Room Service: Hotels Gain Operational Efficiency Using Automation

Published On
Jun 1, 2017

Automation systems have served a variety of benefits to five-star hotels over the past decade. Recently, moderately priced hotels have adopted the technology. Intelligent systems offer the ability to lower costs with smart lighting, access control and an array of sensor-based solutions while reducing energy consumption and affording guests new comforts. However, one benefit is a unique selling point: operational efficiency.

With tight margins and high competition, hotels are seeking ways to manage facility operations more efficiently, and the byproducts of that efficiency are lower energy costs and a boost in guest satisfaction.

Technology vendors and integrators aim to provide systems that reduce manual labor and operating costs for hotel management, said David Phillips, director of hospitality and multiple-dwelling unit sales, Control4, Draper, Utah.

Hospitality pressures are greater than ever in part based on the changing nature of their competition. Today home shares such as Airbnb and HomeAway are drawing travelers, especially millennials, away from traditional hotel customer base. That means keeping costs down and guest satisfaction up is more important than ever.

“Hotels run 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Michael White, national business development manager at Siemens’ Building Technologies Division, Columbus, Ohio.

In addition to increased competition, new standards, such as those put forth by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), now require some level of guest-room automation. Other national codes and standards-making bodies, such as the National Fire Protection Association, have made changes to their requirements that pertain to the hospitality industry, such as incorporating a lower frequency of audible notification that improves the effectiveness of waking sleeping guests during a fire.

Actual energy use isn’t mandated by any group, but hotels are seeking ways to lower their power consumption throughout the day. Siemens offers a demand-flow optimization strategy aimed at reducing costs, which has helped hotels rein in unnecessary cooling in unoccupied rooms.

“We’ve seen savings in the millions of dollars over just a few years using strategies to lower demand during peak hours,” White said.

Building management systems can also control energy from a central location, while the technology itself can provide guest-room level controls and automation to further help hotels reduce energy consumption. High-end hotel guest rooms now commonly offer temperature, air-quality, lighting and shade control, for example.

Bringing down empty room costs

Key automation functions that lower operational costs are tied to the time when a guest leaves his or her room. For instance, automatic occupancy sensing and reporting allows housekeeping to make informed decisions about when to clean a room.

Automated control of shades or tinting glass can cut cooling costs, particularly where the building facade receives direct solar radiation.

Hotels waste the most energy when rooms are unoccupied. Automation from companies such as Control4 addresses this in multiple ways. The old-fashioned “do not disturb” door hanger is being replaced with systems that detect when a guest leaves the room and then send a notification to hotel staff. The energy-management system can also receive that notification, prompting the temperature to return to a lower-power-consuming neutral level. Shades can close to block sunlight, and lights can be turned off.

A motion sensor can detect when a housekeeper comes into the room, prompting the return to a more comfortable temperature and lighting setting until that individual completes the room cleaning.

That feature alone can save hotels thousands of dollars per month. After all, hotels often have unoccupied rooms on a given night, and if the temperature and lighting isn’t controlled, it is simply costing the hotel money.

“Lutron’s new energy-saving myRoom guest-room solution, composed of light, shade and temperature controls, reduces energy usage without compromising the guest experience,” said Brian Donlon, vice president­—sales, North America, Lutron Electronics, Coopersburg, Pa. “The majority of energy savings comes from adjustments made to vacant and unsold rooms—like adjusting the temperature, turning off the lights and closing draperies to insulate and/or prevent solar heat gain.

Operational efficiencies come in the form of privacy and service requests communicated to staff via system keypads and from Lutron’s myRoom Vue management software. Using myRoom Vue, hotel staff can easily monitor room conditions and alert housekeeping and maintenance to room issues, so they can be handled before they impact a guest. This behind-the-scenes monitoring is done discretely and in a way that does not negatively impact the guest experience.”

With data analytics, hotels or their service providers are able to monitor building performance whether rooms are empty or full and track energy supply and demand more effectively than ever. Facility managers can analyze the performance of an entire hotel portfolio from a remote location, billing errors can be identified and operations can focus on areas of improvement.

“We use the phrase ‘predictive maintenance,’” White said. “We now have clear insight into the operational efficiency.”

Then there are the benefits gained from guests using apps on their smartphones. Not only is technology making the check-in and check-out procedure more convenient, Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology incorporates keyless entry into a guest’s mobile device. Geolocation-based services provide additional benefits, such as monitoring guest arrival and departure status, room usage and trends, enhancing emergency response, and directing staff and guests to available meeting spaces and parking.

Wireless systems using radio-frequency identification (RFID) are also being used to enable access to rooms and to detect when people or things enter and leave. For instance, Control4 provides solutions in which an RFID chip is mounted on the underside of food carts. RFID readers that capture the transmission of the tag can be installed in hallways. So when a cart rolls into or out of a guest room, the reader senses that and sends an alert to staff that a cart at a specific location is ready to be collected. That saves labor time and improves guest satisfaction.

Fire alarm intelligence

Technology is improving in significant ways in the fire alarm market, as well. No one wants to be awakened by a false fire alarm.

“There is a shocking amount of guests being refunded or compensated due to nuisance fire alarms,” White said.

In addition, there’s the operational cost and disruption to business. Detection technology has come a long way.

“We actually guarantee no false alarms from [Siemens] multicriteria detectors, which, in addition to smoke, also test for carbon monoxide and heat,” he said.

Carbon-monoxide detection is a welcome addition to typical smoke detectors. Dangerous levels can be detected early.

Keeping up with all of this technology is a challenge for the hotel industry and for contractors.

Siemens has a team of trainers dedicated to educating the design and construction community on new technology, codes and standards.

“We participate in the development of codes and standards and help align the industry with the trends such as the ASHRAE standards,” White said.

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