Are power banks the new guestroom bathrobe?

NEW YORK—Hotel guests today travel with a lot of devices—phones, tablets, laptops, wireless earbuds, etc.—and it’s important for them to make sure those devices are charged. In a perfect world, retrofitting hotels to accommodate three or four outlets per guest in the room—without forcing them to unplug alarm clocks or charge their phone in the bathroom—would be a cost-effective solution, but changing the infrastructure in a hotel can be a costly expense. For those properties that can’t afford that type of renovation, there’s another solution that can supplement the property’s existing tech infrastructure—branded power banks.

“Guests are looking for anything that’s better than the current state of play in the hospitality industry,” said Cliff Weinstein, CEO, Fli Charge, which offers charging solutions across many verticals, including hospitality. “This scenario resonates with most travelers: By the time you’ve had a long day traveling, via car or a plane, and you check into your hotel, you just want to get in the room, plug your devices in, charge them up and take a deep breath,” he said. “Currently, when I check into most hotels, you’re scrambling for a power outlet, and it’s often not readily accessible, and many times, you’re unplugging a lamp next to your bedside to plug in your charger. The traveler today, whether business, technologist, or people going on a family vacation, wants to charge personal devices, and the options are limited right now.”

However, Weinstein is also cognizant of the pressure hotels face in this area. “Adding power is very expensive. Adding outlets is expensive. You have to do it code compliantly, so there’s an electrician involved, there’s probably engineering work that needs to be in where you’re moving these AC power outlets. It’s expensive,” he said. “If it were cheap, most hotels would retrofit. It’s simply not. Adding outlets is cost prohibitive, unless you’re doing a down-to-studs renovation.”

One easy solution to alleviate this situation is branded power banks that guests can borrow—or even purchase—from the hotel. Weinstein noted that this often starts with adding the solution to public spaces. “People are waiting for meetings, waiting for friends, family, and that’s where you get a lot of requests for charging solutions,” he said, noting that USB outlets aren’t enough. “They are a desirable upgrade for not just hotels but bars and gyms, but it only solves one half of the problem. I still have to have a cable.”

Instead, Fli Charge supplies power banks—that come equipped with the three common types of charging cables—to hotels. Fli Charge also gives hotels a way to charge them wirelessly back of house. “We charge them by putting it on our proprietary surfaces, and we can charge 100 at a clip—it’s limitless. If you can remove the friction point of putting in power banks and it being a burden to the hotel staff, and they can easily be charged and have 15-20 always available in the common spaces, that seems to be the first use case or deployment we see in hotels we work with,” he said.

Baccarat Hotel New York’s Raphael Piveteau agreed that this is a common pain point in public areas. “It is common for guests in the hotel’s public areas to need their phones charged, and in most cases this is done in a separate area,” he said. “Phones are typically brought to outlets or charging stations at the front desk, back office, or behind the bar. The challenge that this presents includes having to leave phones unattended in highly trafficked and busy areas where they can potentially be damaged. There is also the possibility that an employee could inadvertently return the wrong phone to a guest, as well as the guest forgetting to take their phone when they leave.”

Now, the property offers Baccarat-branded power banks to guests in these areas. “We really see this as an extension of our high service levels, as we are able to bring the chargers to guests, and their phones can stay with them,” he said. “In this way, they enhance the guest experience by being so convenient and effortless. They are also sleek and even elegant, and aligned with the hotel’s luxurious aesthetic. Now, even our phone chargers reflect the attention to detail that guests have come to expect from Baccarat Hotel New York.”

The included cables are important, Weinstein said. “You need a universal solution. To assume everyone has an iPhone is not a good idea,” he said. “That’s almost more frustrating.”

Weinstein also noted that it’s a mistake to only focus on wireless charging. “Some hotels are looking just at Qi, but you have to look at the bigger picture,” he said. “Most people have three to five devices that need to be charged. It’s good technology for phones and, right now, phones only. What about all of my other stuff? There’s a world where Qi pads can also live side by side in hotel rooms and common spaces, but there’s a multitude of limitations it has… There’s certainly a place for it in hotels, but there needs to be a more robust solution to satisfy the power-hungry guest.”

According to Piveteau, power banks can be this solution. “I don’t think a day goes by without hearing a guest comment about our chargers,” he said. “There are times when we are able to tell that a charger is needed before they even ask, and anticipating this and presenting one to them makes a tremendous impression. I’ve even heard guests say they never worry about whether their phones are charged when they come to the hotel because we will ‘take care of it.’ Yes, they have been very well received and many guests are thrilled to know that they can be purchased.” 

Hotels can brand the power banks with their own logo and aesthetic, as Baccarat Hotel New York did, which can increase the stickiness of the brand from a marketing perspective.

But Weinstein believes it can go further than that, and that power banks could be the next bathrobe. “If you asked travelers when they get to their destination, do they want that $9 water or would they prefer some sort of charging apparatus in the minibar to charge their devices, I bet you most would forgo hydration versus charging,” Weinstein said. “I see it as a major revenue driver for hotels. Power banks can become the new bathrobe where it’s in the hotel, waiting for the guest, fully charged up, sitting on a charging surface or plugged in.” Guests can utilize it both in room or around the property.

“If you take it, you own it, and if you return it, it’s just an amenity in the hotel room. Power bank is the new bathrobe,” he said. HB

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