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Hotel Concierge Software Software Articles

How Adam Isrow and his team built GoConcierge into a global empire without venture funding or a marketing budget

by
Hotel Tech Report

What do you think of when asked to picture the founder of a dot com era startup founded in the year 2000?  I picture an arrogant and sharp elbowed hype man with an inflated ego who’s selling the dream of world domination and hockey stick growth.   Adam Isrow founded GoConcierge in the year 2000 during the heyday of epic dot com busts like Pets.com and Webvan but his story couldn’t be more different from his infamous peers.  If you got to trade your boss in for a new one - Adam is the kind of guy that everyone wants to work for. He’s humble and soft spoken yet firm and disciplined. While tech founders were out chasing exponential user growth in the early 2000s Adam was focused on the fundamentals.   Webvan stock chart from 1999-2001 shows the quintessential dot com bust   The GoConcierge story sits in stark contrast of companies like Webvan that were founded around the same time.  While his peers were busy seducing investors and big media with glitz - Adam focused on moderate, consistent and steady growth.  His character attracted a strong and loyal team solely focused on the elevated customer service that helped him build the GoConcierge business almost exclusively through word of mouth.   “Everyone wants some magic pill—some life hack—that eliminates the need to do the work. But that does not exist.” – Jocko Willink   Adam is not the kind of leader who looks for a magic pill.  His favorite book, Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink is a navy seal commander’s tale of humility, loyalty and discipline - three qualities that deeply characterize Adam’s leadership style. So how did Adam grow GoConcierge to more than 1,000 hotels globally without traditional venture funding? His background in the hotel industry is a huge piece of the puzzle.  While working in hotels Adam learned humility through dedicating himself to service.  The hospitality industry also taught him a deep sense of empathy that enabled him to develop technology that would become loved by even the least digitally savvy concierges. The teamwork he learned in the front office enabled him to attract and retain a team of loyal high performance contributors.  Adam’s story embodies the true spirit of hospitality in every way. While he personally considers work and service to be rewards in themselves, Adam’s years of dedication were recently validated when ALICE bought his firm GoConcierge for millions in 2017. What was your background prior to starting GoConcierge? Coming out of undergrad, I wanted both sales and management experience as a foundation to begin my career. Prior to starting GoConcierge, I had worked in hotel operations for a hotel in Los Angeles.  The goal was to turn around each department in the hotel and prepare the hotel for being sold. While overseeing guest services and ultimately the rooms division, I saw how much work the team was doing manually with logbooks and binders.  I thought if we could create a tool with a database of vendors and directions (this was pre Mapquest and Google Maps) and the ability to track activities, that it would enable our team to spend more time and attention on the guests. Just prior to launching GoConcierge, I worked for another technology startup focused on disseminating digital assets in the entertainment industry.   Once that company was sold, I was still intrigued by the Concierge tracking idea and while going back to earn my MBA during the dot com era, decided to launch GoConcierge.  Hard to believe that was back in 2000 and here we are today. What made you decide to jump in and start GoConcierge? After spending several years in hotel operations, I saw first-hand the importance of adding efficiencies where possible.  So much of the day-to-day operation in a hotel is manually driven and at the time, there were very few systems outside of the property management system.  We had created our own tools using Microsoft Access for yield management and also tracking any challenges throughout the operation. One night while talking with my partner, we discussed creating a database for vendors so that we could have a knowledge base of everything our guests were asking.  This way, no matter who was working, we could help the guest right away. I spent the evenings typing directions into each location since there was no Mapquest or Google Maps at the time. I felt it had to be extremely user-friendly and I remember having an amazing gentleman in guest services named, Frank, and he was in his 70’s and was not comfortable using a computer.  I remember thinking that if we could get Frank comfortable using this, we were onto something. Fortunately, Frank was able to use it and the team noticed that they were able to do their job better by having more information at their fingertips vs. having to look in logbooks and binders. Plus, I have terrible handwriting and if I wrote something in the logbook, there was a good chance others would not be able to read it.   Adam Isrow sold his business GoConcierge to ALICE in 2017 Who was GoConcierge’s first customer? Our first Customer was a Hyatt Hotel in Los Angeles.  I called several times and spoke to the Rooms Executive at the time and she was intrigued enough to allow me to present to her.  Fortunately for me, she understood the vision and she and her team believed that GoConcierge could enhance their day-to-day operation and ultimately the guest experience.  In addition to providing the application, I also guaranteed that I would provide exceptional support and would exceed expectations. I worked hard to earn trust and have her provide me with an opportunity. I felt if I could just get into a hotel like that, it would add credibility and help me gain additional hotels.     GoConcierge was acquired by ALICE in 2017 - how do the businesses work together today? We have created the first operations platform with a goal of going to our customers with a suite of services.  So often in hotels each department purchases their own applications. Therefore they operate as silos and most of the time and don’t communicate with each other.  We believe that there is significant value in providing one solution that can add value to multiple departments. The ALICE Platform has various modules including Concierge, Service Delivery, Messaging, Preventative Maintenance and Housekeeping.  