With more ways to consume content than ever, the future of the hotel TV is at risk. These hoteliers think so, and it’s about more than cutting costs.
Most of us would agree that in 2023, finding a TV in your hotel room is a pretty safe assumption. Whether it’s a one-star motel or a five-star resort, a flat-screen is all but guaranteed.
But are things changing? With the rise of streaming services and an increasing variety of mobile devices from which users can watch whatever they want, wherever they want, are the living room mainstays as essential to travellers as they once were?
The hotels and resorts moving away from big(ger) screentime
Many hoteliers are questioning the relevance of televisions in an increasingly technical age, including Samir Hammam, owner of Wadi Sabarah Lodge in Marsa Alam, Egypt.
“We designed the hotel to get you away from the world you’re used to, and infuse you as much as possible into the Eastern Desert and The Red Sea,” he explains. “Your ‘TV’ here is the view of the sea and landscapes from our balconies and the restaurant. Why fly to Egypt to do what you do at home?”
He’s not alone in his thinking. In Lake Como, every suite in Villa Làrio has a direct view of the lake. On opening in 2014, it was decided not to include TVs. According to Flore Pilzer, Head of Brand for the property, the owners would “much rather guests enjoy the breath-taking views from their bedroom.”
In the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle is a 13-room hotel within a near-350-year-old building constructed by Louis XIV’s favourite architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart. When it opened two years ago, the team decided to omit TVs in order for the rooms to remain in keeping with the property’s 18th century theme.
Removing TVs from hotel rooms isn’t straightforward
Whether or not to include the iconic tech isn’t always a straightforward decision. For Samir, it’s a question of government involvement. In Egypt, hotel licences come with certain stipulations. If a property is categorised as an eco-lodge, no TVs are required, but if it’s a starred hotel, TVs of some description are mandatory.
Samir sees Wadi Sabarah Lodge in neither of these categories (“We are a bit of everything”), and has been working with the Ministry of Tourism since opening in July 2022 to figure out the best way forward.
“The ministry is flexible but as with any large bureaucracy, it takes time to get your point of view across,” he explains. “I added a TV room despite telling them that our guests don’t want it. I explained that I’m not saving money as the one 83-inch TV cost more than all 32 TVs they wanted us to put in the rooms.”
While the plan seems to have helped negotiations, Samir articulates that customers aren’t really taking to it and the TV room isn’t used very regularly yet.
In Paddington, in the heart of London, founder of The Pilgrm, Jason Catifeoglou, debated with his business partners whether or not to include TVs in the hotel’s rooms.
For him, the core of the property was sustainability. His passion is finding disused properties, then restoring and converting them into hotels using as much recycled and found materials as possible. The property doesn’t have double glazing or air-con; the former to avoid disruption to the building’s original window frames and the latter to keep energy expenditure to a minimum.
Ultimately, Jason chose to include TVs in all but three of the smallest rooms. For him, it felt like too big of a risk not to have them, though it’s a question still very much in his mind for future openings.
Do hotel guests miss televisions?
Many hotels now offer complimentary, in-room Wi-Fi (though plenty still only offer free Wi-Fi in public spaces) so there is ample opportunity to watch content in the comfort of your room without a TV.
However, observations from hoteliers on guest behaviour suggests content consumption isn’t as commonplace as you might expect.
Villa Làrio’s Flore Pilzer explains, “We see most clients pick-up books and leave their phones and tablets behind. A lot of our clients don’t even notice [the lack of TVs].” In ten years the hotel has had only two requests to have televisions brought to their rooms.
In Wadi Sabarah Lodge, Hammam iterates that there have been no complaints about the lack of TVs. Indeed, when he’s spoken with guests about it, most responses tell him to keep the rooms as they are. However, seeing guests streaming content around the hotel is common.
Some TV-less properties have them on standby just in case guests request one, such as Bequia Beach Hotel in St Vincent & The Grenadines.
Phillip Morstedt, property director, says. “The overwhelming majority [of guests] don’t even realise [there are no TVs] and the few that do want one (e.g. families or to watch a movie) can have one delivered by guest services.”
The lack of flatscreens apparently even improves their clients’ stays, as Morstedt is “frequently thanked by couples as it improves social interaction and they embrace it as part of their holiday.”
How would removing TVs affect hotel design?
If televisions do begin to become phased out, there will likely be a knock-on effect for room design and interior layouts.
Artem Kropovinsky, designer and founder of Arsight, a New York-based interior design company, says that, “For decades, room layouts in homes and hotels alike have been dictated by the placement of the television, but as technology becomes more individualised and mobile, the days of the entire family or group of friends huddled around a TV screen are dwindling.”
He’s seen it first hand with his clients. “There's a palpable shift in priorities,” he says. “While there's still a significant number who prefer the television to be the focal point, many are now seeking alternative central elements. This could range from a beautiful fireplace to an art piece or even a stunning window view.”
Brad Smith, CEO & Lead Interior Designer at Omni Home Ideas, has also seen a priority shift, with many of his clients expressing “that they don’t want their living rooms to be dominated by a television anymore.” Instead, they favour “flexible layouts, where the focus is on social interaction, aesthetics, or even a beautiful view outside. For those who still want a TV, hidden installations like motorised lifts or cabinets are popular, allowing the TV to vanish when not in use.”
What’s the future for hotel room televisions?
TV-less hotel rooms aren’t something born of the emergence of wellness resorts and smartphones. Back in 1950 when Jamaica Inn, in Jamaica, opened its doors, televisions were conspicuously absent - a bold choice for a hotel synonymous with one of the biggest film franchises of all time: James Bond.
The property’s owner, Eric Morrow, says guests have all the entertainment they need outside. “The ultimate high definition experience awaits as you open your door and look out across the beach to the multi-hued blues of the early morning Caribbean Sea.” For those seeking a cinematic thrill however, the hotel puts on ‘Bond on the Beach’, a once-weekly showing of a 007 film on a blow up screen. Guests can watch and listen with bluetooth headphones and popcorn.
Whether hotel room televisions decline in popularity in the hospitality industry is yet to be seen. They provide services above and beyond local (or global) viewing channels. Often they’re a near-permanent source of advertising for the hotel brand, and are frequently used to provide resort information to guests. Plus, different destinations and markets have differing customer demographics and varied service priorities, many of which will necessitate in-room televisions.
However, with the continuing evolution of portable content devices, the prominence and role of the hotel TV is will change in coming decades. We’ll be watching this space.