Is the hospitality sector at the fringe of the intelligent building industry?

Most discussions on the advances in BAS and intelligent building technology tend to focus on the core applications of our industry, mainly commercial buildings. However, there are a number of other non-residential building types that can benefit from these technological advances. An obvious example is hospitality (hotels/motel). This building type has always used controls and BAS that exist in a sort of parallel universe to that of commercial buildings. But does that need to remain the case?

Putting the Control in Comfort

Putting aside the office and meeting room spaces in larger hotels (which have always been treated as if they were commercial spaces from a controls standpoint), guest room controls have been recently been experiencing a renaissance in automation and intelligent building advances. These advances are not widely known to those involved in commercial work because the products are mainly produced by niche manufacturers focused on hospitality. This is a good news, bad news story.

The good news is that these manufacturers understand guest room control very well and have tailored their products and solutions to the application (and sell them at very reasonable prices). Attempting to adapt commercial BAS to hospitality has always involved a bit of “sticking a square peg in a round hole” since the products were not designed for the unique applications (and were usually too expensive for the payback involved). The bad news is that the hospitality-centric products appear to have been immune to the market pressure of open protocols, so we have solutions that do not enjoy the benefits of this advance nor can they readily integrate to the commercial controls used in the “back of the house.”

So what are the unique applications of hospitality? Simply put, they are to:
  • Provide a guest with a completely unrestricted room control experience (e.g., if they want to cool the room in winter, have at it) while using automation to reign in this freedom when the occupant is either not in the room or is asleep.
  • Automatically switch the room to a low energy-usage state when it is not “sold” to a guest, rather than relying on the hospitality staff to manually perform this task (which even if done properly can often incur significant delay times and wasted energy when compared with automation).

A Two-pronged Approach

There are a variety of products and solutions that can be used to achieve the above goals - too many to be addressed in detail here. However, they can be categorized into two major approaches:

Front desk “guest check-in” based systems. This approach involves a communication interface between the guest check-in software and the room controls. This approach tends to be preferred by higher-end properties since the room controls can be switched to the occupied mode before the guest first arrives at the room and can remain in that state even when the guest is out of the room. However, this approach comes at a greater cost due to the communications requirements, and, if implemented as described above, it allows for excessive energy usage when the room is sold.

Local controls.This approach involves door key actuated and/or occupancy sensors to determine if a room is occupied. This is clearly a less expensive approach and can generally save more energy than the above, since the system does not include a “sold” mode (i.e., the room goes to unoccupied control whenever the occupant is not in the room).

Currently, the major products used to achieve the above involve mainly proprietary protocols with the expected negative side effects (e.g., the inability to mix and match components from various manufacturers and the sense of being “locked in” when adding on to the system).

Fortunately, there is an industry trade group called Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) that is working to change this, and some of the commercial BAS manufacturers have recently introduced hospitality-centric products. Hopefully, these efforts will help move hospitality automation away from the proprietary fringes of the intelligent building world.ES