A woman in a navy suit and light blue button-up folding her arms and smiling while standing in front of a hotel reception area with decorations in a bookcase

A History of Hotel Phone Systems

Landlines are a dying breed. Consider that in 2004, more than 90 percent of American adults lived in a household with a landline, but that number has plummeted to less than 40 percent today. Most businesses should be following suit, but the hotel industry has often stubbornly clung to outdated technology, and landlines are no exception.

With any change comes uncertainty, but hotels are also a service business, which means they need to evolve and adapt to accommodate the needs and desires of their guests. With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at the past, present, and future of the hotel telephone landscape.

Early Hotel Phone Systems

It may be hard for this generation to believe, but there was a time when telephones were only available to the elite. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, only the most upscale luxury hotels offered telephones to their guests, and it was typically a single wall phone in the lobby. A desk phone might also have been available to staff, with all calls being directed through an outside operator.

In the 1930s, major changes came to phone systems. It wasn’t until this time that both the mouth and earpiece of the telephone were located on the same receiver unit, and the rotary dial made it possible for people to dial another telephone number directly. Although still considered to be a luxury, this became a turning point for phones within the hospitality industry. As guests could now connect directly to other guest rooms, the front desk, and outside lines, the demand for in-room phone extensions was growing. Over the following decades, the popularity of both residential and commercial telephone systems exploded, enabling hotels to take advantage of the service for accepting advance reservations.

In the 1960s, touch-tone telephones changed the game again. Dialing speed was greatly improved and, more importantly, touch-tone telephones made automated phone menus a possibility. Hotels were able to implement caller ID, multiple phone lines, call waiting, call transfers, and other improved features. Even so, most hotels still relied on traditional PBX systems. Sound quality and connectivity remained essentially unchanged for the next several decades.

The Present and Future of Hotel Phone Systems

When the Internet started to become commonplace in the mid-1990s, most traditional phone companies believed that voice would never travel via the internet due to bandwidth constraints. At the time, they were right, but the idea was never written off entirely, and in 1995 the first “internet phone” was born. The technology was crude at first but rapidly improved, and VoIP was introduced to the world at large in 2003 with the advent of Skype.

Businesses quickly realized how Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony could positively impact sound quality, phone features, and user experience while reducing costs. It was clear that VoIP could especially benefit the hotel industry, providing advanced solutions for both hotel staff and guests. 

VoIP hotel phone systems, such as Voiceware by Phonesuite, provide limitless opportunities for users. It’s easier than ever before for hotel staff to track down guests or other staff by name, and transfer a call with a single click. When guests call the front desk, attendants are instantaneously provided with the guest’s name, room number, native language, VIP status, etc. Automation software can also ensure that a call will never be missed. 

Plus, guests benefit from VoIP systems as they are able to make use of messaging services, and customize wakeup calls to include the weather forecast, snooze options, and more. And answer detection will prevent guests from being billed for calls that were unanswered, or where a busy signal was reached. Everybody wins.

The Rise of Cloud Infrastructure

Cloud-based services and software-as-a-service companies have become much more common in the last few years, and phone software is no exception. As consumer expectations have grown and technology has become more sophisticated, hotel phones can’t just place and receive phone calls anymore — they now integrate with dozens of other tools and incorporate new features to improve guest experiences.

With more sophisticated technology comes the need for additional expertise and management, which is why cloud-based management services have been such a boon to hoteliers. Now, hotel owners and managers can take advantage of the full suite of features offered by modern phone systems for a much more reasonable and consistent monthly operating expenditure, rather than taking on the often-exorbitant capital expenditures to build a server, purchase their own hardware, and hire IT staff or outside contractors to run it.

Moving forward, we expect to see more and more hoteliers take advantage of the flexibility and versatility of cloud computing to enhance their hotels, improve their guest experience, and make their staff more efficient.

Talk to Phonesuite Today

We know that upgrading can be scary, but when it comes to bringing your phone system into the 21st century (and beyond), a VoIP system is about as painless as it gets. If you’re curious about the cost, the installation progress, and what a new phone system can do for your hotel, get in touch with Phonesuite today! We’ll explain the product, the process, and how you can get started on an upgrade.