Customers can pick and choose what is best for their property and because we have an open API, we can also facilitate integration between various systems.  Having one platform can provide cost savings to the hotel instead of paying setup fees and multiple subscriptions fees for multiple systems.  ALICE Concierge has a customizable database powered by Google Places and tracks all activities arranged for guests, creates personalized confirmation letters, itineraries, communicates with guest and team members via SMS and other platforms.  Using ALICE for service delivery, the property can dispatch requests such as towel delivery, challenges in the room and even manage preventative maintenance. ALICE provides a complete operational solution that will allow your team to provide a very personalized and exceptional guest experience. ALICE’s modern dashboard connects departments seamlessly   What's the biggest misconception that hoteliers have about technology? Perhaps the most common belief I used to hear was that the Concierge didn’t need an application because they could use Excel or their logbooks.  We obviously felt differently especially after spending time behind the desk and seeing the amount of work done manually and the importance of providing a tool to enable the team to be more efficient.  We believe the role of the Concierge should be in the center of the hotel operation since their work touches so many departments and has such a significant impact on the overall guest experience. A good Concierge team does the job so well that they make it look easy.  What is often not recognized or seen is the volume of work being done behind the scenes to deliver such a great guest experience. Investing in a tool allows the team to be more efficient and spend more time and attention on the guests. I believe the reason guests come back now is mostly because of the way the Concierge and other team members make the guests feel when they leave, more so than just having a beautiful hotel.  Without a tool such as ALICE, it is very difficult to be efficient and create that great guest experience. What's the most surprising thing you've learned about scaling technology into hotels since founding the business? In hospitality, we are a 24/7 operation and since we have customers around the world, there really is no downtime.  As we have scaled the company, in addition to our application, we remain keenly focused on our environment and optimizing the performance of the application for our users.  This is a major effort and something that requires focus for achieving results today and in the future, domestically and internationally. If you could partner with any vendor in hotel tech, who would it be and why? With respect to vendors to partner with, we believe the PMS provides a mutually beneficial opportunity.  The more integration we provide, the better we serve our customers. We are interested in speaking with any PMS that believes there is value in integrating ALICE to enhance its offering Where do you see ALICE in 5-years? We envision ALICE being the operations hub for the hotel. We are striving for that now and in the next 5 years, we want to realize our ambition of allowing all hotel staff to work effectively together and while enabling innovation around us. Ultimately, we want to provide a platform that is so widespread and so open that all innovation in the guest space can connect into it and hotel companies can deliver hospitality through it. We believe there should be full transparency where the guests can realize the same type of control and experience they love from other industries. How will the concierge software space change in the next 5-years? We believe that that Concierge will need to be connected to all departments throughout the hotel- like the hub of the operation.  Our customers will need as many efficiencies as possible to provide a high-level of service to the guest. We envision the Concierge department will have to be equipped to easily initiate requests for any department on behalf of guests. Do you have any new products or feature launches of late (or coming soon) that you'd like us to promote to our users? We are very excited to be developing our Room Assignment feature as part of our Housekeeping module.  We have gained first-hand knowledge from our customers and our team of hospitality experts about what the ideal solution would be and we are actively working on this right now.  Adding this functionality to our platform will allow us to achieve our vision of providing our customers with a complete solution for their operation and specifically, their largest department, Housekeeping. Is there anything that the community can do to be helpful for you? We are focused on interacting with other thought leaders to gain insight, share notes and collaborate together. We welcome the opportunity to connect with leaders that have grown and/or are building emerging technology.  We have a speaker series where we bring in leaders with various backgrounds from various industries to speak about successes and failures and learnings along the way. It would be great to have more thought leaders from the community share their experiences with our team. ALICE won Hotel Tech Report’s ‘2019 Best Places to Work’ in Hotel Tech competition   What's one piece of advice that you have for any entrepreneurs looking to get into hotel software? In any space it’s critical to surround yourself with the best possible team.  Specifically within this niche of hospitality technology be sure you fully understand how you can add value and be willing to adjust along the way.  The vision you start with may not be what you finish with. Be agile enough to shift when needed. What is the best book you've read lately and why? I really enjoyed reading Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.  This is a story about taking ownership and leading by example.  The story is told by two Navy SEALS and their life altering experiences in battle and how those lessons can be applied to both business world and your personal life. What is your favorite podcast? I like listening to The Tim Ferris Show and hearing his interviews with both business leaders and athletes. What is one thing that most people don't know about you? I did sports broadcasting in college and also am passionate about speaking to groups about my experience of working with the world’s finest hotels and Concierges and the impact of consistently delivering exceptional service.

