Now everyone can travel and when they do, they need a place to stay. Monitoring and planning for the next big trend is the challenge for many hoteliers. Hospitality Asia interviewed several hoteliers across the region to get their opinions on some key digital and technology issues affecting the industry.
Some hotels are ahead of the curve, with the Sofitel Singapore City Centre for example, using two droid butlers named Sophie and Xavier, to extend minibar services to its guests.
Many hotel reservations are made online or through email and most hotels require a competent Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programme to accommodate guest preferences. Others are using technology to monitor and manage equipment to save resources and minimise overheads.
The Next Frontier
Technology affects almost every facet of the industry from business acquisition to purchasing/sourcing, from human resources to marketing; scarcely any hotel department has not seen some technological impact.
Travellers are changing the way they travel and for hoteliers such as Franck Loison General Manager at the Sofitel Kuala Lumpur Damansara, it is clear that social media is rapidly emerging as the next big frontier in the hospitality industry.
At the just-opened EQ in Kuala Lumpur, senior management recognise that the single biggest impactor for the hotel’s business is the internet.
Hospitality industry surveys indicate that customers also use social media to share their experiences and gain information about hospitality organisations. Social media has become an imperative tool for marketers to enhance customer experience and subsequently elevate service levels.
In the recent State of Digital Lifestyles report, American content delivery network, Limelight Networks Inc, reports that 69% of Malaysians would not be able to stop using their mobile device, even for one day. According to the report, the situation is similar in other countries from India to another eight countries surveyed including Singapore, South Korea and the United States.
While most hotels attend to their existing guests, others are implementing facilities and services to cater to the next generation of travellers. Already young travellers (millennials) are making their presence felt and many hotels are gearing up for an even greater presence.
The Rise of the Young Asian Traveller, a report by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), surveyed 1,000 young travellers aged between 16 to 35 years of age. It notes that 80% of respondents had taken a trip outside their country with 47% having made an overseas trip in the past twelve months and 20% having embarked on two trips.
Other useful information from the report for hoteliers is that holidays of more than two weeks are rare (lack of time and budget), more than 50% of millennials preferred to book all aspects of their trip independently without the need for an Online Travel Agent (OTA), and travel itineraries were often planned on the go based upon peer group feedback and recommendations.
The report concluded that social media was a useful and effective tool in informing, inspiring and recommending travel options.
Franck Loison confirms this. “Social media is rapidly transforming into a platform for customer engagement and for those in hospitality to establish relationships with customers. The trend also reflects a fundamental shift in the role of the customer, which has progressed from being a co-producer, to being a co-owner of a hospitality organisation and its potential success.”
For Guido Farina, General Manager at RuMa Hotel and Residences, the biggest recent change for hotels is in consumer behaviour. “It is easy for consumers to gather information that will factor into their decision-making. They are spoiled for choice and it is up to the hotel to ensure it stands out, in terms of design, service and brand association,” he remarks.
Similar engagements occur across the region. Bjorn Richardson, the General Manager at 137 Pillars Suites and Residences in Chiang Mai notes, “Most changes that we see on the horizon are guest-led, as the digital space is constantly evolving. Areas like seamless translation between various languages, simultaneous translation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are already here.”
Embracing Digital Technology
Hotels need to embrace digital technology to improve operational procedures and lower costs and to effectively market the hotel to generate income.
Various technological advances are incorporated into hotel management. Peter Hourigan, General Manager explains the situation at The Saujana Kuala Lumpur, “We are constantly upgrading our hotel system with interface software like iScala, Opera, Transit, CCS (Communications Centre System), Lotus Notes, as well as a Building Management System (BMS) to monitor equipment such as the chiller and hot water system.”
Adopting technological innovation has proved successful for Ri-Yaz Hotels and Resorts. Andreas Rud, Chief Operating Officer reports, “For the first time in our 11-year history we were able to achieve and confirm a fair market share rating for all indexes for Ri-Yaz Hotels and Resorts. Thus, we have leveraged our IT Solutions with great synergy and the agility to compete on a global scale with multinational competitors.”
Technology is harnessed to improve guest services in most hotels. At the Banyan Tree Samui, Portier smartphones are provided to guests to enable free international telephone calls and 4G internet, as well as access to resort facilities.
Remko Kroesen, Banyan Tree Samui’s General Manager says the most popular feature of these smartphones is the ‘Villa Host’ function. Each guest is assigned a ‘Villa Host’ (personal butler-cum-concierge), who will contact them ahead of arrival to take requests in preparation for their vacation. The resort has some ten on call at any one time, one for every eight villas. Visitors can call for room service, housekeeping, car hire or for local advice. Smartphones enable connectivity through wi-fi hotspots no matter where guests travel around the island.
Hotspots work in tandem with the GPS and provide a guest safety net for those who might get lost. In addition, hotel information is downloaded onto the smartphone in various languages. This includes menus, spa treatments, tours and kids’ club activities.
Similarly, by engaging with Portier solutions, 137 Pillars Suites and Residences Chiang Mai can provide its suite guests with the same mobile device. It too can be used as a phone, mobile hotspot and provide direct butler access.
