A recent webinar sponsored and moderated by The Wall Street Journal and an accompanying white paper explored 10 key hospitality technology trends. Participants included several technology vendors and two hotel company executives: Peggy Fang Roe, VP of global operations service for Marriott International, and Ericka Nelson, GM of The Muse Hotel, a Kimpton Hotels property in New York.
Hotel guests travel with an increasing number of personal devices and their own information and entertainment content. A SmartBrief poll showed that 45% of hotel guests travel with two devices and 40% with three or more.
According to Roe, Marriott is responding to this trend through guestroom design, ensuring guests have the electronics (adequate and easy-to-reach plugs, bandwidth capabilities) and ergonomic support (seating and surfaces) they need.
“When we think about technology, we think about designing a room that enables you to move and be mobile anywhere you want to be in that room. We’re thinking about those things so guests are comfortable with any devices they bring to the space,” Roe said.
Kimpton makes it easier for guests who travel without devices by providing them with Nook e-readers during their stays. The devices are preloaded with books and magazines, but guests can request personalized uploads. Eventi, another Kimpton property in New York, has a “business bar” that has iPads and iPad Minis guests can use.
“We noticed travelers were packing books less and less. They’re cumbersome and take up valuable luggage space, but it’s really hard to replace the joy of reading a great book on the road,” Nelson said. “It’s also important for families that forgot to pack their tablets because games (and other contents) are big hits with bored kids.”
Some guests prefer to interact with hotel staff through technology rather than picking up the phone.
The Hyatt Union Square New York offers three check-in options for guests: an iPad check-in with a staff member called Gallery Host, a self-serve check-in kiosk and a traditional front desk. About 40% of guests at the hotel select the iPad option.
According to Roe, Marriott recently launched a test in 31 hotels that will allow for remote check-in. She said the hotels send messages to guests 24 hours ahead of arrival asking for their planned check-in time, and the hotel answers back to let them know when their rooms will be ready.
The GoBoard in Courtyard by Marriott was one example of how digital technology is replacing traditional printed signage and information boards in hotels.
Another example from the participants was the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Behind the hotel’s front desk is a huge video wall, and one of the applications is a live tool that allows guests in line, or anyone in the lobby, to send Twitter messages about the hotel or other topics. Also, the hotel’s food-and-beverage outlets use to the board to promote specials or events.
Roe of Marriott said the company recently introduced its Red Coat Direct service, which allows meeting planners to electronically communicate with hotels where they’ve scheduled events.
“It allows the meeting planner and the Red Coat at the hotel to connect in real time,” she said. Three days before the event, the planner gets a link to the customized Red Coat Direct application, which the planner can use to make requests before they arrive on-site.
“When the planners are in the hotel, they can request more coffee, more flipcharts, a change in temperature in the room, or whatever they need. We’re facilitating the conversation in the way planners and customers really want to talk to us.”
She said the application was launched in April, is now in 25 to 30 hotels and should be available in all properties in the U.S. by the end of the year. It will be available in 19 languages for global properties during 2014.
According to a poll taken by the SmartBrief online service, 85% of travelers believe Wi-Fi in hotels should be free. Kimpton and Marriott have approached the issue in different ways. At Kimpton, said Nelson, the service is free for guests who enroll in the chain’s loyalty program.
“We’ve attracted some guests, especially in the business realm, who specifically stay with us because of the free Wi-Fi,” Nelson said. “And many travelers now expect the service.”
Marriott offers free Wi-Fi in its select-service and extended-stay hotels and in lobbies of its full-service properties. In addition, gold and platinum level members of the chain’s loyalty program receive it for free, Roe said.
“We would love to (provide it for free), but it’s about whether the hotel can afford to do it,” Roe said “Over time we’re moving toward giving people the amount of Wi-Fi they need and tier the pricing in order to accommodate that. Perhaps a base level of Wi-Fi at low or no cost, but a cost attached if you need more than that.”
Courtyard’s GoBoard lobby information center has become a way to eliminate the frustration of guests standing in line to ask a simple question, such as directions or a restaurant recommendation.
“We originally put GoBoards in lobbies to give people information: news, stocks, weather,” Roe said. “We’ve since added functionality, such as flight information, local information about restaurants and concerts and quick-response code capabilities to enable the guest to get information on a smartphone. Soon we will be adding (F&B) options you can get in the lobby.”
Most hotel companies wrestle with the best ways to employ social media as a marketing, communications and guest-service tool. Nelson said Kimpton’s focus is on investing in listening technology to ensure the chain keeps in touch with guest reviews, comments and reactions.
Marriott last week launched its Travel Brilliantly marketing campaign, which Roe said will help the company “define the future of technology.”
“We’re asking (the public) to share their ideas on a number of different categories: technology, space design and more,” she said. “The next evolution of social media is talking to the community and making it part of our business.”
The white paper noted a variety of ways hoteliers increase their luxury offerings through technology—everything from high-definition TVs embedded in bathroom mirrors to curated set lists of music downloads as offered by Hard Rock Hotels.
Marriott’s new Workspace on Demand service allows non-hotel guests, such as small businesses and entrepreneurs, to book meeting space at Marriott properties on half-day or full-day basis. Larger groups can book meeting space that includes audio-visual equipment and Wi-Fi.
“We’ve all sat outside a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi to be on a conference call,” Roe said. “In hotels there is a lot of underutilized space during the day, and we thought it would be a good way for our hotels to invite people in.”
So far, 35 hotels in the Marriott system have opted into the program, and they’ve received about 120 bookings in the first 90 days the service was offered, Roe said.
Trends get a bad rap, mostly because they are often equated with fashions. Talk about trends and people immediately start imagining wafer thin models strutting down catwalks in outrageous outfits, or maybe a new shade of purple that will be long forgotten by next season.
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