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There are many great technology options available to use within your property, and the expectation for your guest engagement is at an all-time high. Technology has even been one of the top stories at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, including the engagement experienced by those in attendance. How to you decide, then, what technology works for your property and your budget? Consider these points when you are bringing on new technology to help your decision process. Focusing on mobile engagement: Your property may vary in size, yet your guests will be moving around within it. This is where a mobile environment comes in. Don’t keep your guests from experiencing your property and your technology via a familiar device. This includes your website and guest services engagement. Whenever you bring in a new technology, see how it works in a mobile environment. Creating an amazing guest experience: The true litmus test for whether you should add new technology should always be if it adds to the guest experience. Does the new technology help them provide feedback, take control of their stay, or quickly and easily order services? Is the technology easy to use and work as the guest would expect? Your guest will be happy to give you feedback, so be sure to test the technology and ask how the experience was for them. Capturing data to continue to optimize: One of the main reasons to have technology as part of the guest experience is to be able to capture data that can be used to tweak and optimize the experience. This takes out guessing and puts unbiased data in the driver’s seat. Even a few data points can help move your technology strategy along for better engagement. As a final note, many technology companies provide training as part of an installation package. If you want to get the most out of the technology, be sure to leverage the training so you understand and use all the features available. Technology can be a powerful tool for guest engagement, and can make your property stand out.
We are learning from psychology that if we want to retain customers, then merely good or even excellent service is not enough. Because of the ways in which the brain remembers we must create 'moments of difference' which differentiate the customers' experience.The psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains that the brain tends to remember specific moments rather than the total experience. Kahneman discusses the relationship between the 'experiencing self' and the 'remembering self' and these concepts have a direct impact on the ways in which we offer customer service and how we retain customers.He explains that we do not remember the totality of any interactive experience, whether that be a 5 minute phone call or a one week holiday, we only remember moments from that experience. And, the remembering self mostly recalls the different, unusual, unexpected and exceptional rather than the mundane and ordinary.For instance, if we stay in a hotel and the reception is good, the room is clean and the food is fine; there is nothing different, nothing in particular for the guest to remember. So, the remembering self recalls the experience as ordinary. For this reason, if we want our customer service to be regarded as exceptional, then staff need to create 'moments of difference'.Moments & Memories Customers turn 'moments' into 'memories' from which they create their remembered 'stories' which they pass on to others and retain in the remembered self. The more of these 'moments' we can create for customers, the stronger the memories, the more vivid the stories and the more likely they are to return.For instance, when asked about a recent visit to a resort hotel, a guest replied 'yes, one day a member of staff told us there were both seals and dolphins in the nearby bay, it was something we shall never forget'.So, instead of remembering the whole one week experience of their stay, they remembered a few specific moments, which they turned into stories for their remembered self and it is these stories which they use for their future buying decisions and which they relate to others.Unsurprisingly, remembered stories tend to be those when emotions are raised. Of course, these can be either good or bad. The secret of exceptional customer service is to allow staff the freedom to create these moment of difference. When staff are unduly restricted by policies and procedures it becomes more difficult to create the moments of difference which will be collected in the remembered self.'Moments' can occur throughout the service experience, but the crucial times are first impressions, staff interactions and endings.First Impressions “ Short Contacts “ Lasting Impressions First impressions are important because a lack of familiarity raises anxieties and in turn emotions are heightened. Hence the experiencing self is sensitive at this stage of the interaction and a warm greeting is often transferred into a lasting memory within the remembered self. Where customer service occurs over an extended period of time, short contacts are important as they increase the perception of friendliness. Short contacts are any brief exchange between a member of staff and a customer and should occur whenever a member of staff is close to a customer. Lasting impressions come from staff doing something or giving information which creates a memorable 'moment of difference' which significantly improves the stay. Staff who are 'looking to help' and taking proactive action to assist or give information will create the moments which customers remember. The last impression is the goodbye and unsurprisingly the remembered self seems to recall interactions later in the experience more readily than those earlier. Creating Moments of Difference. Allow staff to be inspirational. Encourage staff to help, give information and make recommendations. Create at least one special moment and memory. If they are repeat guests, help to build on their memories. Make the experience more personal. Remember and use names. Do something or give something which is unexpected. Give staff enough freedom to be able to do the exceptional. Have fantastic, friendly and easy receptions and great goodbye's
The Internet of Things, room automation, artificial intelligence and virtual assistants such as Amazon's Alexa are making headway in the hotels and hospitality sector, but none of this is possible without the right foundation of secure connectivity. No matter how luxurious your hotel, how sumptuous the food or how relaxing the spa, if you don't offer secure connectivity and mobile guest services, you are unlikely to fill your rooms. Christophe Ameline, Head of Vertical Markets Strategy & Offer at ALE, looks at the issues and the technologies that are now available to enable hoteliers to provide the services that guests expect.Hospitality is a connected industry. Even back in 2014, 40% of people traveling on business had three or more connected devices, because smart and wearable tech offer far greater functionality to people on the move. Inside the hotel, guests are turning to their own tech for information and entertainment rather than traditional hotel services.It's secure access first “ and lastHoteliers realize that to grow their business they need to invest in technology. According to the 2017 Lodging Technology Study, 57% of hotels are planning to increase investment