This is the tech you need to streamline your hotel's operations

by
Hotel Tech Report

As any hotelier can attest, a modern hotel operation is a tangle of systems and technologies. Navigating the options can be overwhelming and frustrating, mainly because it's impossible to know how reliable the technology is -- or how responsive customer service will be during the inevitable outage. With such high-stakes, it's easy to get caught up in the details or to delay making a final decision. “For an industry that’s fundamentally about human interaction, it’s ironic that technology has come to be such a big deal. But in today’s and tomorrow’s world, being strategic about how you allocate your tech investment resources is critical to the hospitality mission.” -Mark Van Amerongen, COO, Prism Hotels & Resorts To get to the nirvana of seamless hotel operations, it takes the best technology, customized according to each property’s needs. Irrespective of how long it takes to identify these solutions, the result should be a technology suite that works well together and is adaptable to ever-evolving guest expectations. Security and data protection should also be a priority as a hotel builds out its modern hotel operations tech stack. While your hotel may not need technology from all of these categories, each category has its own merits to carefully consider. Ask tough questions, request introductions to existing customers to prove further, and don’t rush into a decision on your hotel’s operating systems.   Property management systems (PMS) The broadest category of software for hotel operations is the property management system. It structures the entire hotel operation, acting as the centralized resource across the property. From housekeeping to reservation management, everything flows through the PMS. Without a PMS, a modern hotel would struggle to thrive. Yet many hotels remain constrained by a legacy system that doesn't offer some of the most important features for a hotel to remain competitive in today's environment. So what makes a great hotel property management system? Paraphrasing an old idiom in business, the best PMS is the one you use. You want to provide the most intuitive and reliable system to empower your staff. You don't want to implement a system that frustrates and confuses. Inevitably, turnover increases and the guest experience suffers.     When evaluating potential solutions, consider the interplay between the PMS and the rest of your technology. Given the centralized role of the PMS, it's important that all software in a hotel’s tech stack integrate seamlessly. Knowing that a new PMS sits seamlessly within an existing tech stack is vital. You also want the flexibility to grow with your PMS is good peace-of-mind for hotel GMs. Module add-ons, such as for spa, revenue management, guest CRM, group functionality, and channel management, can boost the utility of the PMS without having to evaluate and onboard another vendor. Ideally, each tool has a real-time connection with the PMS to avoid latency and inaccurate data. In addition to integrations and connectivity, here are three other important features when evaluating a PMS vendor: Approach to customer service. Many features in hospitality technology are commodified, but customer service isn’t one. Helpful, responsive, consultative, always available -- these are all words you want to hear from existing customers as you evaluate your options. Automation. Automation is beautiful. It helps reduce errors from manual data entry, which in turn reduces labor cost associated with manual inputs. The labor can then be allocated to something The greater impact. The consistency of both staff and guest experience is also improved, which makes everyone happier. Real-time dashboard.  A centralized source of real-time information about your hotel proves invaluable over time. At a glance, everything is laid out for action. With this real-time view, issues can be handled quickly and efficiently before they escalate, and data can be deployed to rally staff around performance targets. The PMS is one of the most mission-critical software, so be thorough in your questioning of potential solutions. The most pressing question is how a company approaches customer support. Features can be copied; customer service can’t. When there's an issue with the PMS, you absolutely need the peace-of-mind that someone will be there to take your call and fix the problem.     Staff collaboration In an intensive operation such as a hotel, keeping the staff organized and on track is a challenge. Reliance on paper checklists, manual work assignments, and paper logbooks can lead to inefficiencies, double-work, and communication miscues. Upgrading to modern staff collaboration software automates processes to ensure more consistency across the various departments, increases transparency as far as performance, and unites communications into a centralized hub for easy management. When the team is on the same page, the hotel operates more smoothly and provides an enhanced guest experience. Another benefit of this technology is that it expands the role of the front desk into sales. By empowering the front desk team to enter leads and collaborate with sales, more revenue is achievable. These are the most impactful features to look for in staff collaboration tools for hotels: Intelligent routing. The technology should help teams work together more effectively to improve the guest experience. Guest want consistent responses, whether they communicate via email, text, or face-to-face. Software that intelligently routes guest request to the correct department means that there's less time spent directing traffic and more time spent on the task itself. Automations. Even the most well-trained staff makes mistakes. Staff management and collaboration software can automate away some of these mistakes by providing a consistent operational checklist. For example, upon completing one task, the system can assign another task based on that completion. Schedule task can also keep properties maintained overtime, without having to remember critical tasks or assign them manually. Reports, analytics, and audits. One of the benefits of using staff management technology is increased productivity. This is not conceptual: analytics and reports chart progress and identify areas for improvement with particular departments or team members. Auditing a task’s history also boosts visibility into potential bottlenecks.  