EDITORIAL: Hotels are too far behind

This is Las Vegas’ Venetian Hotel, site of DIRECTV’s recent Revolution Dealer Conference and my temporary home for four days. A beautiful hotel with a dizzying complement of marble-lined hallways, hand-painted frescoes, and stunning beauty all around. I was disappointed.

Why? Because as much as I enjoyed the out-of-room experience, when I was in the room I felt like these people:

If you’re under 30, let me put this in terms you might understand more… I felt like these people:

Let me say first that the room was lavish. It was beautiful, in fact, one of the better rooms I have stayed in. Had this been 2009 I would have been utterly impressed by the technology, too: in-room wi-fi, three flat TVs with HD content, even a scanner/fax/printer/copier device for my own use in the room. It has a DVD player. Heck, it has CORDLESS PHONES. What hotel room has cordless phones?

I missed being in my home office with its fast internet service and reliable cell service.

Technology has advanced at such a ridiculous pace that it’s impossible for a hotel to keep up. What was commonplace in 2008 is utterly obsolete today. Hotels are constantly scrambling to catch up.

Traditionally, fine hotels undergo full renovations about every 7-10 years. This keeps everything looking fresh and gives the customer a better experience. Obviously that’s nowhere near the pace required for keeping up with technology; 7 years ago there was essentially no smartphone market other than the Blackberry which used cellular data. Business travelers brought laptops but their use was limited to checking e-mails, not streaming movies.

It’s not easy to give a 10 megabit connection to each room in a 5,000 room hotel. A lot of that bandwidth sits idle all day and is used in the evenings, so it’s hard to justify the cost. Yet, this isn’t the 1960’s… even leisure travelers don’t travel to “get away from it all” but rather expect that they can take it all with them.

So far, the response from the hotel industry is to let LTE take the lead. Adding internet capacity is a loss leader and they would much rather just let people suck up their own data plans. However, there are too many areas in large steel-and-concrete hotels where cell coverage is weak and even LTE can get oversubscribed.

There are solutions for making the experience better. One of the more cost-effective is to add a better TV service like DIRECTV Residential Experience. When customers have a better TV experience they don’t rely on their own mobile devices and it is a lot cheaper to provide TV to every room than it is to provide high-speed internet.

Another solution is to identify those areas that have poor cell service and add boosters. We’re just starting to see the first generation LTE boosters and in time we’ll see commercial boosters that cover all the common voice and data bands. That should help customers feel more comfortable with using their own data plans.

Hopefully, some of these innovations are coming to hotels soon.