with 42% intending to maintain their technology spend. The top priority is to increase digital customer engagement in a secure environment, and for this, mobility and connectivity need to be at the center of their digital transformation strategy.Wireless connectivity is now an essential amenity. Guests experience it at home, at work and increasingly on the move “ so they have high expectations. In fact, Wi-Fi is so central to the guest experience that only room cost ranks higher in importance to guests. But providing Wi-Fi is more than just providing connectivity bars on a device - balancing easy access with security is key.Challenge 1: From the lobby to the lounger “ pervasive and high-quality Wi-FiProviding consistent Wi-Fi access can present a major headache in hospitality environments. Not just because of the number of users, devices and amount of data on the network, but because often the buildings were not designed with networks in mind!Managing the network infrastructure footprint, particularly in historic hotels, is one of the first considerations. Old buildings with thick walls or metal structures mean that it is just not possible to run all the cables you need to support room technology. The 140-year-old Waldhaus Flims Alpine Grand Hotel & Spa recognized this problem, but through the use of hospitality access points (AP), the hotel rooms could each be connected via a single LAN cable. These specialized access points act as 'mini-switches' which ensure access to internet, telephony and video entertainment, only with a much smaller footprint. Where it is impossible to bring Ethernet to some areas of hotels, Wi-Fi meshing can provide the solution.With IoT becoming the norm “ room automation, IP security cameras, point of sale systems and virtual assistance devices “ the growing pressure on networks to deliver uninterrupted quality of service to guests starts to become an issue.Your Wi-Fi should follow that guest!It is not simply a case of adding a few more access points around the hotel “ you need a solution in place to ensure simple and secure guest access and authentication. This simplified connectivity needs to 'follow' the guest around the premises, providing access to services where and when they need them. For instance, APs that can continuously monitor connection metrics from mobile devices can use this data to steer device connection to most appropriate AP, which prevents the Wi-Fi network from slowing down as people move throughout the hotel grounds.Challenge 2: Follow that device “ mobile guest services from digital reception to check-outA guest that uses the spa, the restaurant and the gym leads to a better bottom line. The key to unlocking this is the guest's personal device “ from providing direct bookings and services before guests arrive, to saving time by checking-out straight from their smartphone. This type of personalized experience ultimately means better guest engagement.This requires frictionless digital interaction between guest and hotel departments - be that the front desk, restaurant or other facilities. With today's open APIs (application programming interface), it is becoming easier than ever to integrate voice and message capabilities directly into guest loyalty or eConcierge apps. There are some great examples of this already happening. In Sweden for example, The Winery Hotel wanted a fully mobile approach to guest communications and completely rejected the idea of in-room telephones. It implemented a mobile eConcierge app to provide guest access to hotel services and enterprise-grade telephony from their own smart devices. This enables the hotel to be at their service 24/7 “ wherever they are on the premises “ and communicate offers and notifications straight to its guests' smartphones.Beyond this, location-based services are quickly establishing themselves as a way to offer guests services “ offering directions to one of the resort's featured restaurants or letting guests know what offers are available when they are walking past the spa are just a couple of examples. Successful digital engagement in the future will be personalized in these ways, and the data gained from mobile engagement will be invaluable to hoteliers in offering personalized services and push notifications based on individual preferences.And mobility is not just for guests.Behind the scenes in hotels such as The Buddha Bar Hotel in Paris, enhanced mobility services are enabling staff to be contactable anywhere on-site, resulting in staff being more attentive to guests' demands. Add to this apps which enable employees to instantly report room availability via a code on their mobile device, or log and respond to maintenance issues on the move, and you can start to see how these capabilities can all add up to get guests checked in faster and keep them happy during their stay.Challenge 3: Securing networks and containing threatsHotels are a growing target for hackers and data thieves. The open, guest-facing nature of the hospitality industry means that hotels and venues need to be welcoming to guests and their devices. But with so many mobile, wearable and IoT devices entering the hotel space, balancing guest access while keeping data, hotel functions and back-end services secure is vital.Containers and PANs provide the solution One of the core principles behind building a secure network for hotels is containerization technology. This is a method of creating virtual isolated environments on a single converged network. The idea is to group connected devices with a common function and the respective authorized users into a unique, virtual IoT 'container'. For example, the 'guest access container' acts as its own network where guest users cannot see or interact with devices within the finance department's container, or the IP cameras and alarm systems operated by the security team. Within each container, quality of service and security rules can be enforced and it is possible to reserve or limit bandwidth, prioritize traffic and block undesired applications.As connectivity grows and with so many devices in guest rooms, you also need to consider what each guest can interact with - smart TVs, intelligent room assistants or climate control. With guests able to connect and mirror movies to the IPTV, how do you stop them connecting and streaming to the TV next door? The answer is the Personal Area Network (PAN). A PAN is almost like having a dedicated Wi-Fi network for every room, where guests can interact with room technology as they'd expect at home “ but crucially only in their room. Yes, hotels need to get connected, but they need to be smart about network security and the technology is now available to enable them to do just this.Stay another dayTo drive these benefits to their bottom line, hotels don't just need to offer better mobility, they need to offer smarter mobility. The integration of a guest's device through bespoke applications and services is only the beginning of the process - hoteliers need to add a personal touch to their technology offerings. That means enhancing guest experience with services that transform the Internet of Things into the Hospitality of Things and mobile engagement that offers timely and appropriate services to guests. But with digital criminals on the prowl and tech savvy guests highly aware of digital risks, securing hotel networks can no longer be an afterthought “ secure connectivity needs to be at the center of design.
