–By Andrea Graziani, Co-Founder, Chief Marketing Officer at DUFL
As hospitality professionals know, the hotel industry is extremely competitive. Each brand has its unique pitch, and properties offer specialized services to appeal to consumers in a variety of ways. But in the eyes of most consumers, the amenities offered are similar, so hotels must find a way to stand out from the crowd and attract repeat business. That’s where technology can help.
For hotels, it’s all about putting heads on beds — bookings typically determine whether a property is profitable or not. For most hotels, the other amenities — restaurants, on-site stores, lounges, etc. — are value-adds that keep guests happy and coming back, but they usually don’t generate a significant share of total revenue on a standalone basis, and they are often a loss center.
So how can technology make a difference where other value-adds don’t? The short answer is, it can make life easier for guests, and in many cases, incorporating new technology services is revenue neutral. Other travel-sector companies have incorporated technology into their operations to streamline processes like securing boarding passes for flights. Of course, most consumers already use technology to book hotel rooms, and many hotels offer tech-forward amenities like apps that provide keyless entry to rooms, but there is plenty of space to expand technology’s use in the hotel sector.
Like most businesses, hotels use technology in their daily business operations. Front desk staff rely on it to manage reservations and other functions, and office employees use software designed for the hospitality industry to manage the books and cash flow. While some hotels use manual processes to track basic tasks, others have thoroughly modernized guest service operations, using technology to manage inventory, maintenance and housekeeping tasks.
Customers may never see direct evidence of the technology behind the scenes, back-office efficiency can help hotels deliver a better guest experience overall. For example, a hotel room service operation that tracks orders manually may be more error-prone, and employees who are laboriously completing manual entries aren’t available to provide guest services.
But aside from back-office basics, which are table stakes, hotels generate the most bang for their technology buck with customer-facing services that make guests’ lives easier. Some hotels offer electronic concierge services and provide apps that can help guests who are attending conferences manage their check-ins and schedules. Hoteliers who provide that type of service effectively (typically through a vendor) can build good will with conference organizers and guests alike, generating repeat business.
That’s why hospitality professionals looking to boost business at their hotels are taking a fresh look at how they can incorporate more customer-facing technology. One avenue many are exploring are upgrades to in-room technology, such as better broadband and devices like iPads in the rooms to control temperature, lighting, etc. Since consumer electronics are evolving rapidly, more sophisticated TVs are also a high priority for hotels that want to deliver the best possible entertainment experience, including TVs that interact as seamlessly with guests’ mobile devices as their home TVs do.
Many hotels are now offering electronic check-in services, which is more convenient for guests than waiting at a crowded front desk for an available agent. Some of the hotels that have used this type of service have found their check-in app can also serve as a platform for offering discounted upgrades, late check-outs and other services that can boost the bottom line.
Partnering with tech companies that serve travelers can also be an excellent way to create a memorable guest experience. Finding ways to alleviate traveler inconveniences that aren’t directly within the hotel’s control can be a productive strategy. Partnering with a company that handles frequent travelers’ baggage is one example: With this type of service, the partner delivers a suitcase containing business travelers’ road trip wardrobes to the hotel and picks it up again when the guest departs, freeing the traveler from the burden of lugging suitcases through airports and creating a stress free travel experience from start to finish.
Ensuring guest comfort, convenience and security have always been a top priority for hospitality professionals, and technology provides another way to deliver on brand promises built around those principles. Startups providing travel and event-related services can offer hotels an opportunity to incorporate new technologies into their offering without investing in developing or administering a site-based service. That’s an affordable way to get a competitive edge.