Dave Michels
Dave Michels is a Principal Analyst at TalkingPointz. His unique perspective on unified communications comes from a career involving telecommunications...
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Dave Michels | November 29, 2016 |


The Hotel That Has Everything...

The Hotel That Has Everything... ... but don't expect to find a standard old guest room phone on your night table.

... but don't expect to find a standard old guest room phone on your night table.

The Winery Hotel in Stockholm has it all -- great location, modern architecture, rooftop pool, two restaurants, a floor of conference rooms, and a fully operational winery. But it doesn't have or want guest room phones.

That last part can be directly attributed to Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) and its innovation initiative in hospitality communications. The results are as interesting as they are diverse, and include smart-room integrations; a financing option that only charges properties for their phone systems when rooms are booked; and a BYOD option for guest phones, as demonstrated at The Winery Hotel.

Some 50 years ago, the in-room phone was touted as a premium, but today it contributes little to the modern guest experience. In-room phones simply do not get very much use by guests, and they no longer generate revenue for hotels. Yet, they remain a mainstay of modern hotels for a variety of reasons, including guest expectations, wake-up calls, rating systems, and safety concerns.

Phoneless rooms have been associated with no-frills properties, but the concept is expanding into higher-end properties. The owners of The Winery Hotel saw BYOD as a way to contribute to its modern, boutique experience. Scandinavians are the most avid users of smartphones, with a world-leading ownership rate of nine out of 10 people, according to Buzzador, a crowdsourced review and recommendation site.

The Hotel
The Winery Hotel, which opened in January, is located between downtown Stockholm and the airport. Within walking distance from the hotel is the Friends Football Arena, the largest shopping mall in Sweden, and a royal park.

In addition to smartphones, the hotel owners are capitalizing on the rising popularity of wine in Sweden. Swedes have a relatively recent insatiable appetite for wine, with sales having increased some 60% over the past decade. In addition to the hotel's name, the property features a functional winery, an extensive selection of wines, a self-service wine-by-the-glass dispensing system called the Vinotek, and of course in-room bottles and corkscrews.

The Winery's winery began its first production run in September after receiving 10 tons of grapes that arrived by truck from Tuscany. It will complete the entire winemaking process, from pressing to bottling, onsite -- and visibly behind glass from the hotel lobby. The winery expects to produce around 7,500 bottles of "house red," most for serving on premises, but some for distribution through Sweden's network of liquor stores.

The Communications
ALE last June created a hospitality initiative to complement its products with focused partners, professional services, and business development, and saw its sales in the hospitality vertical increase 25% last year. The company isn't just after telephony ports, but creative new use cases -- solutions that improve the guest journey and strengthen loyalty (see related post, "Checking In on Hospitality").

ALE's hospitality solution has three layers: the Hospitality Cradle, the Hospitality Guest Application (HGA) Suite, and the Hospitality Employee Application Suite. The cradle, which refers to the "conversation" stack, includes UC, network connectivity, and integration with hotel property management systems. The HGA suite offers platform services for BYOD and what ALE refers to as the Hotel of Things. The Winery Hotel has used this suite to create a softphone within its guest app, and other hotels have used it to develop phone-top controls for room devices such as lights and curtains to eliminate wall switches and remotes. The HEA suite includes integration with back-office services to desktop phones and smartphones.

Fixed locations within the hotel, such as the front desk and restaurants, have traditional ALE IP phones. ALE offers a family of desktop IP phones, including a model with a full alphanumeric keyboard I spotted at The Winery Hotel's front desk. Mobile workers use a mobile app either on their personal or hotel-owned smartphones.

The Winery Hotel Experience
Several factors, including employees and services, atmosphere, and technology, create the guest experience. The Winery Hotel mixes modern and past elements to create its atmosphere of "industrial elegance." The hotel architecture blends a Brooklyn-inspired mix of bricks, concrete, and glass. Arriving guests see the aging room's oak barrels behind the front desk. Shiny steel vats within the winery are visible and impossible to ignore.

Guests are greeted with information and installation instructions for the hotel's smartphone app (source: Dave Michels).

Upon check-in, guests are encouraged to install The Winery Hotel smartphone app. The multi-language app provides access to hotel information and services. The app is easy to update and replaces the in-room book with hotel information and menus. Guests can also use the app to book hotel services such as dining reservations or a winery tour.

Anyone can install the app, but only guests can login and activate their "room" phones. The softphone has the usual speed dials to hotel services, but unlike traditional wired phones it is available for use anywhere -- on and off site. Since external calls go out local Stockholm trunks, using the room phone app can actually be cheaper than using the smartphone dialer and taking the risk of incurring roaming and toll charges.

The softphone app favors Wi-Fi, but also works over cellular. This means hotel services are reachable from outside the hotel, or as the hotel describes, "a concierge that goes with you."

The app is easy to update so menus, for example, can include daily specials. It also offers information on the featured wines of the month, and even includes a self-service wine tasting tour that utilizes the Vinotek, as you can see in this ALE customer success video:

The Future
The softphone is the just the beginning. Both ALE and The Winery Hotel see significant opportunity ahead for additional features. For example, the hotel already has a self-service check-in and check-out kiosk and is evaluating that functionality combined with a smartphone-based room key for future versions of the app.

Hotel management is also looking at advertising-related services with the nearby mall. It's common today to sell advertising to local businesses at hotels, and it may be feasible to create location-aware ads that direct guests to specific businesses with target offers. The app could also integrate with other apps, offering room-billed ride-sharing services as one example. The hotel currently offers guests picnic gear for the nearby park, but could extend room service to the park or other locations as well.

The smartphone-based room phone makes tremendous sense in Sweden. Scandinavians are among the most mobile-savvy on the planet. But this model won't be contained. The return on investment associated with in-app phones is strong due to the elimination of hard costs (phones and wiring). Even where wired telephones exist, the smartphone app offers complementary benefits that can justify the solution on its own.

BYOD room phones, inconceivable a decade ago, are likely inevitable in the future. Hotels are increasingly creating smartphone-friendly environments with extensive Wi-Fi coverage, in-room audio, and solutions for intended for smartphones, mobile charging solutions, and property apps. The Winery Hotel, and its use of technology from ALE, is on the leading edge, but more will follow.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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