If you’re ever asked to list the features of a hotel room you simply cannot go without, it’s a fair bet that the bed, the bathroom, and the WiFi will be close to the top three. As an Englishman I’d probably put the kettle before the shower as tea always trumps personal hygiene but overall there won’t be too many arguments. However, the more interesting question is just how high would you rank the TV?
I recently took a group of twenty young Thai people around Europe for ten days, and learned that not one of them turned on the TV in any of the hotels. They would ask for the WiFi password even before picking up their room keys – but the TVs were completely ignored. I rarely bother with TV these days, and even a colleague who claims she always turns the hotel TV on for company admits that after flicking through all the channels and invariably finding nothing to grab her attention she’ll be straight back to her phone.
She did add, however, that whenever she stayed in a hotel where TV wasn’t available in the guestrooms, she rather felt that something was missing. Sounds a little bit like all those people who complain bitterly about airline food, and then complain even more bitterly when the airlines stop providing it. Surely TV can’t simply have become something every hotel must offer, yet nobody actually wants?
If you look for a hotel room with a flat screen TV you’ll find that around 60% of Bangkok’s accommodation can provide one, rising to 70% if we eliminate the cheapest third of the market. In general, that pattern is repeated in the world’s major cities (Cairo: 60% and 76%; Tokyo: 74% and 78%; Singapore: 70% and 78%; Vienna: 72% and 73%). The interesting cases were Chicago (85% and 92%) and Seychelles (50% and 50%), suggesting that the USA might place greater importance on the TV than other markets, and that certain resort destinations might well be selling tranquility, seclusion, and a chance to disconnect. Note that the Seychelles still had around 98% of its properties offering WiFi.
It seems that right now there are only two ways a hotel might be excused from the need to provide a TV: operate at the budget end of the market, or make its absence a selling point. Everyone else must face up to the real problem – TVs and guests are both evolving, and it’s increasingly difficult to please everyone. A glance at what millennials are saying on the travel forums illustrates the point.
Millennials famously love technology, and as a result they fully understand the shortcomings of whatever hotels give them. They take their own devices everywhere, and while they’d be happy to hook up their laptop to the hotel’s big flat screen, the connection is apparently never sufficiently secure, convenient, or in some cases, compatible. Time and again, millennials talk about hotel technology not quite being able to do exactly what it is that they want – and the more technologically adept the guest, the more irritated they seem to be. To satisfy this demographic, the hotel TV has to be highly advanced – and that becomes a problem for people like me who grew up in the UK with a choice of BBC1, BBC2, and ITV, and found the introduction of Channel 4 a bit too much.
SO Sofitel Bangkok have chosen to address the issue through evolving their TV and in-room entertainment using the Apple Mac mini offering 52 channels along with radio stations. It also lets guests stream their own movies through Air Play. Android aficionados also have access to the 52 channels and the TV can be used us a computer, so YouTube is an option along with other online streaming.
The big question now is whether guests are truly inclined to make full use of the technological possibilities they are given. TV comedians used to joke about older people being unable to set their alarm clock-radios correctly when those items were cutting-edge technology, while academic studies at the time confirmed that most people used only a tiny fraction of the many wonderful features their video recorders boasted. Assuming that technology continues to progress but humans remain stubbornly human, it might be wise for hoteliers to investigate in much greater depth exactly what it is that their clientele will really use and appreciate.
For those millennials chatting about hotels online – they mainly wanted more desk space in their rooms, because a room for two will most likely have two people using a laptop. And lots and lots of universal sockets to charge all their devices.