Empowering the Modern Hotel Experience
By Michal Christine Escobar – 04/05/2019
While technology is helping hotels to interact with guests on a more personal level than ever before, the ubiquity of digital interactions in guests’ lives has also raised guest expectations. Today’s travelers demand immediate and customized service, regardless of time of day or phase of the travel journey. Seamless interactions with both humans and connected “things” will be vital to ensure guests are happy and remain loyal customers. In this Special Report, HT dives into what trends and technologies are key factors in next-gen customer experience satisfaction and will call out research to show where areas of opportunity still remain for hotels to gain competitive edge.
On-Demand & Digital First
The hotel experience begins, not when a guest steps on property, but the moment she takes a step towards booking. This could be through an online travel agent (OTA) or a hotel’s mobile app or website. Red Roof (www.redroof.com) knows all too well how important it is to make an excellent first impression — especially on brand.com sites and apps.
“Our website is our ‘digital hotel.’ The first point of contact with 60% of our guests is digital,” explains Krysten Phillips, digital marketing manager for Red Roof. “Our website is a portal to the brand experience.”
For many hoteliers, including Red Roof, offering websites that load quickly — especially on mobile devices — and that allow consumers to book a reservation in as few clicks/taps as possible is incredibly important to a positive guest experience. It can even inspire brand loyalty. Red Roof also updated its website to incorporate a “book along a route” feature where guests can enter a destination and see a list of properties appear that are conveniently located along their planned travel route.
The collaborative and on-demand culture is yielding a generation that is accustomed to services available relatively instantaneously. In the age of Uber, not knowing where the hotel shuttle is or when it will get there has an immediate negative impact on the total guest experience. Some hotels have begun to experiment with technologies to improve this process. IHG (www.ihg.com) partnered with Glympse (https://glympse.com) on a courtesy shuttle pilot with a Shuttle Tracker that allowed guests to track the real-time location, shuttle speed, route and ETA via a live, interactive map view. During the pilot, IHG saw a significant reduction in calls from guests to the front desk, increased guest satisfaction and loyalty, and an overall improvement to the guest experience.
ADDRESSING GAPS IN GUEST EXPERIENCE: Room Selection
According to Hospitality Technology’s 2018 Customer Engagement Technology Study, more than half of guests (56%) want the ability to select their rooms from a floor map — similar to selecting your seat on an airplane. This is an area of opportunity for many hotels as the study also reports that only 17% of hotels offer this capability. Giving guests the ability to customize experiences to their preferences is rapidly becoming table stakes as consumers are given similar control across other industries. Filter Digital (https://filter-digital.com) allows guests of hotels using its Room Chooser (https://hotelroomchooser.com) technology to access interactive floorplans, photos of that specific room, 360-degree room views, and more.
Platform of Things: IoT Empowers Modern Guestrooms
“Travelers increasingly expect an experience as good as — and ideally better than — that which they are accustomed to at home,” says Jonathan Nouri, vice president, Hilton Honors program strategy and management. “With society’s list of high-tech demands growing at a rapid pace, hospitality companies must work quickly to deliver the sense of control, connectivity and personalization guests want.”
In particular, guests want to be able to personalize and control every aspect of their stay from one central point: their mobile device, Nouri explains. This is why Hilton (www3.hilton.com) allows its Hilton Honors loyalty app users to control various pieces of technology throughout their new Connected Rooms.
A personalized guest experience is not just the domain of large hotel chains. The Clarendon Hotel and Spa (www.goclarendon.com), a smaller, independent chain, uses CIRQ+ (https://cirqplus.com) to detect when rooms are empty or occupied, says Charles Morman, chief technology officer, director of operations, & human resources coordinator. When occupied, the thermostat maintains the guest’s preferred temperature. When empty, it decreases energy consumption until the guest returns. CIRQ+ can also integrate with other in-room smart appliances such as televisions, lights and Bluetooth speakers as well as electronic locks. Guests can control these devices via a mobile app.
ADDRESSING GAPS IN GUEST EXPERIENCE: Voice Control
Two out of seven guests (29%) want the ability to use voice controls to request services, according to data from the 2018 Customer Engagement Technology Study, yet only 11% of hotels offer the technology to do so. As more consumers have voice command capabilities in their residences, the technology will become less of an amenity and more of an expectation. Dream Hotel Group (www.dreamhotelgroup.com) has partnered with Volara (https://volara.io) and Google to allow guests to request hotel amenities at the front desk or concierge desk in their native language via Google Assistant Interpreter mode. Staff, upon seeing the request, will be able to use voice commands to fulfill the request.
“We are currently working with Volara to expand to even more voice commands so that the guest can request things in their native language, and the system will interpret, translate and fulfill the request in real time,” says Christian Cooper, vice president of IT, Dream Hotel Group. “Not only is this improving the guest experience, but it has a positive effect on how travelers view the brand and property. We believe it will positively impact our review scores and increase loyalty.”
“The app also allows the guest to access services outside of their room, including ordering room service or contacting staff via SMS messaging about potential issues — allowing instant resolution before the experience translates into a bad review,” Morman notes.
