Upgrades at Holiday Inn a matter of keeping up with industry

When guests walk into the newly revamped Holiday Inn hotel near Orlando International Airport, they are greeted by a mammoth display of 55-inch televisions.

The channels can be programmed to show separate news channels, flight-arrival updates or in-hotel locations for specific meetings on the 25 grouped screens.

Or, if hotel officials want, they can all sync to show one huge program, like they did on Super Bowl Sunday in February.

“We sometimes see guests here in the lobby just for the entertainment,” general manager Bob McCoy said during a recent visit.

The hotel industry has been experiencing something of a technological arms race, as competing chains battle for customers’ dollars by offering high-tech options.

Wi-Fi access, once considered an added amenity, is now treated as a standard option in some hotels.

The move toward offering customers services accessed through mobile devices is an effort to connect with them where they spend much of their time, McCoy said.

“Kids today grew up with some piece of technology in their hands that we didn’t,” said McCoy, who has spent more than two decades in the industry. “If they don’t have access, they don’t know what to do with themselves.”

The large televisions that greet guests at the Holiday Inn are just the first indication of the chain’s upgrades.

In the rooms, guests have clearly visible phone chargers along the wall, a departure from past layouts that sometimes buried them under beds and end tables.

Live streaming has also been introduced, which allows customers to watch movies or television shows in their rooms using their own accounts on services including Netflix and Hulu.

They also can access a menu through the televisions that can be changed instantly — a chance for them to instantly spend money with the hotel.

“You’re no longer flipping through a binder. Now you’re just laying in bed with the remote,” McCoy said. “It’s a huge convenience for someone who doesn’t want to go downstairs.”

But the rise in technology in the industry creates a new problem for hotels. While major chains can afford the latest upgrades, some properties cannot.

While Holiday Inn rolls out its latest guest-room features, there are still some hotels that have not upgraded quickly enough, said Dr. Youcheng Wang, a professor at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of hospitality Management.

“That’s a bad strategy,” he said. “It can be a game changer if you don’t have that standard.”

As consumers stay connected on mobile devices, hotels must keep up to keep them happy.

The battle for guests will only benefit customers’ tech needs, said Wang, the associate dean of academic affairs and research for the college.

“The consumer is so much more sophisticated now about using technology, so hotels must have access to information, anything you want,” he said.

In March, Rosen Hotel and Resorts unveiled live-streaming access at three of its Orlando, Fla., hotels.

Meanwhile, a Texas-based company calld Enseo has incorporated Netflix and Hulu access to more than 1,000 hotels in the U.S., including Courtyard in downtown Orlando, Fla., and Springhill Suites near SeaWorld.

“There is a competition in terms of who is getting ahead,” Wang said. “You have to be clear about what you want to do with the technology. You can’t just integrate everything.”

Business traveler Joe Price, who stays in hotels about two weeks a month, said he has come to expect basic technology availability, including live streaming or Wi-Fi in hotel rooms.

The 39-year-old Orlando-based software salesman says such hotel upgrades make for more comfortable stays, he said.

“If you’re not looking to the future with technology and how to integrate it, you’ll be left behind as competitors embrace it,” he said. “It’s nice to have it as it makes traveling a little easier.”

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