After finding the vendors that have the desired features, the first question to ask them is how easy the software is to learn. Not every team member is tech-savvy, so the training and onboarding process is critical for successful adoption of a staff management tool.     Concierge software Guest-facing functions have the potential to make or break a guest experience. The importance of the concierge varies, depending on hotel category. For those hotels that haven’t traditionally deployed a concierge, technology can actually make this a cost-efficient perk to offer. For hotels with an existing concierge, concierge software makes the team more efficient and accurate with their guest recommendations. In the order of importance, look for hotel concierge software that provides: Cross-channel communications. Portability across channels is important to guests. They may go to the desk, and then want the concierge’s recommendations via mobile. The software should make this easy to do for concierges, and easy to access for guests. The ultimate win is to make a seamless experience no matter who is staffing the desk. PMS/CRM integration. Guest profiles shouldn't live independently of other systems. The richness of a guest profile Defines how successful Hotel can be in properly personalizing the experience. Data should flow across these systems to enhance the guest experience, reduce double-work, and make the concierge more impactful. Knowledge base. It should be simple to add knowledge to a repository to pull from. Concierge recommendations should be prompt and accurate; a knowledge base that collects important information makes for stronger curation skills. When discussing your needs with a potential vendor, start by asking about the typical implementation timeline and process. There may be factors that delay implementation, such as integrating with other systems, so you want to be clear what’s expected on your end -- and how long it will take on their end.     Housekeeping management software As guests check in and check out of the hotel each day, housekeeping has a lot to keep track of. In addition to making sure that rooms are available for incoming guests, each room turn must meet service specifications. Housekeeping processes and communications must be on-point to make this all happen smoothly. Housekeeping management technology eliminates uncertainty and helps each housekeeper manage daily workflow without sacrificing quality. The software also allows reliable tracking of performance across the entire department. To achieve these productivity gains, here are some of the most critical features of housekeeping management software: A focus on productivity. The right housekeeping management software helps your staff to be more productive through greater transparency and accountability. Look for software that provides detailed reports and helps you motivate your staff to improve performance over time. Mobile. This is obvious but often overlooked. Your stuff is going to be moving about the property and the tools need to move with them. It doesn't make much sense to have a digital system that requires a paper printout. Another key point: The best technology timestamps key events, delivering reliable data essential for accurate reporting. Real-time notifications. On-the-fly changes to room availability happen; For example, a priority guest requests early check-in for a suite that still needs cleaning. The system should ping the housekeeping staff in real-time to adjust priorities in real time. When it comes to housekeeping management, the most pressing question is usually how the solution integrates with existing systems, especially the PMS. Direct integration eliminates duplicate data entry, supports data integrity, and allows you to use the best systems for each department.     Guest feedback software Gathering guest feedback, and using that data to benchmark progress against performance targets, is a critical part of a hotel’s operations. Guest feedback gives the GM a near-real-time view of the guest experience, helping to identify areas for improvement and immediate attention. As a hotel incorporates guest feedback, it improves. A responsive management team can transform negative feedback into a positive experience that builds goodwill. As more sites pop-up with reviews, from Facebook to Google to lesser-known brands, a hotel’s reputation demands a modern solution that starts with guest feedback. If you can catch the bad feedback before it's posted in a review, and encourage the best experiences to be shared, then you’ve set your hotel’s reputation on track. This drives more new business, alongside encouraging more repeat business from guests that feel heard. When you're looking to manage your reputation with software for guest feedback, you’ll want the following: Guest history. It should be clear how many times a guest has provided feedback so that your team can communicate in a more personal and relevant way with the guest. These attributes are visible pieces of a guest’s profile. Responsive design. Guests will likely complete surveys or provide feedback via a mobile device. All surveys and forms should look just as good on mobile as on desktop. Integration. If the feedback loop lives only in the guest feedback system, it may prevent that feedback from being acted upon quickly. PMS metadata can provide that context right in the feedback tool, allowing a potential issue (such as a broken HVAC system) to be routed instantly to the right department. For a detailed insight into a vendor’s approach to guest feedback, ask them for references. This is the most important questions for such a critical guest-facing tool. You'll learn more from the implementation experiences of other hotels than from the vendor itself. Of course, this advice extends to all vendors; however, with guest-facing solutions, it’s especially useful to know how (and if) a vendor has delivered on its promises to other hotels.    

