Smart Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are all around us. In our homes, we have smart doorbells, lightbulbs, thermostats, refrigerators and, of course, smart speakers that we can ask to do practically anything. Step outside and you’ll find more smart technologies used to monitor and control water, power and waste systems, intelligent transportation systems that control traffic lights, digital signage to warn of impending backups, video systems for crime detection and more.
It should be no surprise, then, that hotels are increasingly adopting smart technologies as well. Property management systems (PMS) are being expanded to bring IoT-based automation to rooms, enabling control of drapes, lights, temperature, television and more – from a single device or bedside controls. In the hotel back office, the hotel PMS also integrates with numerous other applications and services, including the building management system (BMS) and payment systems.
To succeed with smart technologies, however, requires each hotel to have a reliable, flexible, and secure IT infrastructure. That means fast, reliable WiFi in guest rooms and common areas and similarly robust networks for back-office systems, including high-speed Internet connections. And it all must have security, to help protect against threats like malware, phishing attacks, and ransomware.
Building that infrastructure is well worth it for the various features and functions the network will support for the benefit of guests.
It starts with the check-in process, whether that’s done remotely via the hotel website, a hotel loyalty app, lobby kiosk or in person. Once a guest checks in, the hotel PMS puts the room in an “occupied” state, which triggers a series of events.
The room temperature will be adjusted to a comfortable level from the more energy-saving setting it’s on when not occupied. When the guest enters, lights turn on automatically, drapes open and perhaps music starts playing. A welcome screen is activated on the television and the guest is met by name with a personalized greeting.
During their stay, guests can control these experiences from a single device, whether that’s the hotel app on their phone, an in-room tablet provided for their use, or a beside control panel. Using the same device, guests can choose their own wakeup routine, whether it’s gradually opening drapes, turning on news or music, or some combination. It’s a far cry from the traditional wake-up call or alarm clock.
Sensors can detect when guests leave the room, at which point lights are turned off and the thermostat is adjusted to reduce energy consumption.
Hotel smart systems are typically an extension of, and integrate with, the hotel PMS.
The PMS traditionally handles core hotel functions like keeping track of room inventory, handling reservations, creating housekeeping schedules, making guest room assignments, and integrating with payment systems.
Now the trend is to extend PMS functionality by integrating with other tools that add new capabilities. Integrating the PMS with the hotel BMS, for example, can help managers more effectively schedule maintenance to minimize guest disruptions. Some BMSs today also support predictive maintenance, which takes advantage of artificial intelligence technologies to detect when a system is deviating from its normal performance baseline – an indication that maintenance may be warranted. By integrating with the PMS, hotel and facility managers can coordinate on the best time to schedule such maintenance.
PMSs also now integrate with third-party technologies, including hotel point-of-sale systems, certain payment providers, as well as accounting systems. That gives managers access to up-to-date hotel financial data without ever having to leave the PMS interface.
The PMS can also integrate with third party service providers, such as wholesalers, direct booking platforms and online travel agencies. Such integrations make it easy for a hotel to share data on room inventory and facilitate bookings, leading to fewer empty rooms.
Integrating the PMS with the hotel’s customer relationship management (CRM) system ensures the hotel is collecting and accurately tracking guest data. That helps ensure preferences of repeat guests are met and provides a database to help inform marketing efforts.
To take advantage of all these smart capabilities and integrations hotels must have a sound technology infrastructure to build upon, both within the hotel walls and beyond.
It starts with reliable, scalable wide-area connectivity. Increasingly hotels are finding that software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) services are a good fit. With SD-WAN, network control functions are abstracted from the underlying network, enabling hotels to choose the WAN service that matches the requirements of each application. Time-sensitive reservation applications may require the performance of dedicated lines while guest room connectivity can rely on high-speed broadband links.
With SD-WAN, configuring backup links for each connection is easier to set based on which modes of connectivity are available at each site, whether dedicated Ethernet, broadband or even cellular services such as 5G. Network security software such as firewalls and intrusion detection/prevention systems are often included with the SD-WAN appliance at hotel sites. The physical or virtual appliances are typically simple to deploy, an important feature for hotels that don’t have IT personnel at each location.
Inside the building, robust WiFi is a must in all guest rooms, common areas and meeting rooms. It’s also important for back-office applications and should be configured separately from guest networks to help keep the internal hotel network secure.