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Historic hotel
Historic hotel

May 23, 2022 - 4 min read

What hotel relics of days gone by can tell us about the future

Nick Dauk

Travel Writer

At Impala, we spend a lot of time talking with hoteliers about the future. But when it comes to distribution, we all know it's been stuck firmly in the past. That got us thinking: where have hotels seen significant change? And what can the past tell us about the future?

From advancements in technology to shifts in guest expectations, longtime hospitality professionals know just how rapidly the status quo becomes a thing of the past. Take a walk with us down memory lane as we recall some of the one-time hotel staples that are now consigned to a bygone era - and the modern touches that have replaced them.

Wall of hotel keys
Wall of hotel keys
The Keys to the Kingdom: The Chaos They Created

The key to the Presidential Suite – was any object in a hotel more coveted? 

Even the simplest of rooms enjoyed a touch of grandeur thanks to their physical key. No plastic keycard, no phone-operated lock. A real key, solely dedicated to unlocking the wonders that wait behind a single door.

Of course, we may be romanticising things. Plenty of hoteliers are relieved to no longer worry about keeping track of dozens of keys. 

On a good day, the inconvenience would be limited to filtering through a heavy round ring to locate the right key for the right room. On a bad day? Chaos ensued when a guest would misplace their key – or worse – forget to return it before heading to the airport. 

Perhaps digital door security really does keep chaos under lock and key. 

Bell boy
Bell boy
“Which Floor?”: The Rise & Fall of Elevator Operators 

In an era of social distancing, it may seem strange to have a dedicated employee accompany guests in the lift. Once upon a time, however, the elevator operator was a hallmark of a fine hotel. 

Also known as a bellboy or liftman, the friendly face by the call buttons would gladly select the floor for guests and happily carry luggage to their rooms.

Guests today are perfectly comfortable operating elevators, so the profession is all but extinct these days. But there’s still an endearing, old world charm whenever a hotel provides this once superior service.

Hotel telephone
Hotel telephone
Pay Phone Banks: A Callback to Days of Disconnecting 

There’s a good chance that some of your guests remember the days of rotary phones - and that a growing number of your guests don’t know a world without a mobile phone in their pocket. 

The business centre is arguably an antiquated concept for many hotels; imagine how vintage the thought of a pay phone bank must be in the eyes of today’s travellers. And yet, remember just how revolutionary they were.

In the pre-internet days, pay phone banks gave travellers an opportunity to call their loved ones, make travel arrangements, and conduct business abroad. It was a direct line to home, a comfort and convenience that every traveller today still finds essential - but satiates with their own device.

Plastic hotel amenity bottles
Plastic hotel amenity bottles
Rooms Without Waste: An Absence of Plastic Amenities & Paper Products

Eco-consciousness and sustainability are topping guest demands, which means hotel owners must sort out which amenities are wanted and which are wasted.

In some ways, this makes day to day operations easier. No more early mornings waiting for the newspaper delivery or starting the day with ink-ridden thumbs from printing out paper tourist maps. 

In other ways, the change is simply cost-effective. Swapping single-use bathroom amenities for refillable shower gels and soap dispensers allows guests to use only what they need without worrying about wasting what remains. 

As a guest, there’s no substitute for reading the paper with a cup of tea on the balcony, but at least for hoteliers, this part of the job has become simpler.

Old fashioned radio
Old fashioned radio
From AM/FM to Alexa/Siri: Transformative Room Tech

Built-in radios. Colour TVs. A brand-new Teledex. How many of the latest and greatest gadgets has your hotel had over the years? 

It’s mind blowing to think that some hoteliers have watched their family-run properties transition from at-the-ready room service to virtual concierge services. Not only is AI making an appearance in hotel rooms around the world, but guests can now seamlessly connect their own devices to a room’s network and create a personalised almost-at-home experience.

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The latest technology isn’t limited to the hotel room, either. Just as these relics from the hotels of yesterday were replaced by more guest-friendly alternatives, the way you sell rooms is overdue for an upgrade. 

We hope to see the legacy infrastructure used by major booking platforms go the way of the vibrating bed. Open Distribution is the future of room selling and with Impala, you can experience its benefits firsthand. Connect to our open API within 48h and discover how easy it is to partner with room sellers who reach your ideal guests. 

To travel is to change, and it’s about time we changed how hotels fill their rooms. 

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