Upgrading to Tomorrow’s Standards: In-Room Entertainment in a Post-Pandemic World

LODGING DISH Whitepaper March 2021
For the past year, the U.S. hotel industry has been adapting to the new environment and challenges brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic. In that time, hotels have witnessed record-low occupancy levels; made decisions to furlough staff, shutdown, and reopen in response to shifting demand trends and local restrictions; and implemented new health and safety protocols to keep guests and employees safe. Hoteliers have found creative ways to stay afloat through this crisis until recovery begins in earnest. Today, the industry finds itself in a more promising position than that of last March: COVID-19 vaccination efforts are underway nationwide; small businesses can apply for second-draw PPP loans through the end of March; perceptions of travel safety reached a pandemic high in late January, according to Deloitte’s Global State of the Consumer Tracker; and demand recovery remains on track for 2023, per the latest forecast from STR and Tourism Economics.

Still, hoteliers have plenty weighing on their minds as they explore strategies to drive business and operate more efficiently to not only survive but thrive as travel ramps up. From arrival through departure, hotels have made significant adjustments to the guest experience. The industry has seen the rapid adoption of technology that reduces contact between travelers and staff—from contactless check in and mobile key, to ordering food and beverage via QR code on one’s personal device. Properties are following enhanced guidelines for cleaning guestrooms and common areas, staff are outfitted with personal protective equipment, and hotels have altered the in-room experience to remove high-touch items. While some of these adaptations will prove to be temporary, experts expect others will become new standards in the industry as guests come to see them as part of a complete hotel experience.

In-room entertainment is one aspect of the guest experience that has been evolving for years in response to shifting consumer trends and technological advancements, and the pandemic environment is further accelerating that evolution. With social distancing recommendations and restrictions on dining, travelers have spent more time in their guestroom over the past year, putting greater focus on the in-room entertainment options that properties offer. According to a recent report from Enseo®, which analyzed more than 10 million data points collected across its E3® In-Room Entertainment System nationwide, hotel guests watched significantly more television in their rooms during the pandemic. Television viewership on an occupied room basis—including both traditional TV and over-the-top (OTT) content (e.g., Netflix, HBO, YouTube, etc.)—increased 49.3 percent from August 2019 to August 2020, according to Enseo’s report.

This trend held true across all markets and segments of the industry—from select service to luxury—as content viewership increased for both traditional television and OTT applications, according to Enseo’s report. Notably, OTT growth outpaced all other areas of in-room entertainment, with full-service properties witnessing the largest increase (up 84.3 percent) as they accommodated a greater share of leisure travelers versus business travelers. Premium channels—like Showtime—increased viewership by nearly 9 percent. Within traditional television, most standard cable channels experienced increased viewership as well, highlighting guest demand for both linear television and OTT services, and the need for hotels to offer a mix of each to meet travelers’ needs.

“It’s clear that in-room entertainment is a critical amenity for guests, especially during COVID,” said Vanessa Ogle, CEO and founder of Enseo Holdings. “The travelers who are on the road value high-quality entertainment, access to their own favorite content, and immediate access to local and national news.”

In addition to content options, the Enseo report showed that the quality of in-room entertainment matters to guests; after Enseo changed some high definition (HD) channels to standard definition (SD), guests noticed a difference and indicated a strong preference for HD over SD. “It turns out that guests are more discriminating in their experience than we understood,” Ogle explained. “We attempted to save some hoteliers money by dropping a few channels from HD to SD and the guests noticed and demanded their HD back. It was a very short experiment that showed us that high-quality streaming and live HD coverage is still critical for happy guests.”

Ogle added that guests are also looking for contactless options that give them the peace of mind they need to know their travels are safe. The ability to use their personal device to check in, enter the room via digital key, change the channel on the in-room TV, stream content from their favorite apps, and adjust the room’s lighting and temperature, not only reduces contact with staff and high-touch points in the room, but also gives guests more control over their experience. “Hotels are going to great efforts to use technology that allow customers to choose their level of comfort,” Ogle explained. “In the past, the hotel experience was ‘high-touch,’ but now guests want to the flexibility to choose how much contact they want—or ‘my touch.’”

According to the latest research from J.D. Power, guests are noticing these efforts in hotels. Andrea Stokes, hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, told LODGING that the latest data collected from June through November 2020 shows that satisfaction with the guestroom and cleanliness reached an all-time high last year. “In terms of overall guest satisfaction, we’re not seeing any big swings,” Stokes said. “Guests are, in fact, even more satisfied with hotel rooms and cleanliness… Hotels are working harder at this, and having to do so because of the pandemic.” Stokes also noted upticks in guests who have branded hotel apps on their personal devices and use of mobile check-in, although the majority still use the front desk.

This kind of technology may soon become an expectation rather than a perk in the industry. Amir Ahmed, senior vice president of sales at DISH, explained that just as free Wi-Fi over time transitioned from a “nice-to-have” to “need-to-have” amenity, the industry standard is moving towards high-quality, integrated entertainment that meets a range of guest needs, allowing them to intuitively switch between live TV, on-demand channels, and their personal streaming accounts.

“Before something becomes standard and is broadly deployed, hotels have a window of opportunity to differentiate themselves. For the brands and properties that make that investment early, it will pay dividends,” Ahmed explained. “Hotels have invested in technology like contactless check-in that takes care of the needs of guests from the lobby to their room—a critical path. But once guests are in their room, unlike before the pandemic, they’re not really leaving, they’re spending more time watching TV, and their impression of a hotel is, in many ways, formed solely based on the guestroom. The in-room entertainment experience is really an opportunity to make guests feel engaged.”

In recent years, hoteliers have recognized the value of investing in in-room entertainment, from installing large HD TVs to increasing their channel offerings. But as properties continue to contend with diminished revenues and tight budgets, making upgrades at this time can seem daunting. In recognition of the importance of the in-room entertainment experience to guests and the challenges the industry is facing at this time, some providers have developed solutions to lessen the financial burden on hoteliers while allowing them to keep up with guest expectations; for instance, DISH Business currently has two offers that allow new qualifying hoteliers to pay no upfront equipment costs as well as receive their first two months of programming free.* Lease programs tied into term commitments also provide an alternative to significant up-front expenses and come with the added benefit of extending the life of TVs. Additionally, set-top or set-back box installations allow hotels to upgrade to a consistent, integrated entertainment experience without replacing TVs. Upgrading to an integrated entertainment system also helps position hotels for the future by centralizing platforms and allowing for remote management and troubleshooting, further streamlining operations.

Delivering a safe, comfortable, and memorable guest experience continues to be a top priority of hoteliers. As owners and operators take stock of their current circumstances and plan for what’s ahead, ensuring their in-room entertainment options accommodate the needs of guests today and tomorrow is a critical part of that mission and an investment that will help accelerate their recovery.


*Offer ends 6/30/21. Early termination fee applies. Commitment required and other restrictions apply.


Sponsored by DISH Business