Is the Hotel Guestroom Phone a Relic or Essential?
As I travel, I depend upon my smart phone (my handy information center) for almost all of my communications that include:
• Plane reservation
• Hotel reservation
• Entertainment and dining choices
• Local transportation
• As an actual phone to make calls
• And also my smart tablet to store most of my meeting documentation
When reaching my destination on a more recent trip and checking into my guestroom, I scan the room to find a spot to charge my mobile universe. I notice a phone on the bedside table and slide over a cordless set on the desk to make room to charge my phone and smart tablet.
In the process of unpacking, I take my Dopp Kit into the bathroom and see yet another phone on the bathroom wall.
Wow—three phones taking up space and costing money. The phone set on the nightstand occupies the limited space where I prefer to place my tablet after I finish reading for the night. And I have found that cordless sets normally located on the room’s desk work only 50 percent of the time—which is why I never use them.
On this particular recent trip, I was scheduled to meet with the brand and operations people of an upper-end hotel group. In reviewing the hotel’s brand standards, I see that these standards require three phones:
• By the bed
• Cordless on the desk
• In the bathroom (I seriously wonder if anyone would actually use this phone in a real emergency. How clean can this phone be with its positioning adjacent to the toilet?)
In flipping to the owner’s budget, I reviewed the amount designated for phones/cabling/IT—the figures were high. So, I began to wonder…Do we really need the guestroom phone? In this case, the brand says “yes, there is a need for the room phone for life-safety reasons”.
But, for future lodging settings, can the guestroom phone be eliminated altogether? In researching to try to find the answer to my question, I noted some facts:
• The vast majority of Americans own cell phones. According to the Pew Research Center in 2018, 77 percent of Americans own smart phones, up from 64 percent in January 2014.
• An even larger percentage—95 percent—own cell phones. Given that the lodging industry currently has no immediate replacement solutions for the typical handset, arguments for keeping the telephone in the guestroom include:
• The ability to call 911. The bathroom phone can be invaluable if a guest slips and falls in the bathroom. (In this case, the emergency would trump the distaste of using a bathroom wall phone.)
• For those guests who want to check with the front desk, from the comfort of their room, for recommendations in local dining and entertainment, the guestroom phone adds convenience.
• Using the bedside phone to set wake-up calls is still common practice.
• Elderly guests depend upon the room phone as some haven’t adapted to technology.
• Reliability is a big factor. Some guests forget cell phone chargers; feel that the room phone represents a peace of mind and security; or the room phone becomes a lifeline for the guest should life-safety issues arise.
• Traditional guestroom phones can identify the exact location of the guest for first responders in an emergency situation. As most travelers have smart phones, imagine using an app to check-in. The guest can walk up to the front desk to just get information, such as the WiFi access code. Freeing the front desk of the actual check-in procedure presents a great opportunity to be of extra customer service to the guest. This app would provide the ability to call the front desk, room service, concierge and also security in the case of an emergency. Having an app would be a most effective tool. Picture this, I could be heading back to my hotel from a morning run, and through an app, I call room service to have my breakfast waiting when I return to my room. What could be better than that? Another scenario would be the provision of a voice-activated device in the guestroom (much like an Alexa or Echo) as a source of information or to make calls. It is highly likely that our future hotel stays will have speech-enabled devices for guest convenience. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) is destined to have a place in the hospitality world. It is only a matter of time before guest-friendly advanced technology answers any needs that the current guestroom telephone set fulfills. But, until then, the traditional placements of phones in the guestrooms—whether one, two or three sets—will remain fixtures for guest convenience and security.
Ronald M. Lustig, AIA, ISHC, EDAC, LEED Green Associate, is Design Architect/Principal of ESa (Earl Swensson Associates) and is a member of GlobalHotelNetwork.com’s Architect’s Committee. He has extensive experience in the design of hospitality venues across the country and abroad. He is a past chairman of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants and is a past president, treasurer and member of the Board of Directors.