Web-enabled mobile gadgets are becoming the new stars at hotels across the country.
It’s no secret most road warriors and leisure travellers visit hotels armed with web-enabled mobile gadgets; so it makes sense that leading hoteliers are capitalizing on this golden opportunity, offering new services on the fly that outshine the competition.
Big players such as Trump, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Fairmont are ramping up mobile strategies to entice travellers with the speed and convenience of their mobile services. But, rather than listing operator innovations, let’s journey with Wanda Wanderlust, a virtual traveller, to uncover the mobile experience big hotel chains are leveraging.
CALLING ALL SMARTPHONES
The adventure begins at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport where Wanda has landed and is en route to her hotel. She has arrived early and is worrying her suite may not be ready, when her smartphone buzzes with a notification that her room is in fact available.
This special service comes courtesy of Fairmont. “We have an automated system that will send that notification to a guest’s phone,” says Vineet Gupta, Fairmont’s SVP of Technology in Toronto. “We can have everything ready for them when they check in — it’s fairly interactive, too.”
Interaction is just what Wanda needs. Although she’s glad her room is ready, she’s not sure the taxi driver is taking the fastest route to the hotel. Fortunately, Fairmont’s app offers access to a scrub-bed-down version of the hotel website for easy viewing on her phone, including directions, which confirm the best route.
Now that she’s put the driver on the right path, the business tycoon has time to kill, so she navigates further through the Fairmont app and accesses the “10Best” destination guide service, which directs her to restaurants, activities and shopping.
“10Best is an external service we subscribe to,” says Gupta. “It has its own methodology, and it is agnostic to the hotel.” The fact the service doesn’t exclusively promote Fairmont’s businesses reassures travellers they’re really getting the best deal, he adds.
The service is handy, as Wanda needs to quickly find a restaurant to take a fussy vegetarian client. She scans the reviews for a place with the right mix of culinary appeal and ambiance and makes an online reservation on the spot.
The next day — after checking out and confirming her account via her smartphone — she hops on another plane and heads to an emergency meeting in Halifax, where she plans to stay at an IHG property. The nature of her business means her schedule has to adapt to fluctuating client needs, and, as a result, she arrives in Halifax without a reservation. Fortunately, by using IHG’s smartphone application, she can redeem her reward points while also using her corporate ID to secure the best rate.
Wanda isn’t alone. “Our mobile bookings tend to skew to the business side, with people stranded at airports or looking for hotels at the last minute,” says Michael Menis, VP of Web and Interactive Marketing at IHG.
IHG targets business people like Wanda, because their schedules are more dynamic. IHG has found 65 per cent of guests who book through a mobile device stay at IHG hotels the same night or within one day. For all customers, including nonbusiness travellers — who IHG plans to target next — location and navigation abilities are crucial, as is device compatibility.
“In fact, the biggest challenge to us has been the proliferation of devices,” says Bill Keen, director of Mobile Solutions Web and Interactive Marketing at IHG in Atlanta. A mobile application developed for one device or operating system won’t display properly on another, so hotels have to redevelop their apps to cover off the major ones their guest are likely to have. “That’s why we have focused on the four major platforms: Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Windows,” adds Keen.
BEHIND THE SCENES
For years hotels have embraced property management systems (PMS), often integrated with point of sale (POS). But, now many are trying to enable PMS for mobile devices, so the software’s power can be extended to better serve guests.
“We decided, with the launch of our properties in Panama and Toronto, to look at a new platform for PMS,” says Mike Straube, corporate director of Finance at the N.Y.based Trump Hotel Collection. “We started in January of this year and have been converting to Micros, which has a new mobile offering called Opera2Go.”
Trump’s mobile functionality is a function of its new PMS system, says Straube. Integrated mobile applications are currently being beta-tested at New York’s Trump SoHo and Trump Chicago and will be incorporated in the new Trump tower being built in Toronto.
Such applications are perfect for Wanda who needs speedy hotel services, as she’s hopped on another flight from Halifax to New York for yet another important client meeting. Fortunately, she’ll be staying at the Trump SoHo, which offers an array of integrated mobile services to staff and customers.
Wanda’s experience will be simplified at the hotel’s front door. “The bellman will be able to access the software from a handheld device,” says Straube. “The guest won’t require kiosk or frontdesk self checkin. We can theoretically do it all at the front door — from gathering credentials, to swiping cards and collecting the information we need to market to clients and guests.”
When our frequent flyer arrives, she’s greeted at the door before going directly to her room. That’s good news, because she’s tired. In fact, her original room was not ready — the previous guests had requested late checkout — so she was upgraded on the spot.
For guests like Wanda, the whole process is streamlined. “This service combines the bellman, doorman, front office and housekeeping,” says Straube. “We can access and add to profile information in realtime on the PMS and do it from mobile devices.”
So, if a guest likes red wine, or wants to go for a swim, a hotel employee can use a mobile device to leverage the PMS, potentially advising on the wine list options for room service or offering information on spa hours and pricing.
“We think of it in terms of ‘intuitive service,’” says Straube. “It means we know something about our guests and can anticipate their needs. The implications for this technology are endless — it can completely revolutionize hotel service.”
The following night Wanda begins the last leg of her journey. She catches a flight to Chicago, which will then connect to Winnipeg. Unfortunately, her flight is cancelled and she is forced to overnight. Luckily, Trump, IHG and Fairmont have Chicago properties. She calmly flips out her smartphone, amidst the chaos of O’Hare airport, searching for the closest property to satisfy her needs — one with a favourable rewards program and a wine bar that closes late. Jackpot. She books on the spot and settles into the cab to play Angry Birds.
During the past year major hotel chains rolled out mobile applications for a range of devices that are going to define the mobile guest experience of tomorrow. “In the future, if you come in as a guest and book off a mobile device, we will know you well enough to give you the experience you want,” says Vineet Gupta, Fairmont’s SVP of Technology in Toronto. “We’ll know if, like me, you want to watch the cricket game.”
That customer knowledge can reside within a pre-existing property-management system (PMS) and interact freely with mobile devices. Full enablement would transform hotel efficiency and the guest experience.
“Our challenges when looking at the future can be put into a hypothetical question: could you feasibly manage your complete experience through your phone?,” asks Bill Keen, director, Mobile Solutions Web and Interactive Marketing at IHG in Atlanta.
Keen envisions a future where research, booking, checkin, room number check, creditcard validation, room service and many other services are handled on a mobile device. “Imagine ordering a shuttle service and having the shuttle know where you are — thanks to location-based services,” says the director who believes putting mobile devices at the centre of the guest experience will be as big as the move to the web.
A big part of that will involve the continued integration of location-based services. “Our user interfaces have been redesigned to better address locationbased targeting,” says Michael Menis, VP of Web and Interactive Marketing at IHG. “At the end of the day, the majority of mobile consumers are looking for a hotel within a radius of where they are standing.”
And, with that knowledge, a hotel can push notifications and alerts — including food and beverage offers — that directly connect to your location.
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