Most people today are aware of the HUGE impact that mobile phones have had on our everyday lives; of course, it allows us to communicate at any time via many different messaging mediums, but there is also a significant change in the way mobile has affected business. People no longer have to be at home, sitting in front of a desktop computer, to be an online consumer; today, they're online, on-the-go, 24/7, as the vast majority of people “ or at least those in the Baby Boomer generation and younger - have a mobile phone or device of some sort. Heck, even my 91-year old mother has a smartphone “ and she can't even work the TV controller! (Now granted, it's a first-generation flip phone with a few apps she never uses, but it makes her feel like she's part of today's mobile society.)If you're one of the few who hasn't joined the mobile movement, you're in a small minority; recent studies show "the majority (95%) of Americans own a mobile phone of some kind, and most (77%) use a smartphone". Globally, "almost two-thirds of the world's population has a mobile phone¦ half use a smartphone".It's clearly a significant trend, but what is more important is how hoteliers can leverage this phenomenon to increase business. In terms of booking travel, "two-thirds of US travelers have shopped or booked (air or hotel) on a mobile device, and nearly half of those are under 35 years of age." The same trends apply worldwide as "mobile bookings made up 27% of all online travel bookings during Q2 2016".As I'm sure you are aware, the new generation of travelers (a.k.a. Millennials) live almost every aspect of their life via their smartphones “ and that includes travel research and booking! "Around 98% of Americans, aged 18 to 35, own a smartphone" and "75% of Millennials want to travel abroad as much as possible (compared to 52% of other generations)". So it's easy to see why mobile is imperative for hotels that want to boost bookings and revenue earned from this new (and largest) generation of travelers. As a hotelier, how can you optimize your efforts to encourage Millennials to book with your brand or property?To better understand the behaviors of Millennial travelers looking to book a hotel room, let's examine a few things they identify as their biggest (mobile) dealbreakers:Broken or Ineffective Mobile Websites It's a well-known fact that consumers have little patience with poor mobile websites; this is even more critical for Millennial travelers who grew up with technology and believe that "it should just work". Beyond that, there is the additional need to ensure that your property provides a good user experience (UX) as it will drastically improve your conversions and ROI. Studies show that "57% of users won't recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site" and, because Millennials are heavily influenced by peer recommendations, a poor mobile site (or app) can have a significant negative impact on your bookings and revenue.Yup, you heard that right: if your mobile website isn't making it easy and painless for potential guests to search for rooms, compare options and book, it is VERY likely that you're not only missing out on valuable bookings but also giving them to your competition!Inconsistencies of User Experience Across all Channels Ready for another buzzword? Today's consumers are looking for an omni-channel experience, which, in layman's terms, means that users want the same (or similar) brand experience, regardless the channel through which they engage with your brand. As a matter of fact, "83% of mobile users say that a seamless experience across all devices is very important" so, in addition to having a mobile website that works well, it is also important that your guests' mobile experience is consistent across all channels. (This point is particularly important to Millennials bookers!)You obviously cannot have complete control over your property's branding and the mobile user experience of the indirect channels (i.e. OTAs) but on your own channels, it is integral that you maintain consistent brand presentation and pricing. Whether they book through your desktop website, mobile website, mobile app, email, call or text, your customers should be receiving the same recognition and service at every touchpoint.Inability to View Video Via Mobile Did you know that "48% of Millennials view video solely on their mobile device"? No wonder they are always staring at their mobile devices!So it stands to reason that if your mobile site doesn't have the bandwidth or capability to showcase the videos that you have on your desktop website, almost 50% of your potential guests (i.e. Millennials) will never see your video content. Because we know that video is a highly effective marketing medium for travel companies ("45% of leisure travelers booked instantly after watching a video of the travel activity¦ 72% of business travelers and 74% of affluent travelers booked upon watching a video"), this mobile mistake could cost your property a lot of revenue.There you have it: three big problems that will push Millennials into the arms (or to the mobile website) of the competition! Next week, join us in this same space to learn more about the two types of mobile tools (apps and mobile websites), and to examine which is most useful in attracting the new generation of travelers.
