Room For Growth
Hoteliers are vying to give customers the choice of control for various services in guestrooms. And they are banking on technology to do this
By Pradeep S
Imagine a world where the room knows you and you know your room – that is what Hilton’s CEO, Christopher Nassetta said while participating at the Skift Global Forum 2017 this October. At the event he revealed that the hotel chain is currently testing a ‘smart room’ that will be connected to a computer system. The company is expected to roll out this personalised service offering sometime next year.
Now this might sound very futuristic, but honestly, it banks of sifting through a lot of information that the hotel chain anyway gathers by way of its Hilton Honors loyalty program. Registered guests often share information about their room, meal, linen, and even lighting, bedding and entertainment preferences prior to check-in. The hotel’s data analytics team can use it to automatically enhance the guest’s stay experience, which in turn will result in improving customer loyalty.
World over, hotels are augmenting
the service offerings in guest rooms in a bid to make these spaces technologically relevant and smart, and attract the next generation of travellers. This is the age group that is largely accustomed to high-tech personalised features, since most
of them live in smart and connected homes. Hence, hotels are wooing them with personalised elements like mood lighting, temperature control, entertainment choices, F&B preferences in the mini-bar, etc.
Hilton is amongst one of the many hotel chains globally that offers keyless entry to all of its Hilton Honors customers, where the guest’s smartphone is used as the key. Marriott International is the other organisation that offers keyless entry via mobile devices.
And if you thought that keyless entry was the extent that hotels are going to ensure that their guests have a convenient stay, well, think again. In-room automation is going places, literally, with the entry of digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri!
In December 2016, Wynn Resorts became the first hotel company to install Alexa-powered Echo devices in the suites of its flagship Las Vegas property. According to various reports, Marriott International is also testing these digital assistants at Aloft hotel in Boston to check if guests can use the voice commands to turn on lights, close drapes, control room temperature and change television channels.
TECH REVOLUTION IN ROOMS
Before you presume that these innovations are being unveiled only in international properties, think again! In-room automation has started making strides in India as well. What’s more, they are attempting to make it as user-friendly
Take the case of The Oberoi, Bengaluru, where all luxury accommodations are equipped with an iPad and the company’s exclusive Oberoi E’nhance interface allows guests to manage everything from entertainment to in-room dining, as well as a multimedia hub and high speed WiFi. “The idea behind introducing this technology was two-fold – a more enjoyable and memorable stay experience for the guest and enhanced engagement with our products and services. The Oberoi E’nhance interface has been custom-designed by DigiValet, as per our specifications,” said Visheshwar Raj Singh, VP and GM, The Oberoi Bengaluru.
With the Oberoi E’nhance guests
can use a host of features, including choosing movies, customising lighting, controlling room temperature, browsing the internet and listening to web radio channels. The interface also comes with a door camera functionality, giving guests the ability to see who is at the door and then open it remotely.
“One can also use it to order from our extensive in-room dining menu, with photographs of every item vividly displayed on the iPad screen, so the guest knows exactly what he/she is going to get. The Oberoi E’nhance interface also acts as a portal for guests to explore The Oberoi Spa, ongoing culinary promotions and dining options within the hotel and even see places to visit in and around Bengaluru. The software also enables guests to check their bills on real time basis and even ask for ‘one-touch butler services’ like shoe shine, luggage collection, replenishment of toiletries and much more,” Singh added.
Guest rooms at ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru, too, have a USA based in-room automation system known as In-com, which controls the lighting and temperature and can be adjusted as per the guest’s preference. Guests can also set the automatic wake-up call facility in the In-com system. Additionally, rooms in the hotel also have audio visual facilities on the 42-inch LED television integrated with a digital kiosk that can be connected to a laptop, iPad, tabloid, etc., so they can watch movies on a bigger screen or use it for their work.
Similarly, ITC Grand Chola, Chennai rooms also have iPad-based controls on lighting, air-conditioning etc, with additional features like door camera and remote door opening. Talk about control at the click of a button!
INNOVATION AT THE CORE
One reason why hotels are investing in automation in guestrooms is to provide innovation in customer experience and also make these spaces resemble a lot like a smart home. As more affluent and globe-trotting guests begin to use smart-home technology, they expect the same features in hotel rooms as well.
However, that does not mean that hotels are creating rooms that will make Lex Luthor feel at home! Instead, they choose in-room automation solutions that will boost the guest’s comfort with solutions that are easy-to-use. Like Singh pointed out the first priority of The Oberoi Bengaluru, since it is a popular luxury business hotel, is not to confuse or intimidate them with fancy gadgets and blinking lights!
“Thus, our technology primarily has been designed to enhance their stay experience and make it more comfortable, without adding a steep learning curve for them to negotiate. The second consideration would be to make the technology inviting and attractive across ages and demographics, ensuring its maximum usage and thus enhancing hotel sales,” he added.