Why your concierge should be featured in your digital communication

by
Lisa Apolinski

I recently had an experience with a hotel concierge where some family members were staying. I have never been to that property, yet the concierge went out of his way to assist me in getting flowers to their room. Not only that, he stayed in touch with me at each step, including letting me know when the flowers were in the room. I has such a positive experience from this, and I have yet to set foot in the hotel. If your property offers concierge service, here are some key reasons to make sure it is highlighted in your broader digital communication. Capturing loyalty from those who could be future guests: Again, my loyalty is towards this abovementioned hotel and I have not even been there. But when I am in the area, this will be where I stay. If you have a concierge, be sure to highlight that service on your website and email communication. Also, encourage guests who use the concierge services to share their experience on your social channels to showcase what additional services you offer through the concierge. Showcasing an added feature of your property to those who are visiting: Having a concierge is like having a ‘man about town’ in your pocket. That person knows the lay of the land, and can help with reservations, excursions, and other tourist items where having a local is key. This should be considered an added feature and should be highlighted on your property website, including what services the concierge can offer guests. Helping your guests think outside the property box: Speaking of what the concierge provides, this is also the digital place to talk about placing flowers in a room, putting together a gift basket for a VIP guest, or any other ideas that can be provided by the concierge. This can also be changed seasonally (think Halloween, Christmas or Valentine’s Day). If your concierge does something visually engaging, make sure to share it on Instagram. Your concierge may be physically in your lobby or reception area, but should also reside digitally. Feature the good deeds of your concierge through your digital communication.

