Time is ticking for hotel alarm clocks

Few guests know how to operate the amenity, which often rings at the wrong time and seems to be going the way of the dinosaur

NEW YORK • If hotel alarm clocks do not ring your bell, you are not alone. These digital clock radios frequently evoke feelings of confusion, frustration and even rage.

Just check into any hotel and try to do anything with the timepiece next to your bed, like set it. Or try to turn the radio off that housekeeping left on. What does this button do?

Then again, you could just wait until 3am when the alarm, set by a previous guest who managed to figure out how to set it, starts buzzing.

Good luck trying to get back to sleep after that.

"The alarm clock is one in-room amenity that should go the way of the dinosaur," said Mr Michael Nixon, president of Innisfree Hotels, a hotel management company in Florida.

But while some forward-looking hotels are removing alarm clocks from their rooms, waking up to the fact that most of their guests now use smartphones, others are doubling down on their alarm clocks.

A majority of hotels appear to be reusing their old clock radios, even when they refurbish their rooms.

On a recent girlfriend getaway, Ms Patricia Wilson was in charge of setting the alarm so her group would not be late for a morning activity.

She set the clock for a 6am wake-up, but did not confirm that the clock was set to the correct time. It was not.

"We were all showered, dressed and ready for breakfast - at 4am," recalled Ms Wilson, who runs a marketing firm in San Francisco.

Mr Bryan Williams, who publishes a lifestyle website in San Diego, once stayed in a hotel room where the lowest display setting on the alarm clock was still so bright "I felt like I was sleeping on the landing strip at an airport", he said. "I eventually unplugged the clock."

He was lucky. You cannot always unplug an alarm clock.

Hotels often make the plugs inaccessible or they are battery-operated and cannot be shut down.

The clocks are also frequently tethered to the nightstand to prevent them from being stolen.

If you cannot unplug the alarm, cover it with a towel to get some sleep, said Mr Dan Boland, a pilot.

Hotels do not want anyone removing their alarm clocks and that apparently includes employees.

Children's book author Jason Henderson recalled checking into a hotel in Las Vegas with a non-working clock.

"They said they'd send another one. They brought up a second enormous alarm clock and set that one on top of the old one. For some reason, it was against their policy to take the broken one away."

Some hotels are accepting that alarm clocks are relics.

Disney World last year removed alarm clocks from its hotel rooms and replaced them with a less finicky amenity - power strips. Alarm clocks are still available on request.

Other hotels are trying to create a better alarm clock. At several brands owned by Wyndham, including Wyndham Grand, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, and Wyndham Garden, old alarm clocks have been replaced by the Kube Audio Clock, a more simply designed gadget that doubles as a charging station.

iHome, the largest provider of hotel alarm clocks, is focused on adding USB and wireless charging options for newer phones as well as alarm clocks with three-sided LED displays and space-saving charging models.

Removing alarm clocks is not always practical, said hoteliers. Guests need to know what time it is and sometimes travel without technology, especially when on vacation.

But there is a sense that the old alarm clocks were difficult to operate and annoying and, with the need to upgrade the ageing timepieces anyway, they have taken guest feedback to heart.

The strategies for dealing with a rogue alarm clock are simple.

When you check in, to avoid surprises, unplug it immediately. Many frequent hotel guests do this automatically.

Rather than trying to figure out how - or whether - it works, use your smartphone for the wake-up call. And keep in mind that a hotel employee can usually, but not always, remove the alarm clock or find a timepiece that works for you.

In the long run, hotel alarm clocks are headed for extinction, along with in-room phones. They will be replaced by charging stations or nothing at all. But it will take time.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 05, 2017, with the headline 'Time is ticking for hotel alarm clocks'. Subscribe