Entertainment Evolution: Meeting Increased Guest and Operational Demands Post-Pandemic

guest and operational entertainment

Today’s entertainment landscape has evolved significantly over the past decade as advancements in technology have facilitated the rise of more connected devices, streaming services, and on-demand content. The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated these trends as people stayed home and enhanced their at-home entertainment set-ups. For hotels, this means that guests are getting back on the road with the expectation that they will be able to enjoy a similar experience during their travels. LODGING spoke with two in-room entertainment experts about the trends they are seeing in the space today and their recommendations for how hoteliers can update their infrastructure and offerings to meet increased guest and operational demands.

Content

David Simpson, chief product officer for Enseo, notes that the pandemic “skyrocketed” the number of people using over-the-top (OTT) media (e.g., Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc.). “That has accelerated across the board in every property and every chain scale on an occupancy-adjusted basis,” Simpson says. “We haven’t seen that fall off travel during the pandemic has increased.” He adds that premium and sports channels “have held strong during that period as well.”

David Goldstone, senior vice president and chief customer advocate for World Cinema, Inc. (WCI), explains that guests have spent measurably more time staying in their rooms. “We’ve seen more time spent in the room, which means more eating in the room and watching entertainment in the room,” he notes. “And the other thing that we see is the emergence of self-care travel. A lot of the health clubs in hotels were closed during COVID, and guests now want to have the ability to meditate and livestream yoga and workouts that don’t involve cardio on a treadmill in their rooms.”

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Connecting

Another observation that Goldstone shares is that in the wake of the pandemic, which heightened concerns around cleanliness, guests prefer to use their own devices for room controls—whether adjusting the temperature or changing the channel on the TV. After conducting focus groups, Goldstone says that WCI found that rather than downloading an app to use a remote, guests preferred to access web-based remotes via QR code. He adds that even travelers who are not tech-savvy have gotten more accustomed to using QR codes during the pandemic, since many restaurants and venues have adopted the technology.

Simpson notes that two years into the global pandemic as people gain more understanding about the spread of COVID-19, the importance of touchless technology may be waning along with concerns around contracting the virus from surfaces. However, what will remain critical is providing a frictionless way for guests to connect devices and access the content they want. Streaming options for guests can include watching on their own devices, casting from their devices to the in-room TV, and logging into their personal accounts directly on the in-room TV.

“We continue to work on technologies that make those experiences easier,” Simpson continues, including via the company’s Enseo Connect product, which allows guests to scan a QR code or connect via an SMS component to use their personal devices as a remote control.

Personalization

The next big wave in in-room entertainment that Simpson expects to see is a trend that has been blooming across the hospitality industry—a heightened focus on personalization. “All of the systems in the room and throughout the hotel are going to continue this multi-decades-long march towards hyper-personalization,” he says. Systems that are cloud-based—as Enseo’s are, Simpson notes—will be well-positioned to offer more personalized experiences. “I see a future where groups, individuals, and loyalty tiers are hyper-personalized to the guest in terms of room automation, entertainment, and internet services,” he explains, adding that this push towards hyper-personalization is currently being driven by a mobile-first strategy. “I think that this mobile-first approach will rapidly expand into the systems in the rooms and throughout the hotel.”

In the year ahead, Simpson sees an opportunity for hotels, particularly those that rely on corporate travel and events, to gain a competitive edge in the post-pandemic environment by offering more personalization. “[Groups] are going to be more selective,” he explains. “They’re going to choose properties with hyper-personalization for their guests [and those] that are doing a great job with sustainability.” Simpson adds that integrated energy management technologies can help hotels personalize their in-room experience via room controls while also giving properties the ability to reduce energy usage and provide benchmarking data for corporate and group clients with reporting requirements for sustainability commitments.

Infrastructure

To prepare for the future of in-room entertainment, Goldstone says the more important investment hoteliers can make is in their wireless system to accommodate guests’ increased appetite for binging content on streaming services, casting, and using their multiple connected devices. “If you’ve got a 300-room hotel with 80 percent occupancy and of that 80 percent, 50 percent of the guests are streaming, you better have a robust network,” he explains. Vacationing families with four or five people could potentially be bringing up to 20 devices, he adds.

Goldstone also recommends investing in updated TVs to ensure that a hotel’s in-room entertainment system is similar or better than what guests have at home. “The hotel room used to be the latest and greatest—what you had in the hotel a guest wished they could have at home. That has completely flipped. Now, what a guest has at home is more than likely better than what they have in a hotel, even at the luxury level,” Goldstone notes. “Across any segment, hoteliers need to have robust WiFi. Even in budget hotels today, people want to cast or watch OTTs.”

Monitoring

To ensure guests can seamlessly access a hotel’s in-room entertainment offerings, Goldstone recommends proactively informing guests of stay enhancements. This could mean training front-desk staff to inform guests at check-in or providing an explanation with a QR code near the TV. Goldstone adds that through WCI’s customer portal, the company has sought to make the experience even more seamless, allowing hotels to securely dial into rooms and confirm that TVs are working properly in addition to 24/7 monitoring from its customer care center. In addition, through portals such as these, hotels can remotely change and send TV messages to inform guests and further personalize their experience.

Conclusion

Travelers are expected to once again get back on the road in 2022, and hoteliers will need to equip their properties and teams to accommodate these returning guests and their shifting preferences. As pandemic concerns slowly wane, people will increasingly venture out of their hotel rooms to enjoy the property’s amenities and local attractions, at which time Simpson expects to see a slight decline or “flattening” of in-room entertainment usage, but not a noticeable drop off—“more of an ‘S’ shape rather than a ‘V’ shape” curve, he says. In other words, in-room entertainment is one amenity that will continue to be in strong demand in the year ahead.

Enhanced Efficiencies: The Labor-Saving Potential of Automated Room Controls

Top of mind for hoteliers in the new year is ensuring they have the staff they need to accommodate demand in 2022. David Simpson, chief product officer for Enseo, notes that while hoteliers may not have vast resources for upgrades in the current environment, many will see investments in labor-saving technology as among the most prudent. “We’re seeing that in our business substantially; our in-room automation products are getting a tremendous amount of attention from hotels these days.”

While the primary purpose of adopting in-room automation is often for energy savings, Simpson adds that these technologies also have labor-saving potential. “We have continued to work on finding ways that we can reduce labor at properties by automating things like housekeeping, front-desk work, and concierge work,” Simpson notes.

Staffing challenges will likely be a permanent fixture in the industry, Simpson says. “I don’t think it’ll ever go away. We’ve all seen it over the years; with each one of these economic cycles, 2008 being the last one, there’s a downturn in the business and the number of staff who return are less than the level that was there before,” Simpson observes.

As such, hotels will have to continue to reduce their operating costs and hours—freeing up time for the staff who are available to perform essential duties and maintain a high level of guest service and, in turn, satisfaction.

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Christine Killion is the editor of LODGING.