Indeed, ensuring hotel guests have access to technology that makes self-service tasks easier has become the definition of high-touch hospitality. Antoine Naoum, general manager at the Le Mount Stephen Hotel (www.lemountstephen.com), partnered with Crestron (www.crestron.com) so that rooms automatically open the shades and turn on the lights when a guest enters. By simplifying the in-room experience and empowering guests to have as much control as possible, Naoum is seeing increased guest satisfaction and return visitors.
While integrating with these technologies via in-room tablet or smartphone app is already becoming commonplace, it seems likely that voice-based technology will soon become the new standard in guestrooms, allowing individuals to request hotel information, late checkouts, room service or other amenities. Viceroy Los Cabos, a property of Viceroy Hotels and Resorts (www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com), already has this technology in place via its partnership with Volara (https://volara.io).
“We have basically added a personal assistant for hotel services and information into every guest room,” says Darren Clark, vice president, global technology.
This idea of incorporating a personal assistant into guestrooms is not unique to Viceroy Hotels.
“Each guest of The Dalmar (www.thedalmar.com) will essentially receive a personal butler through our in-room Alexa,” says Jake Wurzak, president of the Wurzak Hotel Group (www.wurzakhotels.com). “This virtual concierge allows guests to set the room to their preference, whether that be temperature, bed set-up, or room service requests. They can also discover nearby attractions and interact quickly with housekeeping, valet and maintenance. We are living in a world, especially in the hotel and travel industry, of instant technology gratification and we feel that our in-room offerings will be a natural fit and exceed expectations for our guests.”
With a smartphone in every pocket, guests are used to having information at their fingertips, and this often translates into having the same real-time expectations from their human concierges.
“Guests need immediacy,” says John Paul (www.johnpaul.com) CEO Olivier Larigaldie. “In the past, we could call a guest back with a solution three hours after getting the request. Now, guests expect a solution as soon as they have finished explaining it. That is why AI is so important. It enables our concierge to find solutions faster.”
Owned by Accor since 2016, John Paul is a global team of 700 elite concierges that work in industries ranging from hospitality to banking to luxury fashion brands. John Paul aims to fulfill any request quickly and in a personalized fashion. To do so, the company employs a variety of digital solutions so that it can know the guest at a personal level. For instance, it invented a CRM that uses AI to help each concierge know their clients extremely well.
John Paul ensures its concierges are available to customers via any channel: email, text, mobile app, phone call or in-person. The concierge must be able to switch channels seamlessly to better serve the customer. For instance, if a request is complicated a phone call rather than a text could be more efficient.
“This marriage of human know-how with technology is our only way to be efficient and better than the competition,” Larigaldie notes.
Eduardo Rosello, chief concierge at the Intercontinental Miami (www.icmiamihotel.com), uses Nuvola to help complete guest requests and says the best feature of the system is how fast it operates. Nuvola helps staff members manage guest itineraries, reservations, room amenities, and other daily tasks. The software integrates with Google, Yelp and OpenTable and is accessible both via mobile and desktop devices.
“It allows you to complete tasks in a fraction of the normal time,” Rosello notes. “Our guests compliment us on how quickly we can satisfy their requests.”
In the near future, some hotels may even adopt technology similar to Koncept Hotels. It deployed hospitality cloud solution Infor HMS (www.infor.com) at its Koncept Hotel zum kostbaren Blut in downtown Cologne.
For managing director, Martin Stockburger, it was vital to have the right digital partner to support the company in driving its expansion. With Infor’s solution, there is no reception desk staffed 24/7. Instead guests interact with Infor’s digital interface via smart devices to make reservations, check-in and out, get recommendations or help with special requests.
“The customer experience has proven outstanding,” said Stockburger in a press release statement.
ADDRESSING GAPS IN GUEST EXPERIENCE: Mobile Key
After a long and sometimes exhausting travel day, many travelers dread having to stand in line at a hotel for their plastic room keycard. According to HT’s 2018 Customer Engagement Technology Study, 41% of guests fall into this category, wanting to have the mobile key option. Knowing this, companies such as Hyatt (www.hyatt.com) have partnered with mobile key providers, such as ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions (www.assaabloy.com), to offer guests the convenience of digital keys via the hotel’s branded app. The brand is still in the minority, with only 35% of hotels offering mobile key.
“Right now, digital keys aren’t for everyone,” says Rohan Jani, director of IT, Hyatt Hotels Corp. “A great usage rate currently would be 30 to 40%. But in two to three years, we think the usage rate will reach more than 50%.”
To enhance the guest experience, a mobile key must work perfectly every single time.It also must be secure. If either of these aspects is missing, the guest experience will sour immediately. To ensure guest security, Hyatt built in banking level security or 2-Factor Authentication, Jani explained. Then it went a step further and tied each guest’s phone ID to their loyalty profile. What does that mean? If someone were able to get ahold of a guest’s username and password, they still could not access the guest’s hotel room because the phone IDs would not match.