Former Comtec product director Jon Pickles sets out how hotels are going to need to get more personal in the future if they are to win business
For some time hotel technology has been limited to online booking.
With so many hotels out there, what will be the differentiator for both the leisure traveller and business traveller? It's time for hoteliers to embrace technology and step up the game.
Some tech-savvy hotel chains and hoteliers are now introducing additional mobile information for the customer, such as:
Information on loyalty points
Information on upgrades and ancillaries
Hotel information with photos and features
Location-based things to do and weather
Information on getting to a particular hotel
Customer service notifications
However, these functions are becoming the norm and the next-generation hotel needs to become a ‘smart-hotel'.
In addition to basic functions, the ‘smart-hotel' should add power features. These are features that make the hotel experience better for the consumer, especially the time-precious business customer.
Let's start with always on, free Wi-Fi web access. There is no excuse for any hotel to charge for broadband - even McDonalds restaurants and Costa coffee houses now provide free Wi-Fi.
I won't even book a hotel unless I can guarantee free Wi-Fi. I make sure at check-in that it's available in my room and throughout the hotel. If not, you won't find me booking again.
Next, while sometimes it's nice to be able to chat to the reception desk, most of the time - and certainly on a repeat booking - you arrive at the hotel and just want your room.
Imagine being able to check-in remotely from your mobile and get sent an update when the room and your electronic NFC or barcode key is ready.
The Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Marion, Illinois has enabled guests to "breeze past the front desk and head up to their room as long as they have their mobile to unlock and enable the room".
This uses a tech from OpenWays which provides a Crypto Acoustic Credential (CAC), which uses text messaging to deliver a unique acoustic key to the guest anywhere in the world. The good thing about this tech is that a CAC-compliant door lock can be retro-fitted to many hotel electronic locks.
In the last hotel I visited, neither the TV nor the remote worked. I could not order movies or room service (there was no phone - you had to use the TV).
So, why not pop up a mobile page on the guest's phone using NFC or send the guest a remote check-in with which to order room service?
Consider the up-sell opportunity here as the mobile site shows me the delights of the room service menu and tempts me with side orders and beverages.
Alternatively, let me pre-book dinner. Why not show reviews of each course, and better still show me any peer reviews.
Downloadable movies (free, of course) and TV channels could also be facilitated to my mobile or better still via the room's flat-screen TV.
A relatively new app on the scene is the iRiS app.
This ingenious app enables the guest and hotelier to communicate in any language and offers the guest many enhanced features such as the ability to set the room temperature, open the door, close the curtains and set mood lighting.
The hotelier, on the other hand, can push real-time offers and discounts to the customer and also ask the customer to fill in a questionnaire, all from their mobile.
So - what else will we see changing our hotel experience?
Bill payment - With a mobile-enabled hotel, a guest should be able to review their bill each time they buy a drink or book a service, with the ability to pay from the mobile.
Calls - Should a guest wish to call the front desk they should be offered Skype or another network-calling capability.
Personal service - Hotels need to offer a more personal experience where the customer's preferences are remembered for each visit, making the customer's life as easy as possible.
The hotelier can then harness the power of personalisation to send personalised offers.
For example, I recently had a call from a hotel I regularly use in London. Their room rates have skyrocketed and I was politely asked why my bookings had tailored off. If they had checked my history they would have seen I only book when the price is reduced. All they offered me was a direct contact for my next visit.
I may not return unless they do something drastic with their rates. A great mobile experience could be just the bait I need to return.
Lastly, smart-hoteliers need to ensure they have enabling technologies for many of the things I have mentioned above, and all this smart-tech must work on iOS (iPhone, iPad), Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry.