For Whom Does the Hotel Phone Ring?

By Robert McGarvey

Is it time to hang up on inroom hotel phones?

Honestly: I do not answer the inroom phone.  Nor do I check the messages. I assume the call isn’t for me and if it is, it’s unwanted hotel sales and marketing.  Easier just to ignore.

As USA Today reported last May, “The hotel guestroom telephone is being ignored more and more these days.”

You bet.

So for some years I have advocated yanking the things out of rooms – and
what’s caught my eye is there now, finally, is a rush to reinvent inroom phones and some of the ideas seem plausible.

But are the phones themselves too late to save?

Stop for a second however. Answer a key question: Would you miss the inroom phone if it vanished? Some say we would.

“Imagine walking into a hotel room that had no phone,” Chad Collins, VP of sales, Americas for VTech Communications, told Hotel Management for an August 2018 article. “While millennials and gen X guests are quite comfortable with emerging technologies and may not notice, the baby boomers and [the general public] are generally more comfortable with technologies that they are familiar with (i.e. guestroom telephone) and would consider it a fail to not have a phone in their rooms. This will remain the case for many years.”

Nah. Personally I would not notice that the thing was gone and I’m a leading edge Boomer. No fail in my scoring.

What about you? Do you really, truly, want that antique in your room?

I emphatically do not.

Even so, I am open to a reinvention of the inroom phone and at least some companies are trying. The exhibit here is an article in Hotel Business, What does the guestroom phone’s future look like?

Accepted by most experts is that we no longer use inroom phones to make outside calls. Maybe for inhouse calls. But outside, not so often.

In fact I cannot remember the last time I used an inroom phone to make an outside phone call.  I would say it certainly was in the last century (I started carrying a cellphone everywhere in 1999).  And, yes, I have more recently used an inroom phone to make a dinner reservation at an on property restaurant. But not to call other restaurants.

So the inroom phone makers are deep into a rethink of what functionality the device needs.

Joe Zhang, president, Bittel Americas, told Hotel Business: “We see the telephones in the future becoming simplified—speakerphone modules equipped with a number of one-touch, guest-service keys, with or without the physical dial pad.”

I like that – it might even persuade me to use the phone.

The key will be simplicity of use. If I have to think about how to use the thing I assure you I won’t – I won’t think about it and I won’t use it.

But very probably what I would much prefer in my room is an Alexa or Google Home device – and, yes, they can be put to use to make calls too.

I have both at home, use both daily, and would welcome seeing them in my next hotel room.

Can they be made easy to use? Sure.  

And we know how to use them anyway. Amazon claims it’s sold over 100 million of them.  We’re comfortable with them – concerns about spying aside – and it would be easy to build into an Alexa skills for opening hotel room blinds, adjusting the thermostat, turning on and off lights, and, yes, calling room service.

In my home I use those devices to turn lights on and off, to tell me the weather, to set a wake up alarm, to make phone calls, and it’s easy enough to set up to turn on the TV, to adjust the room temperature, and down the long list of proposed to-do’s for inroom phones.

There’s a pointed respect in which rethinking the inroom phone is a bit like rethinking the horseshoe in 1927.

Especially when the smart home devices are maturing fast and winning lots of users.

That’s my vote. Yank the phone – even if it’s a reinvented edition – and give me Google Home or Alexa.

5 thoughts on “For Whom Does the Hotel Phone Ring?”

  1. I like the in room phone for if I have to call 911. I generally don’t, but I like it to be there. When my wife has a long hot shower and sets of the modern centrally connected smoke alarm, it is good to be able to call the hotel and tell them what it is. It is also convenient to call tech support when the in room wifi isn’t working. When you are with family, friends, or in a conference with others it is good to call the other rooms that way. A lot of people, when they travel on personal trips, do not activate the roaming on their mobile phones, so it is helpful to let family know where you can be reached in an emergency. We don’t use them much, but there are reasons for them to be there. Maybe not two or three in a room, but if you are choking to death and can’t talk, maybe it is a good thing to have handy. Mobile phone location services can’t tell them which room you’re in. But if you call 911, the front desk will be alerted which room called. (if it is set up correctly). I was just in a hotel which had local calls free and long distance (Canada and USA) first 5 minutes free. It is all about how they are implemented.

  2. I use room service, and one needs to call the front desk for wifi that fails to work, the Ac that cuts out, the forgotten towels, whatever. Room to room, yes. And in the case of emergency, it’s a must. But they could make the damn things easier to use, there are too many buttons, and they are poorly marked. And I never use it to call outside either.

  3. The In-Room hotel phone in the USA is there for one reason. Legal.

    Hotels are required to keep a phone in the room so that guests can call 911.

  4. Prefer having a phone in the room – mostly for guest service requests (housekeeping, etc). I don’t want to text the guest service team (offered at some hotels) b/c I don’t want them spamming me with texts or marketing communications. Also like having one there for 911/emergencies.

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