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COVID 19- A Black Swan Event

A black swan event. We have read about them, even maybe experienced them, but this virus delivers a whole new meaning to the term. At this early stage, we wonder how long this will take, how long our lives could be disrupted. But those are thoughts for those of us who are healthy or have a good chance of surviving the disease. For those that are ill or on the front lines- doctors, nurses, technicians- those thoughts are rightfully not a priority.

For an entrepreneur, a black swan is a disruption in business. Maybe a good disruption or maybe not. Time will tell. For us, the fear is the delay and the stoppage. Entrepreneurs are like sharks in that if we do not move we die. It’s a simple rule. Sometimes we move slower for a variety of reasons- capital, maybe finishing up some complicated code, or maybe even finishing up legal protection of IP- but move we do. COVID-19 has ceased all activity for the time being- a stoppage never seen before in recorded history. As such, this event is likely a death knell for many start ups, even larger companies.

For us, we naturally focus on the hospitality industry. I do not think the industry has seen such a devastating event in its modern history. Regardless, it emphasizes a point we have been making for a few years. Not only are the guest room telephones in the hotel room inefficient, expensive and wasteful, they are also notoriously difficult to keep sterilized. Hospitals don’t even try, they throw the phones out with every new patient! That should tell you something.

We would hazard to guess that the two items in a hotel room seen by the guest to be “dirty” or “unsanitary” are the TV remote and the guest room telephone. According to a recent New England Journal of Medicine study:

”The studies found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was detectable in the air for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2 to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel.”

Think about that “2 to 3 days on plastic”. How do you clean the telephones every day to ensure sterilization? How do you even verify that the work has been done? The US hospitality industry has about 5 million rooms, probably right around 7.5 million guest room telephones overall. Between insuring you have the cleaning material on the cart and then actually cleaning the set and doing a good job you could be talking 2-3 minutes per set. At least 15 million minutes of labor at full occupancy, 7.5 million minutes at 50% occupancy. What is that something like 125,000 hours per day? What’s that cost? If the set is not properly cleaned, what is the legal liability?

While it’s hard to predict, our feeling is that items like the guest room telephone may be at an end. Guest room phones are too time consuming to clean, too difficult to ensure that they are clean, and worse, the perception that the item itself, rightly or wrongly, is unsanitary coupled with the antiquated use of outdated technology may well be their demise.

While the end of the traditional guestroom telephone is not a surprise, the timing of it may be and it is bittersweet for us. Personally, we made our living selling, supporting, and innovating guest room telephony for many decades. There are new and better solutions from a technical perspective and many of these, including F3TCH, virtually eliminate the threat of COVID-19 or a new future threat because they completely replace and eliminate the item itself, giving the guest full control by enabling the guest’s own device to be the portal to the hotel’s communications ecosystem.

The guest room telephone is in nearly every hotel room worldwide. That’s approximately 20 million rooms and about 30 million telephones. That means that the innocuous guest room telephone comes into contact with nearly 3 billion travelers per year.

Based on those numbers alone, it seems to me that removing guest room telephones is now, not only technically viable, but desirable for the general public good. It’s a concrete, common sense and easy step for hotels to make. It also sends a clear message to the guest- “we are taking your safety seriously by eliminating equipment that poses a credible risk to you and your family and replacing them with modern day solutions.”

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