Increasingly, guests want to interact with a hotel before, during, and even after their stays. Many successful hotels have recognized this and implemented strategies to meet and exceed this expectation. One strategy top hotels have taken is to create their own multi-faceted mobile apps.It's easy to see why hotels have taken this route. More Americans than ever before are using their mobile devices to access the internet to handle their everyday needs. In January, more Americans accessed the internet through their mobile devices than through personal computers, the first time this has happened. According to data from comScore, during this span, mobile devices made up 55 percent of internet usage in the United States, with 47 percent coming from apps.While there are numerous hotel apps, many share similar features, including giving guests the ability to book and edit reservations, order room service, learn about amenities, and more. Other hotels, however, have added unique features designed to engage and inform their guests. Below are a few of these hotels.Virgin Hotels In January, Virgin Hotels opened it's first property in Chicago. Accompanying the opening was the release of the hotel groups' smartphone app, Lucy. This app has multiple features that allow guests to interact with its property. Some of these features include allowing guests to adjust the room temperature, stream personal content to their room's TV, and turn their smartphone into a remote. Other features the apps comes with are providing entertainment recommendations, a chat board where guests can communicate with each other, and the ability to check in and out on their devices through Virgin Hotels' preference program."Our mobile app Lucy, will put guests in the captain's chair," said Doug Carrillo, vice president of sales and marketing for Virgin Hotel. "The technology will be smart and intuitive, and light the way to a more immersive experience within the hotel. We can't wait to build upon the platform as the brand and our guests' needs grow."The James Hotel Last year, The James Hotels”which has properties in Chicago, Miami, and New York City” released the James Pocket Assistant. The app was created to help its guests discover and access amenities and special offers. The Pocket Assistant has many of the basic features associated with other hotel apps, but includes the ability to order a valet without waiting and a curated selection of the best restaurants, shopping, and top attractions near the hotel.The James updated its app in March to include beacon technology, which lets guests receive push notifications about special offers and interesting information. One of the ways The James Hotels are using its mobile app and beacon technology is to let guests take a self-guided art tour throughout each of the individual property's art collection.The Ritz-Carlton App The Ritz-Carlton app offers several features to engage guests. As other hotels have done, Ritz-Carlton's app includes special offers and location suggestions from each property's concierge. More interesting, however, is that the luxury hotel chain included a social aspect in its app.The Ritz-Carlton App gives user the ability to transform their travel photos into vintage-inspired posters that they can share on their social channels. This feature, called Sharable Experiences, allows users to modify their pictures with digital stamps, titles, and filters. These modifications are specific to the property and geographic location.As hotel guests continue to expect greater engagement, hoteliers have the opportunity to experiment with ways to create memorable experience that will keep their property at the top of guests' minds. One way to do this is by creating an app in-house or partnering with a app production company. Regardless, apps are becoming more important each year, and smart hoteliers will need to decide whether they want to look and feel just like their competition or if they want to offer something that makes them stand out.
As a nation modernizes, builds shiny new skyscrapers and climbs up the global GDP rankings, one of the first things that tends to deteriorate is the standard of customer service within its hotels and restaurants. As a country matures, labor costs shoot up as workers take jobs in other industries. While this is good news, sectors that rely on large numbers of employees to engage and interact with their customers get hit hard. Rising costs and increased competition mean that local workers no longer wish to work service professions such as hospitality, dissuaded by the long hours and low pay typical of the industry. As a result, guest service declines as hotels cut back on manpower “ or squeeze more hours from existing employees “ to boost profitability.The Singapore hospitality industry is a perfect example of this. The City State is an economic success story, with one of the highest GDPs in the world and a highly educated population. Yet Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself has admitted that his country's service standards are sub-par, commenting "Ask any tourist or even a Singaporean which country has good service, (and) I don't think Singapore comes immediately to mind". Hotels are caught in a conundrum, either they spend more on manpower, reducing profitability and raising the ire of investors and owners, or they cut back on staff, accepting a lower guest satisfaction rate. Regrettably, many hotels choose the latter.Hotels in developed nations need to explore alternative ways of improving the level of service in their hospitality industries in a sustainable and affordable way. The answer may lie in a better incorporation of technology both in the front and back end of the hotel.The smart hotels have already taken steps to leverage technology in a manner that allows them to improve customer service. The Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, for example, relies heavily on a highly motivated and trained team of service staff “ from butlers to waiters “ to ensure that its guests receive a level of service consistent with the Shangri-La brand. As such, they have subtly weaved technology into the guest experience in a way that is unobtrusive, yet saves up time, allowing staff to concentrate on the guest. For instance, they provide thousands of newspapers and magazines from over 100 countries in over 60 languages free via their PressReader app, removing the need for staff to hand deliver the newspaper every morning, yet improving the overall guest experience (I can't remember the last time I brought a physical paper).The new generation of millennial traveler has grown up surrounded by the Internet and technology. Some hotels have started to use self-service check-in kiosks as many guests now value speed and convenience over personal contact. There are also programs in place that allow the guest to pay via their mobile phone, and are able to receive an itemized bill that can be paid for on the spot. No need to queue at the Front Office, and more hotel staff available to address the specific requirements of the guest.However, the largest impact technology can have on customer service is through staff training via mobile learning. Today, smartphones have become so sophisticated and ubiquitous (87% smartphone penetration rate in Singapore) that they offer one of the most efficient means of training for large numbers of employees anywhere, anytime, allowing learning to be conducted during a lunch break, or on the way to work. Vitally, this can be done at a lower cost. My own mobile learning company, Qooco, is able to provide mobile learning solutions for up to 80% lower costs than traditional classroom-based learning methods.The biggest challenge many hotel service employees face when dealing with guests is often language. With clientele visiting from all over the world, English is the de facto means of communication, while the increasing numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Singapore make Mandarin a necessity. It is impossible to separate language with service, and a high level of proficiency is needed especially when dealing with tired, jet-lagged and hungry guests “ yet English or Mandarin is not usually a first language for many employees. Mobile language can be used to teach languages to service staff, and has been proven to provide better results than traditional classroom-based learning.Mobile learning can also be adapted for vocational training. Software has been developed that can demonstrate the correct techniques to pour wine, for instance, or how to approach a seated guest, or from which side the server should approach to take away an empty plate. Mobile can even be used to teach staff how to upsell.There is a resignation among hotel executives in high-cost, developed countries over the level of service they can provide with the manpower resources at their disposal. Yet with the constant evolution of technology, there are now ways to significantly improve guest service without committing to unsustainable employee expenditures. From PressReader apps to robot butlers to mobile learning, perhaps we are just seeing the beginning of a new era of hospitality service.
