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By Dave Weinstein

With a new year comes new buzzwords. For 2017, it appears that “Frictionless” is the way to be. For hoteliers, it means creating a consistent experience across all touchpoints along the guest’s journey. It means enabling guests to conduct transactions easily and instantly. In most cases, those transactions are digital, and they typically involve a mobile device of some kind.

Today’s smartphone is a magic wand of sorts. You can use it to instantly connect you to another person who could be on the other side of the room or across the globe. You use it to change TV channels, control room temperature, purchase items, split a restaurant bill among friends plus assign a tip and pay using one of several mobile wallets stored in that device. You can book travel, select an airline seat, reserve a hotel room, order roomservice, buy theatre tickets, upgrade your room, arrange for transportation, check your loyalty status, take and post selfies, and write a great service review all while floating on a raft in the middle of the pool. With just a click, your wish is the devices’ command. You can even unlock your room door by just placing the mobile device in proximity to the lock. Poof!

However, there is one simple thing that can stifle the magic of today’s mobile technology: A dead battery. When the power is gone, the magic can’t happen. Hoteliers can invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in mobile apps, location-based marketing services, and in-room automation enhancements, but if the guest’s mobile device is dead, so is the experience.

Charging the device isn’t as easy as one may think. If a guest is sitting at the pool bar or in lobby lounge waiting for their room to be ready, chances are high that there won’t be an available outlet nearby. Assuming the guest remembered to bring his charging cable – which often isn’t the case – he can prop himself up against a wall in an adjacent corridor or ask a bartender if there is an available plug behind the bar, but neither scenario is comfortable or ideal. Powering up in the guestroom can be equally as challenging. A female guest arrives in her room eager to charge her phone, tablet and laptop. No outlets appear to be available. After wrestling to move the heavy king-sized mattress away from the headboard, she is forced to make a choice: unplug the alarm clock and risk missing her morning meeting or unplug the light. Again, neither choice is ideal, and only one of the guest’s three devices that need charging can be accommodated.

My point is this: if the battery is dead on a guest’s mobile device (especially the smartphone), none of the digital services being offered by the hotel to drive engagement can be realized. All that money invested in mobile apps and widgets to drive relevant content and enhance the guest experience is wasted if the guest can’t conveniently plug in and power up as needed.

Friction in Guestrooms
As someone who frequently interacts with stakeholders who weigh in on the purchasing of charging solutions, I can say that opinions vary on how to accommodate guests’ charging needs. Some brand standards call for a set number of AC outlets in the room. Others have AC outlets combined with USB Ports, and some have table top charging station requirements. Unfortunately, many table top devices (and of course the outlets) still don’t have the necessary charging connectors built-in. Unless 100% of guests remember to bring their charging cables 100% of the time, adding supplemental devices is moot.

If you’re a limited-service hotel, making guests bring their own cables may be okay; but if you’re a full-service provider, I think not. The very nature of the term suggests that every guest need will be met. Kudos to the hoteliers who have come to this realization and provide a solution that corresponds to their brand promise. They understand that it’s not enough to just offer a place to plug in; it means investing in a solution that is equipped with 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.

Yes, most hoteliers know they need to offer convenient mobile device charging; after all, as travelers themselves most hoteliers have probably found themselves in a charging predicament at one time or another. However, I am still amazed by the number of hotels I visit worldwide that still offer the old Apple 30-pin connector with no plans of upgrading to the more current Apple Lightning connector or the Micro USB connector that is used by the entire Android universe. Apple may be the single most popular smartphone model, but the aggregate of all other Android devices makes up 86.6% of the smartphone market (IDC, Q3 16’).

Friction in Public Spaces

Public spaces are generally worse off in terms of providing a charging infrastructure for guests. Most of a property’s post check-in revenue is made in the restaurant and bar. According to Smith Travel Research (STR) analytics, full-service hotels with large food-and-beverage outlets can have as much as 50% of total revenue come from those operations (30% is average). Obviously, a hotel should want to encourage guests to stay in those areas as much as possible. Research shows that if dining venues provided charging, users would stay longer and spend more. So why then would hotels knowingly not accommodate that need and risk losing revenue?

If you want to reduce friction in the guest experience, then stop making guests pull furniture away from a wall to reveal an outlet or ask a hotel staff member if they could please charge their phone. If you’re power-strapped in your public spaces, fix it. The post check-in revenue you may lose is far greater than adding a power source. And if your hotel is investing big bucks in Beacon technology (via Bluetooth low energy) so you know where guests are at any moment to communicate by text and push special promotions, then you better make sure the devices you are communicating with are charged.

Excuses Cause Friction

The 2017 Lodging Technology Study cites the following as “friction points” impacting hotel technology: lack of sufficient IT budget; resistance to change in organization; outdated technology architecture; guests expect greater technology than hotels can keep pace with; and, resistance to invest in new technology. While this list of “excuses” deals with much larger infrastructure investment issues, I believe the industry is overlooking the No. 1 cause of friction in the customer journey: the lack of convenient mobile device charging. According to this study, hotels are spending their money this year on: Guest Wi-Fi, Customer Mobile Apps, Promotions, CRM/Loyalty, Smart TVs, Interactive Digital Signage, Location-based Technology, and Tablets at the Front Desk. If your guests can’t charge their phones, tablets and laptops when and where they need to use them – you can bet it will cause friction at every mobile touch-point in the hotel. Investing in guest Wi-Fi, mobile apps, location-based technology and even hotel-provided tablets is a waste if the devices guests use to communicate with those technologies are drained. 

Having an outdated charging infrastructure is really frustrating for guests – especially Millennial’s. From an expense perspective, most of the solutions on the market cost about $100 or less. In the grand context of room expenses, this is relatively minor. By contrast, a television, a device I could argue is being replaced by the guest mobile device as well, costs five to 8 times as much. If upgrading charging solutions must be done every three to four years, but it keeps guests happy, management should carefully consider its cost/benefit ratio in terms of guest satisfaction and its corresponding effects. It’s time that we see more attention paid to having an adequate charging infrastructure throughout the hotel. Whether we will see this at the brand level or the full-service property level, one thing is certain: keeping guests’ mobile devices charged is more important than ever in reducing friction along their journeys.

About Dave Weinstein

Dave Weinstein is Vice President of Kube Systems, a company that designs, manufactures and markets unique technology solutions focused on the hospitality industry. The Kube Systems suite of products combine the convenience of multi-device charging with portability, streaming audio playback and time keeping. 

Contact: Dave Weinstein

davew@kubesystems.com / 516-996-0005

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