4 Must-Attend HITEC 2018 Talks

by
Kayla Rowen

If you haven’t been to HITEC yet, you are missing out on the biggest hospitality industry technology exposition and conference of the year. 2018’s HITEC kicks off on June 18th in Houston, where C-level hospitality executives and the top technology industry experts will gather for four days of in-depth demonstrations and networking.   The 2018 conference speaker line-up is full of great options for hoteliers and technology professionals, but with so many talks, on such a wide variety of important hotel topics, it can be hard to know where to go at any given moment during the conference. For anyone that needs help with choosing the right talks, panels, and workshops, we picked some of our favorites:   Opening Keynote: Reinventing Leadership for the Age of Machine Intelligence Monday, June 18th 4:30 - 5:45 PM Level 3, General Assembly B Keynote Speaker: Mike Walsh In HITEC’s opening keynote, Mike Walsh will walk through the impact of automation, algorithms, and AI on the industry and how leaders can leverage these technologies to improve their hotel performance.   These accelerating technologies raise interesting challenges and questions for hoteliers such as to what extent will automation change the way they run their hotels and manage guest expectations. Fresh off Google’s Duplex innovation, which shows a store-owner unwittingly having a conversation with a robot trying to book a hair appointment, we’re on edge when it comes to the role of AI in our lives. Mike Walsh will deliver a fascinating presentation about the degree to which machine intelligence will change our lives as well as the business of hospitality.       Concurrent Session: Guest Facing Technology Tuesday, June 19th 4:00 - 5:00PM Level 3, Meeting Room 351-D Moderator: Ted Horner - Owner of E. Horner & Associates Pty Ltd., member of the HITEC Houston Advisory Council and an inductee to the HFTP International Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame. Panelist: Andrew Arthurs, SVP and CIO for Two Roads Hospitality and Thomas Fangar, VP of Multimedia for MGM Resorts International   Learn how innovation being embraced by consumers is putting new pressures on hoteliers to deliver cutting-edge guest room experiences.   We’re personally interested to see how much the idea of “future-proofing” guest rooms is discussed in this talk. The pace of technology innovation is rapid and sometimes the shiny new thing can become outdated in a flash (think charging ports for the only-five-year-old iPhone 5). At ALICE, we believe strongly that the burden to “choose the right technology” is lifted when you first focus on establishing a technology for your hotel that is open and integrated and future-proofed through APIs. ALICE’s Open API, for example, allows for integrations with innovative guest-facing technology like Percipia, Zaplox, Volara, and Alta, to provide our hotel partners comprehensive solutions to transfer guest information seamlessly to staff and vice versa, regardless of the hardware of the moment. We look forward to hearing what these industry leaders have to say.   Concurrent Session: Independent Hotel in a Big Box World Tuesday, June 19th 4:00 - 5:00 PM Level 3, Meeting Room 360-A   Discover strategies for independent or boutique hotels to compete against bigger hotel brands that have larger staff and budgets.   Boutique and independent hotels offer guests a unique way to immerse themselves into a local community while providing unique amenities for a memorable stay. This hotel segment is quickly growing in popularity, giving hoteliers the opportunity to set themselves apart in myriad ways, including through the experiences they offer (via a stellar concierge program) and exceptional service (aided, we like to think, through technology).   Concurrent Session: Monolithic vs. Best In Class Thursday, June 21 9:00- 10:00 AM Level 3, Meeting Room 351-D Speakers: Dmitry Koltunov, CTO and Co-Founder of ALICE and Jim Fedigan, Group CEO for Jonas Club and Hospitality Divisions at Jonas Software, A Constellation Software Operating Group   This discussion will dive deep into the ongoing debate between hotels using best-in-class solutions versus monolithic suites.   The talk will present a vivid portrait of the ideas put forward in the recently-published “Hospitality Communication Platform” white paper from HTNG (co-authored by ALICE’s CTO Dmitry Koltunov) and how hotels can leverage the new cloud communication framework to optimize cost, time, and exceed guest expectations. If you’re looking for technology to improve your hotel’s performance during HITEC, stop by Booth 2319 to meet the ALICE team and see a live presentation of our technology. Hoteliers interested can book a meeting in advance, for a personalized demo of ALICE. Not planning on heading to HITEC this year but want to learn more about ALICE’s suite of products? Visit https://info.aliceapp.com/ to request a demo.

How to Improve Your Guest Experience and Hotel Operations With Text Messaging Automation

by
Kayla Rowen

Hotels using automated text messaging have seen guest engagement increase by over 25%   Texting has emerged as one of the most popular ways for hotels to communicate with their guests. However, the time-consuming nature of one-on-one text messaging makes it seem at times at odds with the busy atmosphere of the front desk. A tool such as guest messaging automation increases employee productivity as it enables hoteliers to spend less time doing the actual sending and more time communicating.   In recent beta testing, hotels that have adopted guest message automation as a part of their communication strategy have seen an increase in their guest engagement by over 25%. By using automation to help their communication with guests, pre- and at arrival, during the guest stay, and at departure, hotel staff are applying the time they save to have more meaningful interactions with guests, thus streamlining staff operations and improving the guest experience.   Here are three benefits of incorporating elements of automation to your text messaging program:   1. Efficiencies for hotel operationsText messaging is a powerful tool to drive guest loyalty and engagement, but proactively reaching out to guests requires a lot of time hoteliers may not have. One of the biggest benefits of text message automation is that it saves staff from sending the same welcome message or WiFi password again and again, thereby giving staff more time to have meaningful conversations with guests.   2. Speedy replies The convenience of text messaging as a way to get in touch with a hotel is increasingly expected by guests who are growing accustomed to texting with businesses. But texting is only convenient for guests if they can count on quick responses.  In a previous ALICE study, guests expect a response sent by text message in 12 minutes or less, compared to 18 minutes with mobile applications and 25 minutes with email. Automating responses to frequently-asked questions makes an immediate response easy, and lets staff focus on responding to other texts in a more timely fashion.       3. Improved engagement across all phases of the guest journey Performing multiple tasks simultaneously comes with the territory of the front desk. Automation allows your hotel staff to complete multiple tasks while amplifying their personalized reach before the guest even arrives on the property.   Pre-Arrival: Help your guests plan their stay   With automation, hotels can communicate a welcome message before guests check in to convey a pleasant check-in experience and memorable stay:   “We are so excited to have you at the hotel in X days. Is there any way we can assist you before you arrive? Just text this number to let us know.”   Hotels, such as the Holston House in Nashville, Tennessee, are embracing this communication method. “Text messaging automation ensures all guests feel welcomed before they step foot onto the property,” Ernesto Gonzalez, Director of Rooms, emphasizes. “Given how busy the desk can be at peak times, it’s difficult to expect our front desk agents to have the time to welcome every guest. Automation with ALICE improves the guest experience we offer at Holston House while saving valuable time for our team. It’s a win-win.”   At Arrival: Welcome your guests When hotels use text messaging automation, hotels can set up campaigns to welcome every guest the day of arrival: “We are delighted to welcome you as our guest this evening. Please reach out to us at the Front Desk by simply replying to this text message, should you need any additional amenities for your room or have any questions during your stay.”   During the Guest Stay: Continuous open conversations with your guests Once your guests are settled into their room, text message automation continues the open conversation at the guest’s convenience. Template responses to guests’ frequently asked questions such as “What’s the WiFi password?” and “What time does breakfast start?” can make your guest feel as if their needs have been met at any point of their stay.   At Departure: Improve guest feedback   With text messaging automation, hotels have the ability to be proactive in resolving guest issues before they checkout from the property. Sending departing surveys privately through automated text messages resolves issues before they reach review websites and hoteliers can capitalize on these complaints as insight to adjust standard operating procedures.   ##   With automation, hotels can leverage text messaging to engage with their guests before they even arrive on the property, and save time while texting throughout a guest’s stay. With text message automation, guest engagements will come across more personal pre-, during- and post-stay, heightening guest satisfaction to lead to increased brand loyalty and revenue.  

