Portland hotel ditches the guestroom phone

NATIONAL REPORT—When the Jupiter Next hotel opens in Portland, OR, next month, none of its 67 guestrooms will have a phone.

Instead, the property will offer Roxy, a speech-enabled device that provides instant access to hotel information and services. The device has been in use at the Jupiter Next’s sister property, the Jupiter Hotel, an exterior-corridor, midcentury-modern motor lodge, but Next is taking it one step further with Roxy’s latest iteration, which has a new feature—it lets hotels replace guestroom phones with voice-activated calling.

“When we think about product development, we always ask hotel general managers questions: ‘What would get you promoted? What’s your biggest pain point? What’s your biggest expense?’ Those questions tell us the types of things we should be thinking about building,” said Cam Urban, CEO of Roxy. “One consistent piece of feedback we’ve received across the majority of conversations with the hotels we’ve met with over the last year has been: ‘Look, the hotel phone serves two purposes today—to call the front desk and for emergency reasons. No one is calling home anymore on the hotel phone.’”

Indeed, while the guestroom telephone used to be a high-revenue area for hotel properties, with guests using it to make long-distance calls home and elsewhere, those days are long gone, thanks to the advent of the cellphone. Modern conversations about the room phone have revolved around ways to incorporate additional functionality, like Bluetooth speakers and charging ports. However, hotels haven’t been able to cut the cord—so to speak—because the functionality has to remain for both the convenience of calling the front desk and, more importantly, accessing emergency services: Guests have to be able to call 911 if they need to. “But you don’t need to spend $70 or $80 on a piece of hardware anymore,” Urban said. “That’s where Roxy comes in; it’s about utility and cost savings.”

Al Munguia, managing director for the Jupiter properties, added, “From an operator standpoint, here I am constructing a six-story building, and the cost of cabling for phones is outrageous. Eliminate that and I’ve saved a significant amount of money, and yet, I’m still able to provide the same service using technology wisely. From an operations standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. I see the positive result just from the cost savings.”

For his part, Urban added,

“The whole idea of providing a greater degree of information accessibility to the guest still remains through a Roxy device, so that is core to our value proposition, but just as important is making it really clear and tangible how the device saves on hard costs and consolidates items in the room.” He added that hotels could probably average around $100 in savings per room, considering “the hard cost of the phone, the wiring and infrastructure to support that, whether that’s piping Ethernet cables and all of that, and then all the way up through to installation service and support.”

Roxy’s customized AI assistant integrates into a hotel’s Private Branch Exchange (PBX), enabling it to function as the phone. This utilizes technology that most hotels have already invested in. “These days, most hotels have a cloud-hosted PBX, which is the brains of the phone system,” Urban said. “We get the credentials from that PBX so we can communicate with it, and then we deploy the phone system on top.

“Everything is done in the cloud, which means you don’t need to have anyone on site, you don’t need on-premises servers or anything like that; it can just be deployed in an instant,” the CEO said.

Roxy—which also acts as a guests’ personal concierge, allowing them to place requests to the front desk, access hotel information and local recommendations and use numerous entertainment and search options—has a digital display, which is a convenience for those guests who are still wary of voice-activated systems. “The phone functionality is accessible by voice and touch. Even if you don’t want to use any of the voice-related functions of a speech-enabled device, you should still be able to use a phone through a touch dial pad that everyone is familiar with,” Urban said.

Munguia added that the Jupiter Next is cognizant of the fact that this will be new for hotel guests. “It will be interesting to see how it operates in real life,” he said, noting that the hotel will explain to guests during check-in that Roxy serves as the room phone. “That’s something we’ll make sure to communicate with guests up front so they’re aware of it.”

The digital display will also make that education process easier. “We’re playing with the messaging that will appear there, letting them know how to use Roxy and interact with it, but also plant the seed of some of the ways you can use it,” he said. “We’re looking at some of the verbiage necessary: You do have a phone, it just doesn’t look like one.”

There’s also value in the consolidation Roxy offers, Urban noted. Real estate on the guestroom nightstand is limited, particularly as many hotels are scaling down room sizes, especially in urban areas, for a more cost-efficient box. “A large focus of ours has just been in providing as much utility as possible, driving revenue-generating opportunities and cost savings for the hotel,” he said. “The device is built from the ground up for the hotel industry, and what that’s enabled us to do is build in functionality like phone chargers to replace the charging ports; adding a screen, which enables them to replace the guest booklet; adding an alarm clock mode and a night mode, which enables them to replace the alarm clock; having robust speakers; and adding a music streaming service. The goal there is to bring as much utility to the guestroom as possible. Make these things tangible successes in the sense it’s consolidating, replacing, eliminating and, as a result, just saving the hotel money. There are really two points to highlight: the utility and cost savings and consolidation, as well as end-to-end control, customization and curation.”

According to Urban, this guest-facing product is suited to every kind of hotel, regardless of location or market segment. “Every property can take advantage of it,” he said. “But the nuance there is that in the hotel industry, the adoption always starts with the forward-thinking boutiques and moves its way down. The last to adopt is the big-box brands that are slower to move because they’re bigger.

“But, at the end of the day, it’s good for any hotel that wants to save money,” the CEO added.

Urban noted that there’s been a lot of interest in Roxy. “The response varies depending on when the phone was purchased and where they are in the purchasing decision,” he said, noting that new hotels, like the Jupiter Next, or those that are planning their budgets for replacement phone purchases have different considerations than those that recently purchased new phones and might not have the capital available to spend on new devices.

“But, consistently, the input we’ve received is this is the future,” he said.

Munguia, certainly, is a believer. “I’m excited about the elimination of the phone because it is redefining what a hotel should be and how the industry should work,” he said. “I love the idea that we’re on the forefront. It’s such a game-changer that a couple of years from now, we’ll see this as a staple. Why don’t you have this? It’ll become the rule, not the exception.” HB