A Smart Tech

OPS & SERVICES

From interactive TVs to keyless room access, jet speed Wi-Fi to one touch room lighting and robot servers, here’s how hotels are using technology to stay relevant to the ever-evolving (and defining) segment of guests – By Madhulika Dash

About a decade ago, if someone had to tell a guest that their phones are in fact an all-access pass to the hotel facilities, there was a good chance that the guest would leave the vicinity the next instant. Today, these are exactly the ‘things’ that (studies say) play a crucial role for the guest to decide on a particular brand over other.

The days of big TV and plush bathrooms have long gone as hotels are now playing catch to the needs (and whims) of their well-travelled, technology savvy guests. The better you serve, the more the chance of getting through guests who matter – essentially corporate and the high-end MICE travellers who form a lion share of the guest pie.

What adds to the issue is that these are the same segments that also brings in their own entertainment in form of iPads, smartphones and others, leaving hotels to little apart from provide/facilitate and enhance the facility as and when required.
Result: Wi-Fi has emerged as the proverbial “carrot” that not only gets the guests to the hotels, but also turns them into brand loyalist. The guest today, says Rohit Bajpai, GM, Radisson Blu Paschim Vihar, “wants a fuss free, on-their-own experiential stay at hotels. They do not want to be told what to do and how, and that’s where technology plays a huge role in making the service effective yet non-intrusive.”

And Wi-Fi becomes the tool that, adds Saurabh Khanna, GM, operations, The Park, Calangute, “helps create seamless guest engagement platforms and making them reach the end user without actually interrupting the guest schedule.”
An excellent example of how Wi-Fi and mobility in sync work on enhancing a guest’s experience (and hotel efficiency) is the SPG app by Starwood. Designed to capture fundamental elements about a guest, it works like a profiler for every guest who checks in at any Starwood property, while aiding the hotel to create memorable experiences that would turn them a brand loyalist – a key element for success today. “So for instance with your first check-in at any Starwood property, if your preference is a non-smoking room, chilled mineral water and extra coffee along with extra USB ports in the room and a wire-free charging unit,” says Rahul Deshmukh, IT manager, Four Points By Sheraton Pune, “then on your next booking, all these arrangements will be in your room, right down to the required Wi-Fi speed for your work.”

Likewise is the case with the AccorHotel App, which along with being a seamless check-in app also allows the guest to tailor-make his stay with the best the hotel has to offer – and at the best rate. And not in one hotel, but brands across different continents!

Easy accessibility to the guest combined with the rise in social media are the two key reasons, says Bajpai, “that most technological advancement though outside the guest rooms have been on mobile platform. And there is a good chance that in the years to come it will only improve making Wi-Fi (and its speed) one of the defining factors for hotels to garner guests.”
Four Points By Sheraton already has a policy of complimentary Wi-Fi to all its guests for the sheer efficiency that a socially connected guests affords to their hospitality. Currently, elaborates Deshmukh, “we allow connectivity up to three devices every guest in all Four Point properties at 5Mbps, and willingly accommodate another device on request. This feasibility of not charging them allows us the liberty to engage them through different platforms.”
Deshmukh’s assumption isn’t farther from the truth. One of the key changes this year at Zuri Group of Hotels is the upgrading of software to the latest version of Opera PMS (Ver5.5.0.0) at the Zuri Kumarakom and The Zuri Whitesands, which would allow better connectivity to the guest staying at the property and also a better platform for guest engagement solution.
Clearly engagement without intrusion has been at the foundation of all technology advancement in the hotels. But is everything related to a high speed Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi, says Edwin D’Souza, IT manager, Sofitel BKC Mumbai, “is just the means to help us reach out to the guest, giving him an experience that is personalised, while keeping him abreast about the different facilities that he can indulge in. It is a way to make their stay seamless, memorable with an increased chance of guest loyalty.”

