The hospitality industry today is an evolving vertical with constantly changing needs and requirements. Compound this with recent legislation coming from the federal government, and it is clear that many hotels are now required to replace their aging telephone systems. As such, when managers and owners are beginning to look for a new telephone system for their hotel, several challenges immediately present themselves. First, how can I find a new telephone system and who is qualified to setup a hotel phone system? Second, should the property be looking at VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) in the hotel, how does that affect the guest experience, and most importantly, how about the price? Third, and probably the most important, what products on the market today adequately address the laws and changing requirements of the main hospitality flags such as IHG, Choice, Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt?
Where to Begin?
When beginning the search for a new telephone system for a hotel, the first thing to do is to research vendors in the area. A quick internet or Google search will reveal a plethora of vendors, most of which will be either independent value-added resellers (VAR) who represent various products or large manufacturers/ suppliers who operate nationally or even internationally. If finding companies is not your idea of proper research, then another place to begin is with word of mouth. Consult your local or state associations such as AAHOA (Asian American Hotel Owners Association), AHLA (American Hotel & Lodging Association), and see what other property owners have been happy with and which vendors they trust. Some things to consider from any vendor:
- Do they hold the necessary certifications from the various manufacturers and also state agencies?
- Are they licensed to pull cable and other infrastructure in your state?
- What insurance and bonds do they carry to protect themselves- and you?
- Are they well established and do they have a positive track record?
- What are their hours and do they provide 24 hour support?
Once you have established some answers to the questions above, and whatever other points of interest or importance there are to you and your property, you can start considering various other aspects such as the technology presented, price, and whether your flag (if you carry one) approves of that product.
To VoIP or not to VoIP?
The telecommunications industry has really been changing and innovating at breakneck speeds for the last several years. This has been really great for the consumer as more functional and feature rich telephone systems are available at better than ever prices. Most of this innovation has been in the technology of VoIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol.
In VoIP, there are two main types, cloud and premise. For hotels, cloud based products are usually not the best choice as they are, over time, much more expensive than premise based, hybrid VoIP telephone systems. With a premise system, there is an upfront cost, unless leasing is employed rather than a capital purchase, but over the life of the telephone system, the total cost is much lower than the cloud proposition.So how does VoIP apply to a hotel? Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest benefits to telephone systems for hotels concentrates in price and functions, just as it does with the larger industry as a whole.
Price: Since the technology has begun to mature, the overall price of telephone systems for hotels has dropped by over 30% when compared to similar purchases made before 2010. Several reasons for this are:
- Less hardware and circuitry. When there are less parts, pieces, and equipment required for a given system, the price is naturally lower.
- Maturation in the technology. When VoIP first came about in the early 2000’s, it was expensive and did not offer many appreciable advantages over old digital telephone systems. As the technology has taken over the market and manufacturers focus on VoIP instead of antiquated digital equipment, the prices have come down considerably.
- Software based. VoIP telephone systems are primarily proprietary software driven and use standards-based hardware so economies of scale mandate that cheaper alternatives are available as opposed to the past when a monolithic manufacturer made every piece themselves- and charged handsomely for it.
Function: As VoIP has overtaken the market, new functions, integrations, and features have not only become available for setup in hotel phone systems but are standard.
- Property Management System (PMS) Integration is often included with the VoIP telephone system as a base feature. In the past, this was either unavailable or was an expensive add on.
- Reception Consoles have been replaced with PC or computer based software. Instead of a clunky piece of hardware taking up desk space, the reception computers can run software to accomplish all the functions necessary such as checking in/ out guests, setting wake up calls, among many other things. Additionally, on some systems smart phones or tablets can be used, offering mobility to the front desk.
- VoIP for room telephones offer additional features that are unavailable on traditional analog telephones. To begin with, the phones are often much more “flashy” than analog, offering large color screens which can display a range of different information such as logos, weather, scenic backdrops, and many other functions as well. For the price, they are about 2x more than a standard analog telephone. This additional cost can be offset, however, by the fact that VoIP can share a cable with the data connection in the room, eliminating an expensive cable run per room in new builds. Most of the same manufacturers of analog phones also make VoIP versions, including V-Tech, Teledex, & Telematrix.
Brands Approved by the Flags
Not surprisingly, when you are looking for a new phone system for your hotel, you should carefully consider the requirements of your flag, if you are a property who has that sort of distinction. The main companies such as Choice, Marriott, IHG, etc all have approved brands. Across the industry, Mitel and PhoneSuite are approved products. Some also allow other products such as NEC, Matrix, or others.