Keep the Gateway to the Mobile Guest Experience Open

By Dave Weinstein Vice President, Kube Systems, Inc. | January 22, 2017

As with so many industries, the smartphone has transformed how organizations interact with their customers. Look at the automotive industry, the airline industry, and of course, the hospitality industry. You start your car's engine and set the climate control to the desired temperature, buy airline tickets and check-in on your flight, the same with your hotel room, and all from your phone. There is a slew of services that traditionally are offered by hotels via the "book" on the desk. The book is still there, but some hotels allow you to order via the television while others offer integrated tablets. It appears, however, that today, and for the foreseeable future, guests will be ordering these services directly on their smartphones. Used as the gateway to hotel services, the smartphone will also enable mobile marketing of those services.

Many hotel brands have realized that interacting with their guest via the device that commands their highest level of attention is the way to go. The smartphone gateway offers benefits such as location-based services. These services can enable the hotel to use contextualized data (the location of the guest for example) to make their communication 100% relevant. Naturally, the key component of this paradigm is a functioning and charged mobile device. If the battery is dead on the guest's smartphone, none of this can be realized, and that is the focus of this piece.

As someone who frequently interacts with hotel brands, purchasing companies, architecture firms, general managers, rooms directors, head housekeepers and virtually any stakeholder that weighs in on the purchasing of charging solutions, I can say that opinions vary greatly on how to provide for the charging needs of the guest. For example, some hotel brand standards call for a certain number of AC outlets in the room. Others have AC outlets combined with USB Ports, and some have a table top charging station requirement. Unfortunately, many table top devices still don't have the necessary charging connectors built-in. All of these solutions essentially promote BYOC or bring your own cable. Below the full-service level this seems acceptable, but the very nature of the word full service would seem to suggest the BYOC approach is not sufficient. Some brands and properties realize this, take the high road, and do the market research to find the solution that corresponds to their brand promise of full service or higher. This would mean finding a solution that has all the necessary built-in charging cables so the guest is not forced to remember them. That is the definition of service in the context of in-room charging.

Despite the fact most brands and properties are aware of this need for charging, I am frequently amazed by the number of properties I visit both in the U.S. and around the world that still have the old Apple 30-pin connector with no concession to either the current Apple Lightning connector or the Micro USB connector which is used by the entire Android universe. That is important because while Apple represents the single most popular smartphone model, the aggregate of all other Android devices makes up 86.6% of the smartphone market (IDC, Q3 16'). It is as if many properties have simply given up after the transition to the Apple Lightning connector (in 2013) from the 30-pin after nearly 10 years of use. (As point of information, the Apple Lightning Connector debut was in September 2012 along with the iPhone 5. Prior to that, the 30-pin connector had been in use since 2003.) There appears to be no industry tracking regarding the installed base of charging stations, so I have no metric I can point to that highlights how many 30-pin docking stations are still out there, but anecdotally, it seems like way too many.

Properties are just going to have to get use to the fact that they need to keep up with technology. Having an outdated charging infrastructure is frustrating for guests and naturally will be even more so for Millennial's. From an expense perspective, most of the solutions on the market are around $100 or less. In the grand context of room expenses, this is relatively minor. By contrast, a television, a device one could argue is being supplanted by the guest mobile device as well, costs 8 to 10 times as much. If upgrading charging solutions has to be done every three to four years, but keeps guests happy, management should carefully consider its cost/benefit ratio in terms of guest satisfaction and its corresponding effects.

Hotel public spaces are generally worse off in terms of providing a charging infrastructure for guests. As we all know, most of a property's post check-in revenue is made in the public spaces, the restaurant and the bar. According to Smith Travel Research (STR) analytics, full-service hotels with large F&B outlets can have as much as 50% of total revenue come from those operations (30% is average). It is not a difficult cognitive step to make to see that a hotel should want to encourage guests to stay in the F&B outlet as much as possible. In many discussions I have had with brands and properties over the years, it is taken as axiomatic that guests leave hotel public spaces to charge a mobile device with a low battery. Various data points have been collected that show if dining venues provided charging, users would stay longer and thus spend more money. Below is one such example from Powermat (a wireless charging provider):

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