Mohammed Nabeel ICT Manager at the Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur maintains, “We are adapting new technology and have introduced initiatives in both hotels under our management (Banyan Tree and Pavilion). For example, a high-end IPTV system was implemented in both with a facility for guests to stream content from their phone and from televisions to personal handheld devices. This helps guests to simultaneously watch football on television while children can enjoy kid’s channels on their gadgets,” enthuses Nabeel.
Speed is King
As in most hotels, guests at 137 Pillars Suites and Residences in Chiang Mai demand constant high-speed connectivity. For many guests at this property and others, free and fast internet is crucial for selecting accommodation.
The demand for connectivity is steadily increasing, both in terms of devices as well as the internet speed needed. It is crucial to be able to supply a stable, high quality internet connection seamlessly throughout a hotel.
According to Khim Tong Theow, the IT Manager at The Saujana, internet speed was recently increased from 50 Mbps to 120 Mbps.
Ms. Norzuraini, Director of Finance at The Saujana succinctly observes, “Revenue management will be the most important technology for sustaining a hotel business. This is followed by operational technology, communications / digital technology, CRM as well as managing the confidentiality and privacy of information technology.”
Mohammed Nabeel at the Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur agrees. “CRM and revenue management play crucial roles in the hospitality industry. CRM helps us to get constant guest feedback to improve our product through enhancing guest experiences,” he states.
He added that dynamic revenue management will help hoteliers know where the hotel stands in the market and will allow managers to evaluate the current trends and capture the business and flexibility by means of rates.
For RuMa Hotel, technology has had a very positive impact, especially in terms of being able to reach guests around the globe. Guido Farina maintains, “We have been receiving enquiries and bookings from most continents. This would have been impossible 20 years ago. Technology has also enabled us to monitor trends so we can generate a better forecast of hotel occupancy and revenue.”
Likewise, “At Ri-Yaz Hotels and Resorts, with current technology we are able to compete in a global arena that we were not able to do so without the cooperation of our third party IT solutions partners,” maintains Andreas Rud.
The situation is similar at The Saujana. “Instead of using outdated outbound marketing campaigns that go largely ignored, we provide valuable information about special promotions and current events to our potential and existing guests. Hence, the power of the internet, apps, online marketing tools and social media are the current technologies that have impacted upon our operations and revenue,” reports Khim Tong Theow.
Design and Engineering
While many sections of a hotel embrace the digital world, others are adopting the latest technology. New hotels especially benefit from incorporating the latest design, equipment and facilities with green technology an essential innovation for many including the just-opened EQ Kuala Lumpur with its Green Building Certification.
Interestingly, the old Equatorial hotel was the first to introduce electronic room door locksets as well as the first to implement public area wi-fi in Malaysia back in 2000.
Technology was very much part of the design of the 137 Pillars property in Chiang Mai. It has been harnessed in applying smart solutions to achieve an energy-saving and sustainable product. Sensors for air conditioning, LED lights, the latest electronic equipment in the guestrooms and suites were installed in addition to a strong IT infrastructure to support various service technologies.
Similarly, at The Saujana, the Engineering Department installed energy saving equipment when chillers where replaced. This was done using latest technology available.
Leo Kuscher, the General Manager at the Royale Chulan Seremban, adds, “While our property in Seremban is still working towards introducing cutting edge technology, we have implemented recent changes by upgrading to a new chiller to make the air conditioning more energy-efficient in an effort to offer a better service to our guests, lower our energy bill and, in our own small way, lower the hotel’s carbon footprint.” In line with adopting a greener technology, the hotel has also installed an energy efficient hot water system.
Old-Fashioned Service vs Technology
Most hotels pride themselves on personalised service with most luxury properties offering high staff number to guest ratios. Bjorn Richardson, General Manager, 137 Pillars in Chiang Mai sums up the importance of human interaction and the need for high levels of service to the most discerning guests. “The challenge is to implement the new technology with old-fashioned face-to-face service, which is personalised and tailored to each guest’s individual needs. We strongly believe in the power of human interaction, so it is vital to not rely solely on technology to deliver a truly unique service.”
These thoughts are very much echoed by Leo Kuscher. “Hospitality is a people business where fostering relationships is important as return customers are very valuable for the sustainability of the hotel.”
The concept at Ri-Yaz Hotels and Resorts is that all technology solutions are an important part of the whole system and it is up to the hotel and staff to add value.
Guido Farina adds, “The RuMa team is continuously exploring new technology in order for us to meet our promise of excellent Hostmanship. However, there are some areas we like to keep traditional such as a handwritten note from our concierge or personal attention from our staff. We place the greatest emphasis on the quality of guest experience.”
Meanwhile, Franck Loison claims, “Ultimately, the long-term success of a hospitality organisation is defined by its capability to extend and sustain a substantial loyal customer base using social media.”
A seasoned Kuala Lumpur hotelier commented that technology to drive business forward already exists. He adds, “Better humans who have sufficient grasp of the technology available are needed so those tools can be applied as leverage for the business.”
What is happening to the hotel industry now has already happened in other industries and many have one common thread: the democratisation of selling that product/service by a third party that previously had no connection or history in that industry. The way forward for hotels is to harness technology while adopting a mindset for providing exemplary service.