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The Future of In-Room Television

Interactive TVs go beyond, and they're not just for five-star properties.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009
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Despite panoramic views of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan and Chicago River, some guests at theWit will still want to watch TV.

But they won't be flipping on just any TV. When guests enter their room at theWit, a new Doubletree property, they hear soft music coming from the television. On the 42-inch screen are images from the glossy downtown hotel, a welcome message and instructions to press a button on the remote.

And suddenly the screen is no longer simply a TV.

The in-room television has become a one-stop entertainment zone with free movies, on-demand content, and programming from news and radio stations worldwide. It's a place to surf the Internet, plug in your iPod and use business applications that interface with Microsoft Word. It's also a virtual concierge, helping guests make spa appointments and restaurant reservations as well as providing shopping tips and maps of the local area.
Welcome to the future of the TV.

"The way we view the TV now is not just as a traditional TV," said Mike Wasik, CEO of Denver-based Roomlinx, which has installed its system at theWit and other hotels. It's now available in 22,000 rooms in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Roomlinx is bridging the gap as consumer habits regarding entertainment change. People want on-demand content, high-definition quality and the capability to interact with their own mobile devices, such as mp3 players, gaming systems and portable DVD players. Roomlinx brings those together in one system that adds the full functionality of a personal computer.

The hardware includes a server, a proprietary remote control with a built-in mouse, a wireless keyboard and a media console with a DVD player, a USB port and a card reader that allows guests to view digital pictures.

The system also has flipped some traditional revenue-generators on their heads. In-room movies are free. So is Internet access.

"Guests are sick of being nickled and dimed," Wasik said. "They prefer to have it in their room rate."

Instead, hotels make money through advertising. Local and national businesses can pay to have their restaurant featured on the reservations page, or their attraction featured on a maps page. National ads can run on sports, news and on-demand concert sections. Roomlinx will sell the ad space, or hotels can manage it themselves.

Hotels may decide to make the system standard in every room, or install it in a subset of rooms and charge a premium in the rate.

The Kessler Collection of luxury boutique hotels installed Roomlinx in the 104 rooms at the Grand Bohemian Hotel – Asheville Biltmore Village in North Carolina and in the 75 rooms at the Bohemian in Savannah. The system is standard and included in the room rate.
Scott Schreiber, president of the Kessler Enterprise, said he was looking for "innovation that brought customers capabilities that they have not seen in other hotel rooms, or anywhere for that matter." Roomlinx stood out because it was the most innovative while remaining user friendly.

"The Roomlinx system is state of the art and really is a differentiator from our competitors," he said. "Mike Wasik and his team have been tremendous business partners and worked hard to ensure our installations and ongoing support have been as smooth as possible. We look forward to converting the other hotels in the Kessler Collection as soon as possible."

TheWit installed Roomlinx as a pilot program in 27 rooms, 10 percent of its total. Chief Technology Officer Darrin Pinkham said the staff sells them as "media-plus entertainment rooms" and charge an extra $15 a night. TheWit also has a "try and buy" option for guests placed in a Roomlinx-equipped room who did not order the package. They can access the system for free for 15 minutes.

Pinkham said the hotel views its media package as a guest amenity as essential as the spa, restaurant and theWit's movie screening room.

"We've had great success," he said. "We would love to have it in as many rooms as possible."

While the system is intuitive to use, Pinkham said it can be difficult to describe to guests. TheWit's solution is to install a demonstration console in the lobby that the concierge uses to make reservations and print maps for guests. The hotel also will have a console in its back offices to train staff.

Terry Alexander, general manager of the Sleep Inn in Minot, ND, agrees that the concept doesn't always translate to print or other traditional advertising mediums. His front-desk staff is trained to sell the amenity.

The Sleep Inn introduced Roomlinx in February at the same it upgraded its TVs to 37-inch LG LCDs.

"Most of our competition is cutting rate, and that's not something we wanted to do," he said. "We wanted to define our niche, set us apart from the competition and add value to our guest rooms instead of cutting rate."

The hotel brought it into 80 of the hotel's 176 guest rooms -- mostly rooms where business travelers stay -- and built the cost into the room rate. Guests were upgraded to the rooms to let guests experience the system. Alexander said there was no advertising of the new amenity, but word of the change "spread like wildfire" and resulted in a $10 increase in average daily rate. Ad sales also have been healthy, he said. (It no doubt helps that the hotel owner is a former advertising executive.)

Now Alexander plans to add Roomlinx to the remaining 96 rooms and wants to put the system into a new MainStay Suites his company is building.

"The technology that's tied into the Roomlinx system is amazing," he said. "Anything guests can do at home on their computer they can do at their hotel room, whether it's making a reservation at Ruby Tuesday or working on a document."

The average guest spends more time on Roomlinx than using regular cable TV, Alexander said. The hotel's large Canadian client base appreciates the international TV stations, which means they can watch their local news and sports on the road.

Guests appreciate the ease of use, Alexander said. When the hotel first installed Roomlinx, he invited fellow members of the local Lions Club over for a demonstration. "One of our members, in his 80s, grabs the remote and he starts showing everybody," Alexander said. "The learning curve is very minimal."

Wasik said that was intentional. Roomlinx did extensive market research with Denver business travelers before settling on a design for the mouse and interface. The goal was to make it "easier to use than an ATM," he said. It also comes with family-friendly features such as parental controls. When guests check out, the system clears the memory and reboots for the next guest.

"The system is not cheap to put in," Wasik said, "but as long as the expenses are offset by revenue for the hotel and satisfaction by the guest, it's a win for everyone."
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