If you’re like most hotel owners and managers you’re probably being pitched by dozens of technology vendors each week. Some of these vendors are specialists that deliver a single service or functionality and others pitch a ‘bundled approach’ or ‘one-stop-shop’. Is it better to work with one vendor who does everything under the sun or multiple vendors who specialize? This may seem like a unique question for hotel tech but it actually applies to almost every industry. At its core, bundling and unbundling depends on two things: technology and consumer preferences. “There are only two ways to make money in business: One is to bundle; the other is unbundle.” ~ Jim Barksdale Which is better, bundling or unbundling? The answer is…It depends. Take the music industry for example: CDs were disrupted by MP3s when digital technology made it easier to distribute music via MP3 players and consumers preferred to buy only the songs they wanted vs. entire albums. Fast forward just a few years after CDs were unbundled where today music has been rebundled into streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. Why? Blazing fast internet speeds and consumer demand for instant access to variety. MP3 players unbundled music from CDs, but streaming services like Spotify rebundled it Looking at the broader software industry, Microsoft and Apple have bundled the internet browser (Microsoft Explorer and Mac Safari) into their respective operating systems but most users still prefer specialist web browsers like Firefox and Chrome. Google has created very good content tools in it’s Google Docs platform but spreadsheet experts still prefer Excel. Adobe has done a great job with it’s Creative Suite which bundles graphic design, sound production and video editing but filmmakers still prefer AVID Media Composer to create their Oscar masterpieces. So is it better to work with bundled hotel tech vendors or specialist vendors? The underlying technology of cloud computing has made it easier than ever for software companies to develop comprehensive hotel operations software platforms. Working with a single vendor is much easier than managing multiple vendor relationships but you will likely have to sacrifice on one or more modules in the bundled suite. The underlying technology of open APIs and frictionless integrations have made it easier than ever to combine multiple specialist vendors into custom bundles but you’ll risk over-complicating the already complex business of running a hotel. To make an informed decision that’s right for your business, you’ll need to evaluate the specific needs of your properties, map out functionality requirements and build a bundle that suits your business needs with ideal components or modules. If the modules of that custom bundle align with the product functionality of a bundled provider and you are getting good value - then working with one vendor may be the right strategy for your business. Ultimately a single vendor bundled approach will work for some hotel businesses and an unbundled approach will work better for others - expert opinions vary dramatically on the subject. Today we interview INTELITY CEO Robert Stevenson to get his take on whether hotels should buy bundles or piece together module architectures. Prior to taking the helm at KEYPR and now CEO of INTELITY, Robert was most recently the Head of Content Strategy for Facebook’s Oculus VR division. He brings unique insight and experiences to an industry that’s all too often falls victim to its own spin chamber. Robert’s experience at cutting edge tech companies like Facebook allow him to think outside the box when it comes to what is technically possible within hotels and he’s personally resided in hotel rooms for years at a time during professional assignments - so he deeply understands the pain points that guests face every day. Robert takes a strong stance on the value of bundled offerings and the benefits of leveraging a single vendor bundled approach. He is so confident that he’s literally put his money where his mouth is. Robert initially became involved with the KEYPR business as an angel investor and loved the business so much that he decided to jump in. He has since led the company through its merger with INTELITY that culminated in a $44M infusion of capital from LLR Partners to grow the combined business internationally. How does bundling help INTELITY add value for hotel clients? INTELITY is a global provider of the broadest hospitality technology platform for the hotel, casino, cruise, and luxury residential markets. INTELITY offers its customers comprehensive end-to-end solutions to manage guest experience and staff operations in a single platform. This saves hoteliers a lot of pain in integrating systems that frequently don’t work well together or do not feel frictionless to the guest. In Summer 2018, INTELITY announced the addition of casting to the guest-facing portion of its platform. The company also recently announced a $44M financing raise, which will be used to expand the company’s presence in Europe, the UAE, and Asia Pacific, and add to the nearly 200,000 rooms our platform already supports. INTELITY provides a user friendly and comprehensive bundle of hotel operations software modules How did you first get into technology? I've always been a computer and IT type of guy, working with new technologies throughout my career. While still young, I dove into computer tech and lightweight coding. Though I dabbled with mainframes, I had my first personal computer as a pre-teen and I, like many others from my generation, learned to code and experiment with hardware and hacking, through magazines, user groups, and peers. During my high school and early college years, I saved money to purchase computer components, boards, accessories, and of course computer games and software, which furthered my love for coding and building digital things. Eventually, I turned this passion into a career. I started on the engineering and IT side of the world, blended with art and design, in areas of scientific visualization, VR, and video games. Over time, I moved into the business and production side of major tech platforms, managing cross-functionally, but always with an eye towards engineering results. In my career, I’ve launched more than a hundred tech-based products, including work on some major platforms, like the early Web when it was largely an academic creation at CERN and other universities (and not commercial), to several cloud-based content delivery systems, and more recently, Sony’s PlayStation platform and Oculus VR, Facebook’s $2Bn+ acquisition to tackle the next-generation of computing. The teams and investments have grown from a few friends in a basement with just the cash in our pockets, to many, many hundreds of people with billions of dollars and whole market segments on the line. My move specifically into hospitality technology was spurred by an angel investment I made in KEYPR, and the then Chairman later asked me to join the company because of my background in business