market has chosen to employ guest room energy-management systems to reduce consumption, according to Navigant.
Based on the Navigant report, for those properties that have implemented some form of energy management, the most common form has been:
  • in-room smart thermostats
  • closed-loop smart thermostats
  • stand-alone smart thermostats
The market-research firm predicts a transition from these room-centric solutions to “property-wide and portfolio-wide integrated energy monitoring, control, and management.”
It is expected the market will advance from hardware-based solutions to include software and services to complement the hardware.
Revenue for energy-management software is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.2% from 2012 to 2020 and the services segment to grow at 13.4%.
Consumer demand for eco-conscious green hotels provides innkeepers with another incentive to differentiate themselves from competing brands by promoting their commitment to energy efficiency.
Deloitte in New York reported that 95% of business travelers surveyed thought the hotel industry should be undertaking green initiatives.
In addition, hospitality managers increasingly appear to be on board.
The Deloitte report said:
Our interviews with hospitality executives confirm that sustainability is no longer considered primarily a marketing issue and is now increasingly seen as a prominent factor in decision making, although it is yet to be fully embedded into business thinking.- Deloitte report
Another factor that may have slowed adoption of guest room energy management is the ownership structure of most hotels, suggested Gerrit J. Reinders, executive vice president at Telkonet, Inc., in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Typically, there are several stakeholders that may play a role in implementing GREMSs:
  • the owner, which may be a real estate investment trust (REIT) or private-equity fund
  • the operating and management company
  • the hotel brand
  • the franchisee
All need to be on the same page when it comes to adopting and operating an energy-management system.
On the plus side, because hotels typically undergo a regular cycle of renovation and upgrade, often as part of ownership changes, opportunities to introduce energy-efficiency measures during such changes are increased by this factor.

What Is Guest Room Automation?

Going beyond basic temperature and lighting control, Tavares said:
Guest room automation can cover a wide range of functionality and, depending on global regions, can be minimal or all encompassing.- John M. Tavares
He added:
The most common application of room automation in the Americas tends to cover temperature control and energy-saving temperature setbacks that can be applied when the rooms are unrented or unoccupied.- John M. Tavares
However, according to Tavares:
Any powered device in a guestroom can be automated. The key to a successful room-automation design is to make it intuitive for the guest and make it part of a positive guest experience.- John M. Tavares
He then gave an example:
As an example, some hotels want to emphasize modern technology and will install a number of touch screens, mobile devices, or vast arrays of switches that tend to confound many guests.- John M. Tavares
He continued:
There is a great divide between a comprehensive home-automation system and a well-designed hotel-room-automation system.- John M. Tavares
He further explained:
A homeowner will invest the time to learn how to use his or her system. The hotel guest will only be using the room for a few days and will be annoyed if there is a learning curve associated with using the controls in the room.- John M. Tavares
Guest room automation shouldn’t simply benefit the hotel’s energy bottom line. Tavares said that it should also enhance the guest experience.
He added:
A properly designed room-automation system should always do both but be primarily focused on improving or enhancing the guest experience. Superior hotel operational performance is quickly negated by an increase in guest complaints.- John M. Tavares
Tavares continued:
As a prime example, temperature setbacks to achieve energy savings should always be done in a manner that does not make the guest uncomfortable when they return to the room.- John M. Tavares
He concluded:
Systems should be designed with the flexibility to be programmed to adapt to different requirements and also to be quickly adjusted to the individual guest’s demands.- John M. Tavares
Reinders said:
We strive to make our system simple to operate and work under the belief that as much as possible should be performed in the background, but where the technology has the ability to enhance the guest experience then it should be visible.- Gerrit J. Reinders
He continued:
For example, the lock-to-thermostat communication all happens in the background, whereas the ability to change lighting levels should be left to the guest.- Gerrit J. Reinders
Reinders added:
The ability to request service through prominently placed buttons in the room gives guests lots of opportunities to engage with the property and its staff.- Gerrit J. Reinders
Finally, he explained at length:
Giving guests a truly memorable in-room experience is about providing the practicalities they expect, while enabling them to create their own environment according to their preferences, from lighting and temperature adjustments to the latest in-room entertainment facilities or a do-not-disturb signal, all the while providing a safe and secure feeling.- Gerrit J. Reinders

Levels Of Automation Vary

The level of guest room automation, where it has been implemented at all, varies by hotel brand and geographic location.
Reinders said:
Some brand standards always include integrated solutions that include HVAC, lock, lighting, and guest-messaging technologies, whereas other brands focus on HVAC control and don’t bother with other automation because they don’t know how to spec it or bid it.- Gerrit J. Reinders
According to Reinders, “much depends” on the following:
  • “the owner”
  • “the brand and the strength of the design”
  • “the design team”
Tavares commented:
In Asia, most hotels have some level of automation. In Europe and the Middle East, most luxury hotels have a decent amount of automation.- John M. Tavares
He explained:
Asia was one of the first regions to introduce guestroom automation, starting in the early ‘80s.- John M. Tavares
Tavares continued:
This was likely driven because the few hotels that existed then tended to be luxury properties where automation or some perceived level of sophistication was expected.- John M. Tavares
He added:
This trend then became more acceptable in Europe and the U.S. as adoption of the technology took place. It became easier to adopt in existing hotels with the development of wireless communication using infrared pulses and then radio-frequency communication.- John M. Tavares
Reinders observed a similar trend, commenting:
Upscale hotels are the ones most likely to install the largest amounts of automation, and these technologies are most easily deployed during new construction-and most of the new construction in the hospitality sector in the past five years, especially of higher-end hotels, has been abroad.- Gerrit J. Reinders

Wired Or Wireless?

