Why Can’t Hotels Get Tech Right?

I’m  in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park for some meetings, staying at the very nice Umstead Hotel & Spa in  Cary. Like most upsacle hotels these days, the room comes with a big flat-screen TV. But the service is awful, especially compared to the Verizon FiOS TV service I have at home.

There are only a handful of HD channels, and on those the images keep breaking up into big pixelated blocks. The rest of the selection is analog, and looks awful on the big screen. There’s no on-screen program guide.

At least it’s better than the Holiday Inn in Mount Kisco, NY. I stayed in over Thanksgiving. Like the Umstead, the room at the considerably less upscale hotel came with a big LG flat screen. But the service was all standard definition, mostly analog, and in what I consider a mortal sin, had 4:3 SD images stretched horizontally to fill the 16:9 display. I couldn’t watch anything more visually intense than CNN.

The fundamental problem, I think, is that hotels are interested in the trappings of high tech and the bragging rights of high-tech features, but can’t or won’t spend the money to deliver the real goods. How often have you paid $10 to $15 a day (or a lot more in Europe) for “high speed” Internet service that can barely beat a dialup connection.  That’s probably because the hotel has a 1 Mb or so DSL line serving as the backhaul for all the guests. One of the ironies of the hotel business is the less you pay, the more like you are to get free Internet and the more likely the performance is to b acceptable.

I don’t know a good solution for the TV problem, but a wide-area wireless modem, or a tethered smartphone, is generally a decent alternative to using overpriced, under-performing hotel Internet. Of course, there’s always going to be the hotel room where whatever wireless service you use won’t provide decent reception. And for international travelers, data roaming rates are still prohibitive. But over time, wide-area wireless is going to kill hotel Internet as surely as mobile phones have killed exhorbitantly priced hotel phone service.

Does anyone have a high-tech alternative to overpriced, clothes-mangling hotel laundries?

6 Responses to “Why Can’t Hotels Get Tech Right?”

  1. Isaac Sacolick Says:

    At about $1k/month for a T1 and charging $10/room/day, there’s no reason average hotels can’t provide high speed internet at a profit. Many of them are using providers to manage the service and billing, so it should not be a burden to support.

    Some business hotels have issues at peak periods. I remember one conference hotel with very poor latency during morning hours. Business hotels need to plan capacity properly. It was all we talked about at breakfast.

    My other big beef with conference hotels is when there is poor mobile reception in their conference rooms. It’s a disaster for conference planners when attendees are frustrated or have to leave the room just to send an email.

  2. Tom McCallum Says:

    To be honest, a frequent issue with modern hotel management is that the age of the old fashioned hotel GM is dying out.

    Modern management of hotels involves too many career desk jockeys who don’t walk the rooms and check the details to ensure that the guest experience is being delivered.

    In the case of in room technology, someone in an office is saying to themselves, “do we have inroom internet and HD?”. “Yes?”. “Ok, check! Move on !”. They likely haven’t been in a guest room and tried out the system.. ever.

    Now, for a modern demonstration of old school GM thinking, recently @SimonFCooper (of Ritz Carlton) was tweeting a picture of a chandelier at a new RC… but what did he also tweet ? Something along the lines of “I wonder how they’ll change the lightbulbs in that”. Once a GM always a GM, was my reply !

    Good luck with the new blog, I’ve been a fan of your column for years 🙂

  3. Roberto Says:

    Steve! I am your fan and work for Bloomberg. Thought I would have the greatest news about you coming to work here (I’m in Brazil actually), but then I heard you were not coming for whatever reason. I have been hearing your podcast since 2007 and have been enjoying how you position the tech World in a simple manner. I wish you had joined us, but don’t have any power to do that, so good luck on the blog, I am sure you will continue to succeed wherever you go because your opinion really matters for all of us, users and manufacturers

  4. steve baker Says:

    I’ve found that motels managed by people from south Asia, for one reason or another, are more likely to better and cheaper Web service.

  5. Bill Baker Says:

    I bought a Verizon MiFi and buy day passes at $15.00/day. Better speed (most of the time), can share with four others and you can go anywhere. Beats shaky hotel WiFi every time.

  6. phil Says:

    Since you mention technology in hotels, my big gripe is the keycards that get demagnetized when near a cell phone. You’d think that would be a problem that could be solved.

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