13 easy steps to make your hotel GDPR compliant

by
Kayla Rowen

1. What’s the GDPR and why should I care? In essence, the GDPR was brought into effect to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union (EU). Building upon the 1995 Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46/EC), the GDPR was approved by the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the European Commission on April 14, 2016. After a two-year transition period it will become enforceable across the 28 member states on May 25, 2018. The GDPR gives power back to the consumers by forcing companies to become transparent in how they are collecting, storing, and sharing their customers’ personal data information. Although the GDPR applies to any organization or business collecting data on EU citizens, the nature of hotels and the various data holding sources such as OTA bookings and PMS systems escalate the regulation for travel and hospitality industries. As ALICE grows and expands to new markets, we are complying with the GDPR to ensure our privacy settings are being adequately integrated, allowing our partners to adapt at every stage of the life cycle of customer personal information data.   2. Which hotel staff need to know about the GDPR? Decision makers and key people in EU and EEA-based hotels should be aware that the law is changing to the GDPR. This would include at least the following roles, if they exist: General Manager, Head of Marketing, and the Revenue Manager. Each of these roles deals with a significant amount customer and employee data. These leaders should read this FAQ and look further into how to comply within the areas they are presiding over.   3. What kind of information should a hotel be cautious with? All data about persons in the EU are covered under the GDPR. This includes both guests and employees. Hotels should document what personal data they hold, where it came from and with whom it is shared. Hotels may need to organise an information audit. “Personal data” is any data about an identifiable person. A person can be identified by their name, phone number, email address, reservation number, IP address, or any information that allows them to be uniquely identified. The GDPR grants extra protections for “sensitive data.” This includes personal data that reveals any of the following: trade union membership, which may be revealed by event attendance biometrics for the purpose of uniquely identifying someone, such as a fingerprint stored for opening doors health status, which may be disclosed in guest requests sex life or sexual orientation, which may also be disclosed in some guest requests The following are less likely to show up in hotel systems, but should still be understood to be sensitive in case they do show up: genetic data racial or ethnic origin political opinions religious or philosophical beliefs All of the above types of sensitive data can only be handled with explicit consent. If this kind of data is collected incidentally, it should be removed immediately to avoid undertaking new obligations for the protection of that data.   4. How does GDPR affect the software hotels can use? All rules that hotels must follow also apply to the software they use. If a hotel uses a product to process its data, that product must adhere to all the same obligations that the hotelier has. Every single vendor who receives personal data from a hotel must share a Data Processing Agreement (DPA) with the hotelier to confirm that the vendor is compliant with the rules of the GDPR. The DPA must dictate the purposes for which the processor is processing the data.   If a hotel is using a software given to it by its brand or flag, it may not be in complete control of how the gathered information will be used. In that case, as joint controllers of the data, the hotel and its brand would need to draw up a contract that explicitly states their relationship with regards to managing data. Both parties would need to communicate the relationship to both guests and employees.   5. Can EU hotels use software vendors or software on servers based outside the EU? Yes, but there are limits to how data can be transferred outside of the EU/EEA. Most major cloud service providers and many other companies, such as ALICE, have systems in place to address these rules. To confirm that a cloud service is compliant with the GDPR, hoteliers need to make sure: They have a Data Processing Agreement in place. These agreements are required for all data processors, not just international ones (GDPR Art.28[3]). There is a lawful basis for transfering the data (GDPR Rec.39, 40, 41; GDPR Art.6[1]), which can be through the service provider’s membership in the Privacy Shield, signed standard contractual clauses, or other mechanisms allowed under the GDPR. Most companies will be relying on the GDPR’s standard contractual clauses. The transfer is mentioned in the hotel’s privacy policy and the purpose of the transfer is explained.   6. What do hotels need to do about their vendors? For each vendor that processes guests’ personal information, a hotel needs to do the following: Determine the type of data the vendor processes. Determine the purpose for which the processing is happening. Obtain a Data Processing Agreement. If the vendor is outside the EU, sign the standard contractual clauses (usually part of the Data Processing Agreement mentioned above), or confirm that the vendor is a member of the Privacy Shield. Mention the vendor in the hotel’s privacy policy, along with the purpose of the vendor and how the data will be used. Confirm that the vendor can handle data rights requests with a SLA under one month (e.g. 25 days).   7. How should a hotel communicate privacy notices to guests? You should review your current privacy notices and put a plan in place for making any necessary changes in time for GDPR implementation. You should review how you seek, record, and manage consent and whether you need to make any changes. Refresh existing consents now if they don’t meet the GDPR standard. Hoteliers may need to speak with customers at check-in if explicit consent is required for any forms of data collection that require it, such as consent to marketing communications. All loyalty programs need to be examined for similar requirements if data is used in a way that requires consent.     8. Do hoteliers or vendors need to encrypt their databases? It depends. The GDPR recommends that companies take steps to protect all personal data, but it does not specify what those steps have to be. Instead, companies are asked to identify the risks to personal data and do what is appropriate for those risks. Encryption is one of many options available to protect data, but it is not specifically required by the GDPR. Article 32 of the GDPR gives the following options, none of which are strict requirements, but which should be considered for their benefits to your guests’ data privacy: the pseudonymisation [obscuring the identities] and encryption of personal data; the ability to ensure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience of processing systems and services; the ability to restore the availability and access to personal data in a timely manner in the event of a physical or technical incident; a process for regularly testing, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of technical and organisational measures for ensuring the security of the processing.   9. How can hoteliers make sure they are able to honor requests for data portability, correction, or erasure, a.k.a. “the right to be forgotten”? Customers, employees, or anyone whose personal data is stored at a hotel may request that their data be erased. They can also ask for a copy of all of their data (right to data portability) or for their data to be corrected. There are cases in which this does not need to be honored, for example if there is an ongoing contractual or legal requirement to retain the data. But in most cases, the request will need to be honored. Recital 59 of the GDPR requires these requests be answered within one month. This period can be extended under exceptional circumstances, by requesting for another month. In order to be able to handle these requests in time, hotels need to plan in advance how requests can be honored. Each location where data is stored should be mapped out with a plan on how to address the rights request for data in that location. Each vendor also needs to be vetted to confirm they have a similar plan in place. Vendors should have an SLA that is less than a month (e.g. 25 days), in order to give time for communication between you and the vendor on each end of the process when a request happens. For data portability requests, the law requires the data be given to the customer in a standardized format for transfer to other companies. Since at the moment there is no industry standard for this kind of data to be transferred from a hotel, you must use a generic but easily transferable format, such as text files with headers and comma-separated values.   10. How should hotels handle children’s data? Within the EU/EEC, a “child” is defined as someone younger than a country-defined age between 13 and 16. For most cases, hotels will not need to rely on children’s’ or parent’s consent to process guest information, since the primary basis for data processing is handling reservations. However, in cases where consent is the basis for data processing, for example, for marketing purposes, children’s data needs to be handled with extra care. You should start thinking now about whether you need to put systems in place to verify individuals’ ages and to obtain parental or guardian consent for any data processing activity. Children’s data can only be handled with explicit consent when consent is required. Best practice is to avoid collecting and storing data about children unless it is legally required or absolutely essential for handling a reservation.   11. Do hotels need to hire Data Protection Officers (DPOs)? You should designate someone to take responsibility for data protection compliance and assess where this role will sit within your organisation’s structure and governance arrangements, even if you are not formally required to have a DPO. You should consider whether you are required to formally designate a Data Protection Officer, and this designation depends on the volume and sensitivity of the information. At the chain and large group level, a DPO is almost certainly required, but for individual hotels, the law is not yet clear and you should seek guidance from your local counsel as to whether it is required.   12. Do hotels outside the EU/EEA have to do anything to comply with the GDPR? According to Article 3 of the GDPR, the regulations cover activity happening within the EU or data processing by organizations based in the EU. When an EU citizen travels outside the EU, their activities outside the EU are no longer protected by the GDPR unless the organization processing the data is based in the EU. However, a booking process that happens between a person in the EU and a hotel outside the EU is considered covered by the GDPR. Data that is collected in the EU during that process is an activity happening within the EU. So hotels outside the EU do collect data that is covered by the GDPR as part of the online reservation process. This data needs to be protected with the appropriate safeguards dictated above. 13. What are the consequences for not complying with GDPR? Businesses can have fines of up to 4% of annual global turnover or $24.6 million (€20 million), whichever is higher for not complying with the GDPR rules.  