and platform technologies, and growing high-performance scalable teams. Excited by the prospects of the market, I signed up! How did you journey from broader technology into hotel software? I have always been interested in technology and several years ago I began investing in start-up companies, mainly focused on tech platforms, but also in the food & beverage segment. My initial investment in KEYPR (prior to the M&A that created the new INTELITY) was spurred in part, by a belief in the need for a technology lift in hospitality at the property level. I’ve been a frequent business traveler for over 20 years and have lived in hotels as a resident for more than five years, so I’ve grown to know the good and the bad of the travel and hotel industry from my personal exposure. I saw a need in the space and believed technology could fill a gap that was created by the hotel industry’s challenges and a lack of quality solutions. Coming from gaming & virtual reality, what was your first impression of the hotel software market? There are two categories that really stand out to me. First, the technology stacks inside hotels are complex. There are often several layers of point-to-point software systems in place to match a wide variety of operational needs that exist at a property level. Second, sometimes these systems can be quite old, even “on-prem” non-cloud based systems. Communication protocols and the data being passed around can be highly varied. It’s no wonder hoteliers resort to walkie-talkies and notepads to solve some of their needs. The end result though is that ride-share, cruise, airline, booking industries are fairly automated across mobile and backend platforms, but the hotel industry is behind the curve when it comes to technology. I had a high-level understanding of the fragmentation of the tech stack prior to my involvement in the industry, but moving into the industry and seeing it in action, was eye-opening. Combining the tech stack into a single solution that works with a property’s PMS/HMS and POS systems is what we’ve built at INTELITY. The focus is to streamline the solution and keep costs well in check. By creating a completely flexible solution that can extend into other systems should they be needed, we also reduce friction for guests, which is a win/win/win. What makes 'hotel tech' different than just 'tech' in your opinion? There are of course many variations of hotel tech. One worth highlighting is the importance for hotel technologies to provide flexibility and also to adaptability to specific customer-level needs. The solution for hoteliers is, by its nature, very different from other industries that cater to an end user, in this case, the guest. The hotel industry is primarily driven across the intersection of the operational, sales, and guest experience needs of the hotel. Two hotels located right next door to each other can have very different requirements to satisfy this intersection, and thus you can’t force a one-size-fits-all solution on a property. Hotel technology needs to focus on the hotelier’s operational needs and build something that wraps around the way they think. At INTELITY, we’ve focused on creating a core solution that fits about 80% of a typical partner’s needs and can then be customized to fit the last 20% of the specifics at a property level, including integrations through INTELITY Connect. Do you think it's harder for hotel tech companies to raise capital relative to general tech companies? Yes, definitely, when raising at larger scales. This is in part due to the slower adoption of technology in the industry. I have observed a lot of vendors put effort into getting brand logos and large amount of rooms, which sounds good in marketing, but they haven’t built a solid underlying business. Additionally, the complex sales cycle can be tricky for younger tech companies to master. These trends make it difficult for venture or private equity partners to engage within the typical kinds of parameters they can close on. It’s much easier for them to justify waiting until they see clear results, essentially derisking opportunities. HITEC, and similar shows, are littered with the ghosts of tech vendors who were not able to survive long enough in the strong currents. What's the single biggest opportunity that hotels are missing today? The modernization period- especially for Millennials and Gen Z- is here. The hotel industry can't dodge it. The reality is Airbnb has taken out a large chunk of the traditional hospitality market and variations on that theme of flexible real estate, like VRBO, WeWork, and HomeAway, are sniping at offerings hotels could fulfill. While it’s now ancient history, the OTAs have crushed direct bookings and continue to evolve today. Even Google is now in the game, with Facebook and even Uber likely soon to follow. The hotel industry’s avoidance of early adoption of technology has cost them billions in market share and directed guest flow through channels the traditional developer/owner/operator industry does not control. Without evolving and implementing technology in time, before market shifts happen, both at the front- and back-ends of their operations, hoteliers will continue to lose market share in market areas they have a natural advantage in. Companies like INTELITY, and many others, can help. How will the hotel technology landscape be different in 5-years? Digital technologies for the guest and the back office will be very integrated and standard at hotels. There may be different usages from property to property, but automated processes, streamlined connections, and seamless messaging between guests and staff will be standard across the board. It will feel like a near frictionless experience for guests who opt-in to being entirely digital. Guests, vendors and hoteliers alike will look back and wonder how we ever dealt with the mishmash of technologies and implementations we do today. Do you think that branded hotels have better or worse technology that unbranded properties? It really depends on the brand. In general, the larger brands have done well with advancing technology implementations in the last three to five years. Marriott and Hilton are two brands that have rolled out relatively large platform pushes across their brands to varying degrees. Both companies should be commended for a push towards standardization across multiple property types, ownership groups, and markets. As you get into the smaller brands, collections, and more boutique properties it’s a little more challenging to implement a level of standardization, security, and quality control. That’s where companies like INTELITY come in; to help provide broad technologies that integrate well into any existing efforts that have occurred already. In many cases, we can provide a level of technology that goes beyond what is available even at Marriott. If you were to start a business in hotel tech tomorrow what would it be? One of the interesting areas in the hotel technology landscape is at the booking level. There’s already