Top-Drawer In-Room Entertainment at Mandarin Oriental
Luxury hotel chains constantly struggle to provide guests with the latest amenities, services and gadgets. After all, someone paying $600 a night for a guestroom wants to be wowed as much as possible. At the very least, they want the same amenitiesóespecially TV-based entertainment and information systemsóthey probably have in their luxury homes.
Nick Price, CIO/CTO of Mandarin Oriental Hotels, takes that challenge seriously. He constantly strives to equip the chainís guestrooms with cutting-edge technology, not just because itís cool and new, but also because it meets the needs and expectations of his brandís guests.
ďA luxury product is only as good as all the pieces, and one weak piece can significantly degrade the guest experience,Ē says Price, who was recently inducted into the International Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame. ďWe donít view in-room entertainment as a discreet product. Rather, itís a multi-faceted delivery system for all kinds of information, some of which is informative, some of which is entertaining, but all of which is integrated into the fabric of the networking structure of the hotel.Ē
Although Price just joined the hotel industry 10 years ago, heís already been credited with pushing the envelope in in-room technology standards for the upper segments of the market. Under Priceís leadership, Mandarin was one of the first chains to deploy high-definition TV content in guestrooms, along with the capability to integrate guest devices (laptops, iPods, cameras, etc.) with the in-room AV systems through an auxiliary panel. These innovations are standard for many chains today at all levels of the industry.
We recently chatted by phone with Price from his Hong Kong home on Mandarinís guest-experience philosophies and its future plans to wow customers:
Is there a standard Mandarin Oriental array of in-room entertainment products?
We try to standardize as much possible, but it isnít always practical across regions. While smaller vendors are typically more innovative and have the ability to shape their products for our niche in the upper end, the downside is they typically donít have the geographic spread we require.
What will we find in a typical Mandarin Oriental guestroom?
A fully capable IPTV system that of course is high definition. The feature that stands out most is the very large number of television channels that can be integrated at a relatively small cost and in a small footprint. With this product, we typically have 200 or 300 or more television stations. The most extreme example is the more than 400 TV stations available in our 74-room hotel in Munich.
Why are so many channels important?
If you go into that Munich hotel on any given night, you have 25 different nationalities staying there. Itís very important to give guests something that matters to them rather than having a lot of stuff that people donít want to watch. There are two worlds: the world that is the U.S. and the world that isnít. They are very, very different in needs, in technology and in delivery.
In the U.S. youíre aiming for a high-quality product with a consistency that provides U.S. domestic free TV plus all the premium channels guests want. Outside the U.S., youíre trying to satisfy a much broader set of nationalities out of their time zones so you need to rely more on stored content and you must bring in more TV channels.
What else is important to guests?
An interactive program guide that reflects what the guest wants to see and is language sensitive. Thatís why outside of the U.S. we typically have 100-percent IPTV. Because youíre pumping that program guide information over an IP stream, itís more manageable and more configurable so we can do things like change the channel lineup to suit a particular guest in a particular room. We can reorder channels or cut out certain channels. In our London and Geneva hotels, for example, we have a high proportion of Arab guests and there are certain channels you donít want to deliver to those rooms. You need to be able to deliver a highly flexible product, particularly outside the U.S. In the U.S., youíre aiming for consistency first and foremost.
A lot of guests now bring their entertainment and information with them. How can you serve their needs as well?
People want to plug in their iPhones or laptops or whatever gadget and connect to the Internet and show it on the TV screen. Thatís important globally. Itís fundamental to be able to do that well, almost more important than anything else. The other very important thing is Internet connectivity to the guestrooms. Whereas it previously was a business product, the Internet has become even more important as an information and entertainment product. Itís vital for guestsí personal entertainment use.
Business use of the net is relatively flat whereas the entertainment and information side of the web is increasing almost exponentially. Itís a nice problem to have because it shows guests value the Internet product you have and theyíre coming to your hotel, at least in part, because you can deliver something other hotels canít. Itís an implied brand promise when you stay at a Mandarin Oriental youíre going to get a good Internet experience, both wired and wireless.
What about audio?
In most hotels, audio is really poor because it usually comes through the TV, which by definition is poor. We nearly always integrate a high-quality audio system with the TV so guests can plug into it, or stream something off the Internet or even watch a TV program using the high-quality speakers.
How do you plan for the future?
Looking out into the future is a fundamental part of a CIOís role in a modern hospitality company. I need to predict with a degree of confidence which technologies will win or lose over the next two, five or 10 years. And to be able to articulate those views intelligently is a big part of that role. At Mandarin we have a team of specialists that focus on in-room technology so if I see something that seems interestingósuch as how to incorporate an iPad into an in-room experienceóthey will focus on it to see what we can do.
What will be the future of in-room entertainment?
In the future, entertainment will be less about one-way broadcasts. It will be about guests having access to content when they want it. That may be content that was broadcast somewhere else, but using the Internet as the network to bring it to the hotel. Iím English, and even though I donít live in the U.K., I like to watch certain things on the BBC TV. And by going on my laptop I can get any of that content where I want and when I want. Thatís an indicator of how all content will be delivered in the future, whether it is on your TV at home or your TV in the guestroom. The relevance of time-scheduled broadcast TV as an entertainment medium is diminishing and diminishing fast. Itís about the individual consumer coming in, armed with his or her own preferences and being able to pull down their own content from Internet-hosted sources.
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