5 reasons to retire the hotel room telephone

With mobile phone ownership becoming the norm, how useful can the in-room phone continue to be?

Landline telephones were first introduced into hotel rooms towards the 1900s, although it was only in 1986 that Teledex Corp rolled out telephones designed specifically for the hotel guestroom. Since then, traditional telephones have become a staple in every hotel room.

These in-room telephones usually allow hotel guests to do just three things:
1. Call the hotel front desk to request for service or for the hotel to call you back — housekeeping, room service, information etc.
2. Call another room in the hotel
3. Call someone outside the hotel

An emergency measure

Arguably, these landline telephones are an important security feature. Plugged into the registered jack in the hotel rooms, the phones are able to identify the exact location the guests are calling from in a time of emergency.

One could also argue that the telephone is an alternative for guests, as a backup to their mobile phones.

But the traditional thinking around the purpose of the in-room telephone for regular, everyday usage is losing relevance, and for very good reasons.

Reason 1: Hygiene concerns

The next time you consider picking up the landline phone in the hotel room to call for room service or an extra towel — think twice. You may also be picking up bacteria from the previous guest’s saliva or unwashed hands after using the bathroom.

The telephone is unsurprisingly among the dirtiest items in the room, as one of the most commonly touched but least easy to clean surfaces, especially with its uneven keypad. As hotels reopen to a post-pandemic world after COVID-19, cleanliness will be front of mind for all travellers. Hotels should therefore be wary of such high-touch surfaces with their potential for cross-contamination.

In a study conducted across nine different hotels in the USA, 16 surfaces in a representative hotel room were sampled after being cleaned by three different housekeepers each and classified as guest-ready. Of the 16 surfaces, the telephone keypad had the third highest count of coliform bacteria — typically an indicator of fecal contamination — at an average of 1.3 CFU/cm3. This was 13 times the amount found on the toilet paper holder or the bathroom door handle.

In a separate study that also tested samples of four surface types from nine different hotels, the telephone was found to have gram-positive rods bacteria and Bacillus spp — which cause skin infections and are associated with respiratory infections respectively.

Reason 2: Dropped calls affecting the guest experience

With phones come the inevitable problem of dropped calls, whereby guests call the front desk or call centre for something, only to find that the hotel is unable to take their call because the line is already engaged, and their call gets dropped. Whether guests are on holiday or a business trip, the indefinite waiting time is unpleasant.

Many upscale to luxury hotels have a standard for the maximum number of rings before calls get picked up. But with a limited number of call operators in the call centre, relying on staff to receive and attend to every call is unrealistic, especially during peak periods. In Singapore, the hotel’s challenge is further exacerbated by the difficulty of hiring staff for the call centre.

Guests whose call has been dropped might give up and find another way to get what they want – if they were originally trying to order room service, that means a loss of potential revenue. Or guests could get frustrated, resulting in an unpleasant guest-staff interaction and even a negative review on Tripadvisor.

Reason 3: Miscommunication problems

Calls also make it easy for miscommunication and misunderstanding to happen. Guests’ requests could be heard wrongly, meanings could be misconstrued, language barriers could get in the way. The result could be wrong room service orders or housekeeping mistakes.

Such mistakes compound, and could ruin the guest experience, which would in turn mean the guest is far less likely to return to that hotel or even reconsider hotels under the same brand. As hotels move towards encouraging recurring guests, these problems would only serve to undermine hotels’ efforts at cultivating brand loyalty. Further, the hotel’s reputation would be affected by negative word of mouth, deterring would-be guests from choosing the hotel.

Reason 4: Falling revenues from calls

Research has shown that revenues from calls have been on the decline in the 21st century, a reality hotels should be familiar with. In fact, the research reported that telecommunication revenues dropped from 3% of hotel sales to as low as 0.6% — and this was in 2011. Internet messaging platforms are reducing the need for guests to place calls through the in-room phone, and smartphones are becoming the phone of choice.

Moreover, the medium of calling is transient and does not allow hotels to upsell or cross-sell their amenities and products. Phones therefore limit the ability for hotels to connect closely and regularly with their guests.

Reason 5: High costs no longer make sense

The costs of installing a telephone in every room adds up: Not only do you need to buy the telephone, there’s also the maintenance for the hardware, the telecommunications system, and not to mention the call operators’ salaries.

With the return on investment (ROI) decreasing due to falling revenues, are these costs still justifiable? Hotels will have to reconsider this.

Going telephone-free — ANMON Resorts Bintan

A desert-themed glamping resort located on the Indonesian island of Bintan, ANMON’s glamp tents are every bit as comfortable and luxurious as any upscale hotel room, except for one element: There is no landline telephone anywhere to be found.

Instead, ANMON has replaced the traditional telephone with an app-less digital concierge service that can be accessed online from the guest’s own mobile phone without having to download anything. The AI-powered digital concierge, built by Vouch, instantly and automatically provides information about the resort, its facilities and amenities, as well as handles service-related transactions like booking requests for activities.

This frees up time for the ANMON staff from having to attend to simple calls, and allows them to focus their energy on high-impact face-to-face interactions and guests with more complicated requests who need individual attention. Their digital concierge has proven to be an infinitely scalable substitute in place of dedicated call operators.

Phase out in-room phones with contactless solutions

Whether you’re a guest or the hotel, we are so used to having a landline telephone in the room that we mistaken it as a must-have and forget we can question its presence.

However, more problems are cropping up from the telephone, outweighing the usefulness and benefits. So why are we still stuck on this need for the hotel room telephone?

Hotels that are planning for the guest experience of the future should start adopting alternatives to substitute or complement the telephone now. As bring-your-own-device (BYOD) technology becomes increasingly viable and even preferable thanks to widespread smartphone ownership, digital concierges will be the ideal platform for hotels to connect with guests from pre-stay to post-stay.

From creating revenue generation opportunities to increasing productivity among staff, the digital concierge will free hotels to do what matters most to them — serving their guests.

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