automation with OTAs and direct booking engines, where you can pick and choose what you want from a property, but it's not agnostic across all travel areas and travel types. That will likely change. Today's travelers are determining hotel options based on their own preferences or through their own defined searches, but it would be interesting to automatically incorporate intent and preference into the booking process, based on smart data pulls (think big data being distilled at runtime through an agnostic interface that is mechanically opaque to the end user). Definitely an interesting landscape for exploration. What's one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs who are interested in starting a hotel software company? I would recommend that anyone interested in moving into hotel technology start small with a product that really fills a gap. Focus on developing a solution to that's needed rather than developing a product that tackles broad problems. In order to build a business that can sustain a team can be challenging, particularly in the hotel tech industry. Hoteliers may not be super tech savvy, but they know well enough to be tech risk avoidant if it’s going to affect operations or the guest experience. So be prepared for uphill battle until you can truly prove your product’s value. On the flip side because hoteliers aren’t always quick to adopt new tech, once they’ve committed you'll be their partner for many years to follow if you can deliver. What publications do you recommend hoteliers read to help stay on top of technology trends? If you’re interested in moving in the general direction of technology, the blogs and articles on TechCrunch are a good starting point, among others like WIRED, The Verge, recode, and Ars Technica. Deeper write-ups in the technology section of major news publications will give you a better view of the industry as a whole. What is your favorite hotel in the world? That’s a great question. I have lived a healthy chunk of my life in hotels, as a transient traveler and also as fixed addresses for years at a time. I think the quality of a hotel varies a lot on the intentions of the guest, and, of course, the location, in a very real way. There's no surprise that a destination resort and a business-oriented airport hotel deliver different experiences. That said, some of my favorites in major cities that deliver a cross-section of experiences are 11 Howard in New York, The Setai in Miami, The Strings Tokyo, Shinagawa, The Berkeley in London, Yangtze Boutique Shanghai, and my current part-time home, the Freehand Los Angeles. Robert's preferred residence in Los Angeles near the INTELITY office at The Freehand Hotel What is one thing that most people don't know about you? When I was much younger, more agile, and it was actually en vogue, I was a breakdancer and won several dance contests. Best left as a fun memory and not attempted to be recreated today.
The INTELITY platform is an extensive enterprise guest experience engagement and staff management platform for hotels, casinos, cruises, and luxury residential brands. It’s especially powerful for multi-property brands with complex operations. The platform empowers both guests and staff to manage the guest experience efficiently, accurately, and across devices. In recent “client wins,” tech-focused micro-luxury hotel brand YOTEL selected INTELITY’s as its “brand standard.” This is a testament to the strength of the INTELITY platform, as Yotel sets the bar high for providing a tech-enabled guest experience that relies on digital efficiency to keep a lid on room rates. YOTEL CEO Hubert Viriot elaborated further, highlighting the role technology plays in today’s finely-tuned and highly-optimized hotel: “At YOTEL, it is important to us to make the customer journey as seamless as possible, saving our guests and staff valuable time so that they can get on with what is important to them. It is for that reason that we will be introducing INTELITY as a brand standard across all YOTEL properties." Why did a company known for its “pioneering use of technology" in the hotel industry” choose INTELITY as it’s guest experience technology provider? Let’s answer this question by looking at the ways hotels make the most out of INTELITY’s multi-faceted guest engagement platform. #1: Improve the guest experience by leveraging staff productivity tools Hotels must have a reliable, consistent process for managing tasks, such as housekeeping and maintenance, as well as handling incoming guest requests. Sticky notes and spreadsheets lead to confusion, double-work, and mishandled requests. One of the top ways that hotels benefit from INTELITY is by compiling back-of-the-house tasks into one single system. This unified dashboard provides a quick view into a task or request’s history, so everyone can see who’s responsible and what’s been done. INTELITY’s staff management platform offers a cross-device dashboard that includes work order and task management, as well as real-time data analytics to monitor for bottlenecks. With this functionality available on both desktop and mobile, staff are untethered from the desktop and can roam freely as situations arise. Do this: Work with each department head to create a new operations manual that defines new processes, and includes staff training. Also, set your benchmarks and assign accountability to meet (or exceed!) those targets. #2: Empower guests with self-service to reduce wait times and boost satisfaction A full-featured mobile app centralizes a guest’s digital experience. It gives them a place to turn to for information and requests and it facilitates mobile check-in. According to mobile key provider OpenKey, the ability to skip the front desk reduces wait times and lobby traffic by 20%, which makes guests happier and frees up staff. This is why the brand chose INTELITY, elaborates YOTEL CEO Hubert Viriot: “An app gives guests the ability to not only skip the front desk but have ready access to hotel services, facilities and information as and when they need it.” To make the most of the platform, put INTELITY’s capabilities in the hands of guests. A mobile and web app allows guests can focus on enjoying their time on-property and in-destination. Guests enjoy easy and convenient access to staff via mobile messaging, and staff are more readily available to assist via the back-end dashboard. Some hotels, such as boutique hotel brand Lifehouse’s Miami location have even gone as far as replacing in-room guest phones with its app that allows guests to communicate with staff via voice and messaging. Do this: To encourage usage, promote the app across all guest touchpoints: social media, on-property, and especially in pre-arrival emails. And then make the app relevant and useful to guests by keeping your mobile app’s content updated and ensure rapid response times for in-app communications. #3: Use guest messaging to eliminate barriers between staff and guests Rather than forcing guests to visit the front desk, or call housekeeping, it’s all about