MORE THAN A CHECK-IN APP
Like the check-in app at Aureole, says Dharmesh Karmokar, partner and F&B advisor, Aureole Hotel. “Once downloaded, this app is designed to evolve as per your needs. On the crust, it allows you to check-in while on your way to the hotel, over your stay it works as a pocket concierge that sets time of reminders for your flight and other facilities.”
Another example of the all-encompassing app is the Starwood’s SPG Keyless check-in at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Park. This, says Faiz Alam Ansari, general manager of Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park, “not only eases the process of check-ins, it also allows the guest to select their own room (including the view) and also tweak the amenities as per requirement. Like pre-selecting meals and ordering online, integrated banqueting/meeting facilities, pre-programmed gym routine at the hotel to express check outs with e-folios upon departure.”

In fact, at Sofitel BKC, says D’Souza, “the hotel app, which is downloadable by scanning the QR code of the hotel key, has incorporated digital menu of all its F&B outlets (the in-room and bar will be included presumingly soon), which allows the guest to pre-order their meals to their specifications. And a ‘Concierge in Your Pocket’ facility that makes you aware of the facilities in the vicinity, like hospitals, chemist and such.”

The multi-purpose app isn’t limited to check-ins or pre-booking a meal either. At Novotel Imagica Khopoli for instance, says Srinivas Srirangam, GM, Novotel Imagica Khopoli, alongwith the group app, there is a special app called Table Plus, which “includes live reservations, allowing you to book your restaurant when you want, instant restaurant confirmations, up to 50% off dining benefit and explore other dining offers and more.”

NOT JUST THE TV
While most hotels still manage the cable networks (now in HD) as part of their standard in-room entertainment, the onus is adding more value to the 50-inch flat screen with chic looking high tech devices to create a “home-like” feeling for the guest staying.
At T24 for instance, it is the one touch panel along with the sensor lighting that ensures “right from the curtains to the lights have been programmed to be operated with one touch. So you rarely need to move out of the bed to draw the curtains or switch off the light – which thanks to our sensors dims or switches off as and when the guest moves out of the room,” says Bharat Malkani, owner T24.

Another example of how technology is changing is the plug and play facility, which can turn the TV into an interactive console or an IPTV. Or even a Skype screen with effective Bluetooth operated speakers, adds Ansari, who believes that the next big change in in-room technology will be creating the right environment for work from hotel room concept, which allows for better visibility of brand’s facility than just the business centre.

Concurs Deshmukh, who counts the mood music in hotels as one of the interesting advancement in technology that is a potential tech pull for guests. “We have a separate set of music that is played in the lobby, bar, restaurant, rooms or even the corridors. And the best part is that it changes as the days progress, which works wonders in making guest feel at home, especially for the long staying guests, who find it comforting.”

The other big change that technology has afforded in rooms is the one-touch panel that often doubles up as USB port, AUX-in, and even hands-free speakers for your call, and of course the in-room routers. This, says Khanna, “are a key essential today at resorts where people would like to have the convenience of their home in a hotel, be it transferring pictures and videos and watching it on big screen in real time or entertain a leisure call while enjoying a dip in the bathtub.”

Path Ahead
So what’s next for the tech in hotels in India?

While for Srirangam, the next few years will be ensuring scalability with wearable gadgets and augmented reality- based devices joining the guest’s entertainment coupe, for others like D’Souza, it is making hotels stay truly “better security levels.” Iris scan check-ins, says the IT expert, “is the next, more secure and accurate system for hotels to ensure guest safety, which today in some brands is done by key-access floors. In fact, it is already in place to control access for the presidential suite at Nine Zero Hotel in Boston.”

For Ansari, the wait is for the arrival of the robotic butler called Botlr that would enhance the digital forwardness while minimising error, and has already been tested at Aloft Cupertino.

But the one thing that would come faster than deemed will be hotels investing in Cloud Computing, says Amber Jain, IT manager, Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity. “There is no doubt that mobile and cloud computing are the future, but considering the revolutionary mobile computing devices and ongoing global malware and virus threats, the biggest challenge is data security. So the coming years will see a heavy investment in cloud computing: e-spaces that will, on one hand, ensure security of data with frequent banking and personalised transactions and synchronisation, etc. in easily accessible, open yet secured environment; and on the other, aid guests at taking their work and entertainment wherever they go without any extra cost of maintaining/upscaling or upgrading. ”

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