Hospitality Technology 2020

by
Karthik Namasivayam

The Hospitality Management department at the Rochester Institute of Technology is housed in the College of Applied Science and Technology. I cannot imagine a more appropriate home for a hospitality program today, given the rapid incursion of technology in a historically tech-shy, high-touch oriented industry. Technology is everywhere: Josh Bersin notes that business models are being rapidly disrupted and organizations have to respond to the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. Platform technologies and business models are displacing established ways of doing business. The hospitality industry is not immune to these developments “ witness Airbnb, a prime example of the platform revolution and its impact on legacy hospitality (if only at the peripheries at this point). Other technologies are advancing as well and as Carson Booth, Vice President Global Property Technology at Marriott International, notes, technology such as "AI will become embedded and ubiquitous" in the hospitality industry.The purpose of this essay is to understand some technologies that will impact the hospitality industry in the near future “ the year 2020 is arbitrary, I had first titled the article as 'Hospitality Technology 2025' but the pace of technological developments shifted the horizon! In a survey of the rapidly growing commentary stream on technology, it appears the following will have a great deal of impact on the hospitality industry: robotics, 3-D printing, internet of things and data, artificial intelligence, and "trust-through-algorithms-and-ratings". Each of these is elaborated in the next paragraphs. Caveat: This is a very quick overview. Each of these technologies is complex and is associated with a number of 'human' and moral questions. For example, who is responsible for a death if the vehicle causing the accident is a self-driving car? Are consumers ready to accept a high-tech, low touch hospitality environment? Is society ready to support displaced employees? And there are, of course, other technologies not covered here.Robotics has the potential to be a big disrupter of current hospitality industry models. A number of trends “ advances in robotics, the ability of robots to 'empathize', to touch, feel, the development of sensor technologies, and demographic and societal changes that accept robotics as a given in many service jobs means that robots will become increasingly common in the industry,. Already a number of hospitality organizations both large and small are 'proof-of-concept' testing robots in their front office and check-in operations “ for example Hilton (McLean, VA), and the Henn-Na Hotel (Japan). Other applications include in housekeeping and in the kitchens. Currently, Asian consumers appear to be more readily accepting of service and humanoid robot servers and support staff than in the West. The International Federation of Robotics predicts strong growth in a variety of applications to the end of this decade. This trend towards greater number of robots becoming inserted into the service-value chain is likely to grow stronger with advances in artificial general intelligence, deep machine-learning, and neural networks.3-D Printing is another area that may have profound effects on a number of hospitality operations areas including in the kitchens, engineering, guest amenities and related areas. If spares can be printed on-demand, associated costs will probably change. On a larger scale, even complete hotel buildings can be 3-D printed “ an extension of the modular construction methods adopted by a number of hotel companies in Europe and in the US. A number of companies are experimenting with 3-D food printers for the domestic markets. How much longer before 3-D printers render room-service obsolete? When 3-D printed foods gain wide acceptance in the domestic markets, it has implications for take-away and eat-in restaurants alike. Together with robot kitchens that produce chef quality meals, 3-D printing will transform the F&B industry.Data Mining and the Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly becoming important in industry. John Keller notes that "billions of sensor-driven devices [connected] to each other, the Internet, national networks and distant cloud-based applications" carry large amounts of data "that can be captured and analyzed" to enhance business operations. He identifies the hospitality industry as one that depends on the IoT to personalize the guest experience. Mobile devices are used by guests to check in and enter their rooms, sensors adjust room temperature and lighting to guest requirements and help provide the guest a unique experience. Data collected from guest stays help rationalize the use of power and utilities in hospitality operations. Some utility companies can now remotely manage home thermostat settings to reduce the consumption of fuel and provide economies to both homeowners and the utility. The data generated from the various devices that guests and hospitality associates use can provide valuable insights that will enhance guest experience; customized, individualized experiences will be only a button away.Artificial Intelligence (AI) appears to be the lifeblood of the advancements in robotics and IoT. Experts distinguish between generalized and specialized AI. Specialized AI is about using algorithms to figure out increasingly complex but narrow set of tasks; generalized AI refers to the ability to discern actionable patterns out of masses of data using neural networks and deep learning. The driverless car, IBM Watson's abilities, and Google's DeepMind project are examples of generalized AI. As AI becomes more sophisticated, a number of tasks in the service value chain can be replaced with AI driven robots “ for example, hotel room pricing decisions or inventory management. Already concierge services, room service delivery, and housekeeping operations are supported by AI. For the hospitality industry, simultaneous translation capable robots may replace consumer contact service individuals.Trust through algorithms and ratings is an area that has great significance for how hospitality operations are managed. EBay and Airbnb are examples of this: both buyer and seller rate each other and this defines the level of trust and propensity to do business again. It also defines the ability of the seller to attract new buyers. In an increasingly algorithm and ratings mediated business environment, organizations have to perhaps reimagine their customer relationship models “ how is trust in a brand generated? The ability to build trust through algorithms and the advent of the 'gig' economy may change the employer-employee relationships and have an impact on hospitality industry employment practices.Conclusion Hospitality organizations will have to respond as these various technologies are adopted at a higher rate in the general organizational environment. It is important that they adopt a proactive and strategic stance and fundamentally (re)design themselves as technology-centered organizations. Technology-driven transformations will impact the structure of the industry as well: in some organizations, technology will be used visibly front and center (for example, service robots) in guest interfaces and back-of-the house operations with the aim of economizing. In others, technology will be used in back-of-house and support operations but have human guest relations experts at the guest interface to provide the 'high touch' experience that those willing to pay premiums for it will demand. Back of the house operations such as inventory management, room pricing decisions, or human resource management are likely to be equally technology driven. The choices made about technology and human interfaces with guests will distinguish groups of organizations.Thus, it appears that the industry is on the cusp of a very big transformation driven not only by technology but also demographic and economic changes.