simple, straightforward guest messaging. INTELITY guest messaging puts guest requests right in front of relevant staff so that problems can be solved and requests answered quickly. To fully eliminate these barriers, guests communicate in real-time with staff via the messaging solution. This portion of the platform directly connects operations teams and guests through SMS, as well as in-app messaging services, like Facebook Messenger. Guests communicate on whichever channel they prefer, and then all these channels are combined into a single interface. All guest communications route to the appropriate channel on the INTELITY platform, connecting the guest-facing elements to the relevant staff dashboard. Streamlined guest communications boosts productivity and accuracy when handling incoming guest requests. No more missing a guest request, or dropping the ball on responding. All of this is cross-channel and cross-device. Do this: To make the best use of the messaging solution, combine it with the back-of-office platform, which creates tickets for guest requests. Reward staff for prompt responses and celebrate wins by praising exemplary interactions. Lastly, make sure to receive opt-in prior to messaging guests. #4: Digitize room service and concierge to increase non-room revenue Guest expectations around technology have evolved. The INTELITY platform offers three components of a tech-enabled in-room experience: voice, personal device support (guest mobile), and guest tablets. When combined, guests have full control over how they personalize their rooms: whether via tablet, voice, or analog dials, guests can adjust temperature, open blinds and interact with the TV. Tablets can also be additive as a concierge touchpoint, empowering guests to craft an in-destination experience that suits them. Tablets can be a value-add for boutique and luxury properties. It’s the details that make experiences in the higher-end categories stand out -- the ability to drop blinds or pick specific channels from the tablet makes it much simpler to engage with the room. A digitized room service menu also makes it much easier to order food and beverages. Guest can avoid a phone conversation and ensure accuracy of the order, all from the in-room tablet. At the Boston Harbor Hotel, 80-90% of guests use the in-room tablets, which led to 16.4% more in-room dining revenue, as well as a 90% drop in costs for providing in-room newspapers. Do this: Room casting, tablets, and voice technology need strong Wi-Fi, so be sure that your hotel’s infrastructure is capable and flexible to support peak demand. #5: Give guests instant answers with voice technology -- and encourage more incremental spend Guests prefer engagement tools that don’t require making a call to the front desk. Voice-activated technology, such as Alexa and Google Assistant, have introduced a new interface for hotel rooms. Using voice technology, guests can access instant information about your hotel and the surrounding area, as well as control the lights and temperature. Voice can also be a “butler on a budget.” Brands like St. Regis, for example, use butler service as a luxury differentiator. As you give guests more control over their experience, voice can deliver more bespoke service, such as calling up a car from the valet, promoting upcoming events, and encouraging incremental spending through dining, spa, and activity reservations. With multilingual capability, voice assistants can also help international guests feel more comfortable with personalizing their own stay. For hotels with significant global business, this is a major value add to welcoming those guests. Do this: The technology is still relatively new, and each hotel has its own voice commands. Promote your voice assistant to guests, so they understand its capabilities and benefits. #6: Update menus and other content quickly to eliminate poor service and reduce printing costs Running low on a few items in the kitchen? Need to adjust menu pricing and description to reflect an ingredient change? INTELITY’s content management solution means that availability across food and beverage operations can be updated on-the-fly. From a single dashboard, management can sync changes immediately across all channels: web app, in-room tablet, and mobile app. Instantly, there will be no more ordering out-of-stock menu items, preventing disappointment and awkward service moments. The beauty of this solution is that you don't need to reprint menus for each guestroom or proof-read many revisions of a printed menu. Typos can be fixed right away, and F&B staff can be more creative with specials and other promotions that would have required costly printed collateral updates. Do this: Review content across all customer touchpoints regularly. Even if it seems like nothing has changed, a regular review process (quarterly or monthly) may reveal new opportunities to market the hotel’s amenities better. #7: Invest in digital keys to give guests flexibility and reduce frustration Upgrading your properties infrastructure to handle digital keys isn’t cheap. Yet many guests -- especially those loyal to the major brands -- are beginning to expect digital key locks. Combined with the mobile app, digital keys give guests more control and flexibility. The ability to access a room without a magstripe key means that hotels can offer remote check-in, so guests can skip the front desk. Digital keys also reduce the common frustration of having a magnetic key stop working after accidentally placing it near a credit card. When a guest returns to the front desk to reactivate a key, hotel staff must take the time to fix the issue -- and defuse a potential confrontation. It’s an unpleasant experience for everyone involved; integrating INTELITY’s digital key into the guest experience saves hotels money and gives guests the control they expect. On the operations side, there’s a predictive analytics upside to digital keys. Hotels can learn about guest behavior to better match staff resources to demand. Mobile check-ins and check-outs mean that housekeeping can reduce turnaround time, and close the gap between hotel systems that don’t communicate with each other in real-time. Do this: Train front desk to mention the digital key capability. Not all guests want to download an app for every hotel, so it takes intelligent on-property messaging to highlight this convenient feature. #8: Get automated reports so you know what’s happening -- even if you’re not on property There's already plenty to do when it comes to running a hospitality business. Running reports and customizing Excel spreadsheets is not always the best use of time. With its platform focus, INTELITY provides a real-time pulse of the business. Set reports to run automatically and receive up-to-date information on your computer or mobile so you can act on that information, Whether you are on property or not. Do this: Share the reports with the right people. Set the right permissions to allow key staff leads to learn and improve operations based on these reports.