Why it’s important to integrate computer tablets into your hotel operation

You know a lot about them. You might even have one. They’re popular for business and leisure and satisfy the trendy factor consumers seek, but are they right for your property? When it comes to tablets the answer is yes. The real question for most hoteliers is whether or not this new technology is feasible.

First-hand experience with the iPad has made me a believer. Initially just a novelty during our courtship, the tablet is now my main point of access for email, web surfing and reading. It handles the functions flawlessly and has happily moved one more reader away from paperbound books.

Travelling regularly for short business and leisure trips, the iPad is a good compromise between the 17-inch laptop computer and three-inch smartphone display. And the tablet’s screen, much larger than a mobile phone, makes swapping the lighter tablet for a dead-weight powerbook second nature. I take it everywhere. For example, during my travels, something fascinating happened. Sitting in a restaurant for lunch, the waiter approached me with a shiny iPad that displayed the menu beautifully. While selecting an entrée and a favourite dessert, my new friend suggested downloading the restaurant’s menu to my device for future reference. Impressive. The place had a tech-savvy sensibility about it and left a positive impression.

Used as a replacement for what’s traditionally been printed — menus, table-top displays and special-offer coupons — the tablet has incredible versatility that outweighs the associated startup costs. The most prevalent application for the lodging and hospitality industry is the aforementioned food and beverage integration. It’s a fun way to liven up an atmosphere and heighten menu presentation.

Tablets can personalize any restaurant menu and allow it to be updated with specials. Imagine the possibilities — a smart operator could install features that provide recommendations based on past order history or offer wine pairings that tempt the palate. Picture several tablets propped up at the lobby bar where customers effortlessly flip through the list of elixirs while they sip their first beverage.

Another area of the hotel that lends itself to the newfangled Etch-a-Sketch is the guestrooms.

In-room tablets could become the universal solution for TV channel hopping, while doubling as alarm clocks and room-service hubs. It sounds crazy, but with new apps for the iPad and Android-based tablets arriving daily, and more programmers fluent in both languages emerging almost as quickly, it’s not hard to envision these ideas in the near future.

However bold as this might seem, installing several tablets in the rooms, lobby and hotel lounges is even bolder. The cost of buying a tablet for every room is significant, but the technology is getting cheaper and sturdier tablets are now on the market for under $400. The more elusive cost is the price of a custom app. It’s best to look into a standardized app that leaves space for additional functionality once you’ve received feedback. Given the novelty, guests will likely respond to a short questionnaire. For staff applications, managers should be involved from the onset to ensure proper implementation with extensive feedback monitoring.

The third major area in which to incorporate tablets is housekeeping, maintenance and other back-end operations.  These departments can benefit from the device’s mobility. Using the tablet as a clipboard makes sense. Housekeepers can jot down notes on room deficiencies; even reporting vandalism and documenting theft can be easy on a tablet.

With the Internet so accessible, tablets are handy communication devices, able to relay urgent messages or other critical guest-service needs. For instance, in the engineering department, maintenance workers can be alerted to problems onsite and provide quick status updates, ensuring operations run smoothly. Of course, a healthy dose of training would be required; have faith, in no time you’ll master straightforward touch-and-go applications.

Arming your staff with tablets is only half the solution; the beautiful, sleek devices will also need connectivity. Think about widening the Wi-Fi coverage for your property to include rooms, restaurants and back-end areas. That may be an obvious solution where you require your staff to use tablets on-the-go, but there’s added benefit for your guests, too. Many hotel brands don’t use an ethernet port, so Wi-Fi accessibility is a must. And, to be deemed a true ‘tablet-friendly’ zone, Internet connection should be provided at no cost.

The fourth major use for tablets is for the planning committee. Instead of relying on sheets of paper for the weekly briefings, a robust file reader can cut the mounds of reports that stack up, affording managers a quick access point to check in — whether at a remote location or offsite.

With feasible uses for front-end staff, housekeeping, maintenance workers and managers, integrating tablets is the first step to staying on top of technology trends. Last year tablets went mainstream; 2012 is expected to echo the trend with increased customer sales forecast worldwide. Make this the year you stay in touch with guests by outfitting your property with tablets.

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