Ajay Nayak, chief engineer at ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru stated that the selection of technology for in-room automation is incorporated depending on the clientele the hotel chain caters to – business, leisure or luxury. ITC Hotels has adapted the best available technology from its very inception. “We carry out a deep research on this and basis the technology and the various services offered, we determine the best and ideal vendor. Some of the best brands that are currently being used in our hotels are Honeywell, Digivalet and Pamba,” he added.
In the case of Marriott, Shilpi Khanna, assistant director of rooms, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar said that the various technologies housed at any properties chosen by the Marriott design team keeps in mind the latest technologies in the market and the brand’s image. The team ensures that these technologies do not need human intervention, which is most important in the hospitality industry.
“The Marriott App has been specifically designed for all our hotels. This app allows guests to book a hotel, receive room-ready notifications when they opt for mobile check-in and also helps them connect and chat with the agent before or during their stay,” she explained, while explaining how the minimal human intervention works.
HAPPY GUESTS,HAPPY BALANCE SHEETS
There is no denying that the latest innovations in in-room automation help in putting a smile on a guest’s face. But that same smile can find its way to an hotelier’s face, as these technology advancements help the company to increase the brand’s value on digital platforms.
Singh explained how in a tech-savvy city like Bengaluru, this level of in-room automation always gets appreciation from the hotel’s guests. “The high level of usage and wonderful feedback on public forums like Trip Advisor is also an indication of its success,” he noted, a statement that is seconded by Nayak for the ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru. He added that the use of in-room automation has given his hotel a competitive edge.
N Ramamoorthy, chief engineer of ITC Grand Chola, Chennai too stated, “The iPad-based automation was first used in ITC Grand Chola and has attracted considerable appreciation from our guests and has brought about a great difference in terms of enhancing the overall consumer experience.”
At the same time, automation in guest rooms can result in operational efficiencies in hotels, besides helping in ensuring a seamless, engaging and more comfortable stay for guests. Now, with a digital device in their hands, guests need not go through printed menus before placing their in-room dining order – they can scroll through the information on the gadget and even order online! Imagine the cost saving on printing menus for various rooms regularly in a hotel!
In the The Oberoi Bengaluru many guests take official conference video calls in their rooms. With the use of the door camera and remote opening, they can order food or any other hotel service and enjoy them without once getting up from their seat or disconnecting the call, with the added security feature of remotely knowing who is outside before opening the door. Singh said, “So, as for ROI, if you have happy guests who become loyal fans thanks to such evolutionary experience enhancements, the returns take care of themselves!”
Nayak stated that in-room automation helps brands to control the lighting and temperature very smartly, which in return controls loading and un-loading of the entire HVAC system and lighting – enhancing the energy efficiency and reducing cost.
Additionally, this also has minimum interface of service associates in other words less manpower and hence minimises guest dissonance. “The operational efficiency has improved as there is no integration of manual settings, failure of processors due to human nature, hence improving customer satisfaction,” he reiterated.
Khanna too felt that automation leads to increased operational efficiency and has helped JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar save a lot on heat, light and power energy, for example. “The lead time for responding to guest requests reduces and this in turn helps us achieve greater guest satisfaction,” she said.
To make the lives of guests comfortable with the use of in-room technology, it is equally important to ensure that the latest solutions are deployed. After all, technology is constantly rendered redundant and hotels need to assess the room automation systems in place and determine which of the elements need to be upgraded. This can be done on the basis of guest feedback in addition to inputs from the operations, IT and the finance team about the specific areas that need to be improved upon.
Singh recalled a recent incident at The Oberoi Bengaluru where they updated their automation platform to make it more proactive. “Recently we moved from just having a static spa e-menu on this platform, to make it a booking interface as well by adding a query button. Thus, any guest keen on booking a spa therapy while browsing the menu, can just click on this icon, which notifies our spa desk and the guest receives a call back from the spa to discuss and book his / her appointment,” he said.
When it comes to choosing the right solutions partner, Nayak said it depends on the convenience of operations and service support availability from the vendor.
WHAT’S UP, DOC?
Talking about some new solutions that they would like to unveil in the future, Nayak said it would be mapping the experience of the business traveller. “We are keen on using this yet-to-be-launched technology for all our hotels pan-India. It is an automation application that helps a business traveller plan the optimal utilisation of their time starting from the time they leave their house till the time they reach back. By mapping their experience, one has a control over their travel and doesn’t have to rely on the recommendations of travel desk or commercial agents. This enables them to proactively plan different phases of their travel (before, during and after) in advance,” he explained.
Singh added that The Oberoi Hotels as a group may consider implementation of some form of Internet of Things (IoT) in its hotels, as most foreign guests already have such technology implemented in their houses and offices abroad.
In a world that is getting increasing hyper-connected, hotels have to keep coming up with as many personalised solutions in a bid to stay relevant. By leveraging technology to integrate smart features in guest rooms, they are not only ensuring that their customers have a good stay and pleasant sleep, but also keep coming back for more.