Putting hotels’ front desk in guest’s pocket
When Lenette and Charlie Frye arrived recently at the Four Seasons in Orlando for a two-night stay, they spotted an iPad loaded with the hotel’s app that they could use to order food, call for their car or read about activities in the hotel.
“You do it all yourself,” said Lenette Frye, 30, who manages a student-living community in Gainesville, Fla. She and Charlie Frye, 35, a consultant for the University of Florida and former professional football player, travel frequently and liked the convenience of not having to pick up the phone.
While apps are not new in the hotel industry, the use of them and other tech tools has grown exponentially in the last five years as hoteliers seek new ways to meet the needs of guests, gain repeat customers, differentiate their
brands and, ultimately, increase revenue.
And since the tools are available at all hours, hotel experts say they may go a long way toward keeping guests happy and avoiding negative reviews on social media and websites like TripAdvisor.
Hotels are spending as much as 6 percent of total revenue on technology, according to Hospitality Technology’s 2017 Lodging Technology Study. Titled “Frictionless Hotels: Enabling the OmniExperience,” the study said that 57 percent of hotels planned to spend more on technology this year than they did in 2016, while 42 percent planned to spend about the same and just 2 percent said they would decrease their IT spending.
Hotel occupancy rates in the U.S. are at 65.5 percent, the highest since 1984, said Bjorn Hanson, a professor of hospitality and tourism at the Tisch Center of New York University. Though they had typically been slow to adopt new technologies, hotels are seeing a place for tech tools to make sure that guests’ needs are met.
“They’re trying to improve the guest experience by doing things on the guests’ terms instead of the hotel’s,” said Gregg Hopkins, chief sales and marketing officer for Intelity Corp., which creates technology products for hotels, including companies like the Four Seasons, Loews, Conrad and Pacific Hospitality Group. “It drives loyalty and drives repeat business and drives revenue.”
“Hotels need to stay engaged with the guest from the time they make the reservation until they check out and check in again,” Hopkins said. “They need to differentiate what they do for the guest.”
In the past five years alone, communication with Marriott International from mobile devices has quadrupled, said George Corbin, senior vice president for digital at the hotel chain. In addition, 75 percent of all Marriott guests used a smartphone, tablet or laptop during their most recent stay. “This space is moving so fast,” he said. “We sort of take a bite at a time” in refining technology developments.
And that is indicative of what is happening in the hotel industry. Marriott was among the early technology adopters, having introduced an app in early 2012 that offered the ability to book a hotel room. Since then, the company has added features that allow guests to use the app to check in and check out; receive an alert when a room is ready; make requests of the hotel staff; and, in at least 500 locations, unlock a room.
Technology also helps to resolve problems. A quarter of Marriott’s guests have an issue, problem or question during their stay, Corbin said. But guests whose problems were solved the first time they contacted the hotel “report higher satisfaction than people who had no problem at all,” he said.
For Tina Amber, 64, who travels with her husband to visit family and explore the world, apps are a way of life.
“I like the ability to do things with the click of a button,” said Amber, a retired retail executive who lives in Pleasanton. When she and her husband drive from the Bay Area to San Diego to visit two of their grandchildren, they stop at the Bacara Resort and Spa in Santa Barbara County, where she relies on the iPad in the room to make all her plans.
Technology, she said, has become her constant companion. “If a hotel doesn’t have it, I’m somewhat put off.”
Shayne Paddock, chief innovation officer for guest management solutions at TravelClick, an e-commerce service provider for hotels, said different guests wanted different things.
“For hospitality, you don’t want to lose the human element,” Paddock said. The aim is “to blend technology with the human side if you want to be successful in this space. Not using cool technology for the sake of cool technology.”
Making things easier for guests is the goal, said Carol Beggs, director of technology at Chatham Bars Inn, a resort more than a century old on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “You can book online, not just rooms but everything else,” she added.
By May or June, Beggs said, she expects guests to be able to book “ancillary activities,” like a cabana or a sailboat, on the hotel’s website or app using “smartphones, laptop, phone, whatever method you want to use.”
At the Washington Marriott Georgetown in Washington, which has just undergone a $28 million renovation that included an update of its technology, guests can use mobile requests to obtain tickets to a show at the Kennedy Center, make dinner reservations or have maps ready for them when they return to the hotel.
The digital conveniences are among the ways hotels are “trying to differentiate from each other and from Airbnb, and wean off of online travel agencies,” said Lorraine Sileo, senior vice president for research at Phocuswright, a travel industry research firm. They want to “grab you in the search process and booking process and in the destination. They want to have that relationship with you.” It’s not possible. We need to be smart about policies so they last. I’ve spent a lot of time working, not just with environmentalists but with industry to look at how do we work together as opposed to fighting.
Q: There is apparently quite a debate going on within the White House about whether or not to stick with the Paris climate accord. If you were to make an argument in favor of it to this administration, what would you say?
A: Look, I think the Paris agreement is a flexible agreement. And so the new administration could take a different approach to it. I also think it’s the economic case — that there is a real economic opportunity to do what we want to do in Canada and what the U.S. administration wants to do, which is to create good jobs for the most number of people, to foster innovation. We are seeing amazing new American companies — like Tesla — that are creating wealth and jobs.
Also, I think that it’s just better to be at the table.