It was her first stay at the W Montreal, but it likely won’t be her last. “I’m allergic to feathers,” the guest told front-desk staff at the hip downtown hotel. “Would you be able to bring up a synthetic pillow?” The hotel team granted her request while adding personal preference data to her file in the main system. Next time she visits, her bed will be decked out with foam pillows.
“The best technology in the hotel industry sees to it that all the transactional and more robotic work is done as efficiently as possible,” says Jean-François Pouliot, W’s GM. “It all comes down to freeing up our associates’ time to improve the guest experience.”
Ultimately, that’s the chief aim of the technology that hums inside today’s guestrooms. And there’s no shortage of it, which means operators have to keep monitoring technological innovations. “Apple and Google and everybody else who keep creating devices for the traveller to use will continue to put demands on hotels that will need to be able to support them,” says Gregg Hopkins, VP of Marketing at Newmarket, an Amadeus Company, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based hospitality solutions provider.
Preparing for the Guest
The trick to generating continued business is to tap into guest preferences. “It’s all about knowing your customer,” says Hopkins. “Knowing what temperature they like their room at, what time they like to be awoken, whether they’ve had issues with a room in the past.” Operators are capturing personal information from guests’ direct interactions with them and from the impressions they’ve left on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Such insider information leads to personalized TV welcome messages, automatic blinds that rise at daybreak to accommodate an expressed preference for early starts and welcome gifts of M&Ms for a guest who’s shared her love for the candy on social media. “You’ve got a whole new type of VIP in the industry now because of social media, so make sure you give every guest a good experience, because he might tweet about you as soon as he arrives,” Hopkins says.
The Guest Experience
Of course, technology isn’t just used to create better predictive customer service. These days, consumers expect to enjoy all the luxuries of home during their hotel getaways, and that means having technology at their fingertips.
To start: hoteliers must go beyond ensuring their properties can support the wide array of modern gadgets with reliable bandwidth. As a basic minimum, guests expect consistent Internet access — and they expect it free of charge. Given that the pay-per-use revenue Wi-Fi once generated has evaporated, says Pouliot, hoteliers “need to find another way to monetize it.” At the W, that means tying free Wi-Fi into the brand’s loyalty program with an offer of free standard in-room Internet access to all Starwood Preferred Guest members who book through Starwood’s digital channels, including the SPG app.
Understanding how to grow that business requires an understanding of the proliferation of the mobile phone. “The smartphone is the tool,” says Pouliot. At the W, more than half of last year’s website transactions were conducted using mobile phones, but the devices are being used for more than that. Now a hotel can send a message to alert guests that their rooms are ready or message the valet to collect their cars or, through iBeacon technology, push an offer to visit an on-site facility when the customer strolls past the property. Earlier this year, W became the first Starwood brand to offer keyless-entry. Guests “are thrilled to be part of the next-gen way of hoteling and are eager to use the technology,” says Pouliot of the early public response to the novelty.
“With today’s rapidly evolving technology and people’s mobile lifestyles, we know the desire for integrating mobile technology into their stay is there,” he says. “Our tech-savvy guests manage most aspects of their life and travel from their smartphone. Travel is inherently mobile, and we see wearable technology such as Apple Watch as the next frontier. Starwood’s mobile team is dedicated to developing on the latest and greatest platforms that our guests are using in their everyday lives and making the SPG app available in these new platforms.”
Meanwhile, in-room tablets have made the Fairmont Pacific Rim — already celebrated for such special features as bathroom mirrors in all the guestrooms outfitted with embedded TVs featuring surround sound — a technological standout, and the property is continuing to add more options. In July 2012, the downtown Vancouver hotel introduced iPad 2s to each of its 377 guestrooms. The tablets are loaded with Interactive Customer Experience Technology by Orlando, Fla.-based Intelity, which allows guests to make concierge requests, book spa treatments, set wake-up calls, summon their cars from the valet, order in-room dining, control their lighting and drapery, and check out. Most recently, the hotel introduced the PressReader app to the iPads. PressReader provides access to more than 3,000 newspapers and magazines worldwide, replacing its longstanding daily newspaper delivery service with an enhanced electronic alternative that expands the news-reading options for its far-flung visitors.
Other hotels are capitalizing on a recent movement embracing Smart TVs. These sophisticated devices let properties brand the in-room entertainment with background images and customized content. Operators can modify what their guests see on their screens by way of a web portal that delivers them inside these techno marvels. And because Smart TVs often come with popular applications such as Skype, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter built in, guests get that digitally connected bonus from the room’s longstanding source of technological entertainment, too.
A hotel’s inclusion of such equipment to manage and exploit today’s technology is important, no doubt, but the bottom line should never be impacted. “It’s about leveraging technology to help meet guest expectations. That’s really where hotels need to be focused,” says W’s Pouliot.
Written By: Laura Pratt
Volume 27, Number 5