Guest room automation may either be wired or wireless.
Reinders said:
Often, if we are installing into an existing building, we will use wireless thermostats because they allow the flexibility of installing the device in the optimal location-where the on-board occupancy sensor can see the bed and is a representative location to measure temperature, humidity, and light levels.- Gerrit J. Reinders
He continued:
If the property had an existing thermostat; if it’s in a good location; and if there are at least six conductors connecting the thermostat to the HVAC unit, then we will generally use the hardwired thermostat.- Gerrit J. Reinders
Reinders added:
In new construction, it’s often easier and less expensive to pull wires; so, we often use hardwired thermostats, but not always. Often, it’s cheaper to use wireless, and people like that its future proof.- Gerrit J. Reinders
He concluded:
When the room gets remodeled and the designers want to put a piece of furniture where the thermostat is now, they can just move the thermostat to another location - no hassle.- Gerrit J. Reinders
Tavares agreed with Reinders, saying:
Devices that can communicate wirelessly tend to be preferred because they avoid the cost of having to run additional wiring and are, of course, the choice for operating hotels since running additional wiring in an operating hotel is very expensive and disruptive to operations.- John M. Tavares

Standards Vary

Like most automation technology, standards that impact compatibility between devices can be an issue. Reinders is not a fan of proprietary standards.
He said:
Everything we do is about transparency, integrity, and open standards.- Gerrit J. Reinders
Then he started talking about the wireless technology called ZigBee:
For guest room automation, the most robust, secure, and well-accepted open-standards-based protocol is ZigBee. It’s been adopted by global manufacturers and has hundreds of products available, including locks, lights, curtains, do-not-disturb/service indicators, safes, minibars, and entertainment centers.- Gerrit J. Reinders
He added:
There are other protocols such as Z-Wave or EnOcean, all with individual nuances that make them unique.- Gerrit J. Reinders
Tavares agreed and said that there are many proprietary systems and some common platforms that can be shared by systems.
He added:
There is an organization, [the] Hotel Technology Next Generation [HTNG; Schaumburg, Illinois], that actively promotes the development of standards among technology suppliers for the benefit of hotel technology buyers.- John M. Tavares
In general, guest room automation can integrate with existing building and security systems, Reinders related.
In the case of locks, in some instances all that needs to be done is to pair the lock to the thermostat.
In others, a special radio must be installed in the thermostat, and in still others, a redundant set of network coordinators needs to be installed to communicate with the locks.
Reinders said:
Over time this will simplify and harmonize.- Gerrit J. Reinders
He added:
With building-automation systems [BAS], we typically integrate through a BACnet interface, something almost all BAS manufacturers support.- Gerrit J. Reinders
Reinders continued:
This integration is especially true in large, full-service hotels, where our equipment is installed to control the unitary HVAC equipment found in the guest rooms, and a BAS system with direct digital controls [DDC] is used for the air handling units (often VAV) serving the conference facilities and the make-up air units serving common areas like hallways and lobbies.- Gerrit J. Reinders
He concluded:
The BACnet interface provides data to the BAS system to help optimize the central utility plant, as well as operational performance of the equipment in the guest rooms.- Gerrit J. Reinders

Just Scratching The Surface

Reinders said:
GREMSs can be an effective differentiator when catering to affluent guests who expect a level of automation similar to that they have at home.- Gerrit J. Reinders
He added:
We have only just scratched the surface of the Internet of Things [IoT] and the value of all the data inherent in that.- Gerrit J. Reinders
He concluded:
We are actively analyzing that data to determine ways to help clients optimize their operations and proactively manage the property to ensure a happy guest.- Gerrit J. Reinders
Tavares said:
We expect constant innovation to become the new normal as more and more systems become integrated to deliver a seamless and, hopefully, a memorable guest experience.- John M. Tavares
He continued:
We will see lots of innovation coming as a derivative of data analytics to drive more guest-friendly services, as well as operational efficiencies.- John M. Tavares
Tavares added:
Imagine that, based on how the guest interacted with devices in the room during their last stay, we could have predictive control; so, lights will be on to the level they selected on a previous visit and the temperature will be at a perfect 73 degrees when they get to the room.- John M. Tavares

Final Thoughts

Tavares sees advances in two particular areas:
  • systems integration
  • the ability to control devices using guests’ mobile devices (smartphones or tablets)
He said that the millennial guest expects that at least some control, if not all, will be available through their mobile devices.
Travelers in the near future likely will arrive at their hotels armed with fully charged, app-loaded cell phones and expectations of comfort and convenience undreamed of by their parents.
Odds are they’ll find it.
So, tech-savvy hotel guests will find check-in time for smart rooms to be more convenient - even fun.
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