Indian business hotels are jumping onto the technology bandwagon and banking on smart devices to enhance the customer experience. Riaan Jacob George lists some of the major trends. By Riaan Jacob George
Business hotels have the unique task of ensuring that the overall experience is as seamless—and swift—as possible. Corporate guests require quicker touchpoints—check-in, check-out, room service, concierge services—and hence these properties are increasingly relying on technology to enhance the overall customer experience. While leisure hotels largely depend on the “human element”, business hotels try to market their ‘minimised human contact’ peg aggressively. Let’s look at some of the prevailing technological developments that we see—or are likely to see—in the country’s business hotels.
Never Lose Keys Again
The humble hotel room key has come a long way, from the chunky metallic key of yesteryear to the key-card of today. However, keyless entry is the trend du jour at many hotels. The mobile key is fast replacing key cards at many hotels across the globe. The guest has a key on his phone, which he can scan at the entry to access his room (or even the elevator). This is particularly favoured by larger chains as it gets guests to download their apps as well. In India, the Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park offers such a mobile key, and thus, a keyless check-in. Mobile keys save hotel staff the trouble of replacing lost keys or key cards, and guests no longer have to worry about walking all the way to the reception on realising their gaffe.
Text, Don’t Call
In recent times, there’s been a huge shift in the nature of interactions between guests and hotel staff. While the traditional in-room telephone continues to be a significant means of communication, new methods of engagement have also emerged. Butlers at ITC Royal Bengal have a dedicated WhatsApp line with guests for all requirements, like breakfast orders and laundry services. Platforms like Instagram and Twitter are also being used. In some hotels, Twitter is used to send out a personalised welcome to guests. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai uses Twitter quite actively to interact with its resident guests on the services they offer, like current food promotions and even heritage walks. Through the in-room tablet, many hotels even offer a chat messenger service for guests, who can now order a meal or ask for a newspaper without lifting the phone. The Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru relies strongly on its novel concept, Four Seasons Chat, where customers can connect with the staff 24/7 for any request. Hotel staff can communicate with guests through the Four Seasons app, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, or SMS. “There are no chatbots here. Through Four Seasons Chat, our guests can have a personalised, human element, anchored in technology,” says Christian Clerc, President of Global Operations, Fours Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Until a few years ago, many luxury hotels shied away from social media, as the mass-appeal of social platforms was believed to go against the grain of luxury hospitality’s DNA. However, in recent times, social media has emerged as a dominant marketing tool. Among the leaders in this segment is JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, which gives a lot of attention to social media-driven campaigns. Its most recent digitally-driven campaign was the Passion Made Edible collaboration between the hotel’s pastry team and Swarovski Zirconia. This collaboration was published across social media channels to showcase the hotel’s culinary offerings as well as its premium positioning by partnering with a like-minded brand. Smaller boutique hotels are also upping the ante. Jodhpur’s boutique hotel chain, House of Rohet, has managed to showcase its four properties largely through social media campaigns that feature influencer-generated content.
While the traditional concierge still plays an important role in curating the guest experience at a property, we have seen a rise of the digital concierge or eConcierge. At ITC Hotels, for example, there is an eConcierge that helps guests customise their stay at the reservation stage through a link in the confirmation email. These requests and preferences are then conveyed to the hotel’s human staff. Similarly, Accor has a unique concept called Accor Digital Card, which collects the customer’s data (food habits, amenity requirements, special dates), and this is used to make the guest feel welcomed. In addition, Accor’s digital concierge from John Paul offers a host of high-end recommendations to guests.
An Abundance Of Apps
App-driven experiences are perhaps the most important talking point in the hospitality industry right now. Hotel apps not only create an entire experience ecosystem on the guest’s personal device but also ensure a personalised experience. For instance, ITC Royal Bengal’s E-Butler is an entertainment and room automation app, which enables the guest to control room settings and more on the phone. Sofitel Mumbai BKC has special apps like Pulse, Local Measure, and ResDiary to serve different requirements of a guest’s stay. Business hotels are using the app ecosystem innovatively to engage MICE customers. A case in point is the meeting service app R.E.N. Meetings at Renaissance Mumbai Centre Hotel & Lakeside Chalet. Brenda D’souza, director of events at the hotel, says, “The R.E.N. Meetings app connects MICE event hosts and hotel staff. You can interact with hotel MICE specialists through the app to customise service requests, billing data, and any ad-hoc requests during a meeting or conference, without having to personally make any such request. The app connects you to in-house teams like service, engineering, kitchen, finance, and events.” Another example of a custom-designed app enhancing guest experience is the FCS app used by staff at The Leela Ambience Convention Hotel, Delhi. Through FCS, the guest’s requirements are noted at the time of check-in and the front office raises the alert to the concerned departments via the software.
According to Nilesh Patel, Director of IT, India and South Asia, Accor, “Technology is shaping hospitality design as hotels find new ways to adapt to socio-cultural changes and personalise the guest experience, especially for millennials and tech-savvy guests. The smart room concept is considered to be like a ‘home away from home’. In our Paris headquarters, we have a smart room prototype that uses multiple connected devices using Google Home voice assistant to activate and control different features. Guests can decide the lighting, change their headboard or even settings of the audio-visual equipment without lifting a finger. It also includes innovative solutions that can help induce sleep or wake guests up.”
Netflix & Chill
To keep up with changing times, where business hotel guests are no longer satisfied with the standard selection of entertainment, many hotels are upgrading their televisions to Smart TVs, with pre-loaded apps like Netflix and Prime Video. Some properties have even installed Google Chromecasts in their rooms, allowing guests to stream content from their phones to the room TV.