Mr. Davidson

Mobile Technology

Hospitality is on the Move - How Mobile Apps are Empowering Guests and Boosting Hotels' Bottom Lines

By Cris Davidson, Sr. Director of the Americas, FCS

As consumers are now spending more time on their mobile phones than ever before, travelers are expressing a growing preference to engage in business transactions from their own mobile devices. This has given rise to a whole new world of marketing opportunities, consisting of terms such as smartphone, mobile tagging, mobile sites, geo-location, and social media marketing. Today, approximately one half of local searches are performed on mobile devices, and it is estimated that by 2014, mobile Internet access will overtake desktop Internet usage. With those statistics in mind, all major hotel groups worldwide are now focusing on mobile strategies in order to enhance the guest experience, offering fully customizable mobile apps that make all types of digital transactions simple for hotel guests -before, during and after their stays. As guests' mobile apps are changing the way travelers interact with hotel staff and vice versa, staff mobile apps are also changing the way owners, managers, franchises and hotels groups are operating their properties. Mobile technologies have the unique potential to streamline hotel operations on the backend, and digital solutions for staff allow instant communication for enhanced employee efficiency and accountability.

Self-service is superior service

While superior guest service in the hospitality industry has traditionally meant attentive personal interaction with property staff, it is now very important to allow guests to make the ultimate determination of how they would like to interact. This is especially true, given the multiple generations that hotels are now required to accommodate. For instance, today's hoteliers need to offer guests the choice of bypassing the front desk in order to access their rooms faster. In particular, Generation Y, for whom self-service has become the overwhelming preference - finds it far easier and more convenient to leverage automated self-service than to stand in line waiting to interact with hotel staff or to engage in transactions over the phone. Moreover, guests realize the tertiary advantages of making service requests digitally, including minimizing miscommunications from voice interaction and the ability to multitask at one's own pace, just to name a few. Just as so many consumers prefer to book rooms online rather than over the phone, they likewise appreciate the opportunity to execute similar self-service transactions during their hotel stay.

Technology vendors are raising the bar

To meet the growing demand for self-service offerings, hotel companies and technology vendors have developed numerous mobile applications that automate and simplify requests for both on- and off-property services. Properties that deploy self-service mobile apps, whether independent hotels or as part of a chain, almost invariably report improved guest satisfaction scores, increased use of amenities and higher booking rates at onsite outlets. Digital interaction with the guest is possible prior to the guest's arrival, throughout the duration of his or her stay, and continues even after departure, providing ample opportunity to reinforce the hotel's branding messages and gain enhanced long-term guest loyalty. Besides making the service experience more satisfying for the guest, these apps have significant bonuses of streamlining efficiency and boosting revenue opportunities for the hotels. Because mobile apps have a direct line to the guest at all times, wherever they are and at all stages of their stay, they provide a unique platform for offering promotions, such as upselling rooms, offering discounts at the hotel restaurant or cross-selling add-on services or amenities at the property.

Some other examples of potential revenue opportunities that can be realized include filling unused spa and golf time slots, dynamic video upselling for specials of the day, creating clearly defined differentiators between a hotel's offerings verses all nearby competitors to the wedding party that is trying to choose which hotel to utilize for their out of town guests, and even preventing the wasting of food prior to expiration by running specials. Today, hoteliers truly have the ability to communicate that "WOW" factor to their guests that will keep them returning for many future visits and creating continuous revenue streams.

Catering to the instant gratification generation

Mobile apps in use across the hotel industry today provide guests with on-demand services at the touch of a screen. One such guest service app deployed by some independent and boutique hotels is FCS Computer Systems' i-Guest, a multilingual application that allows guests to customize all aspects of their hotel visit and access property amenities and services from their own mobile devices. Apps like i-Guest have the capacity to transact a plethora of services, including mobile check-in/check-out, housekeeping requests, room service ordering, requesting valet parking or scheduling spa or restaurant reservations - all possible without the guest having to chat on the phone or being inconvenienced by needing to visit the front desk. Other features include mobile concierge functionalities, like local attraction information, travel guides and current news.

This mobile technology provides as many benefits for the hotelier as it does for their guests. Through the apps, hotel operators gain the ability to gather guest data, understand guest behaviors and monetize guest preferences. They can then use that data to make business decisions surrounding marketing, distribution and pricing. The primary reason for collecting data, however, is to serve hotel guests better and enhance an exceptional stay that will drive guest loyalty long term.

Greater staff efficiency through mobile technology

Self-service apps have the added benefit of reducing staffing requirements for participating hotels. There is obviously tremendous value that comes from enhancing a hotel's labor efficiency, which these apps improve by eliminating the need for hotel staff to manually enter guest service requests for maintenance, housekeeping, valet, reservations and more. Allowing the guests to submit these requests from their own mobile devices saves time and money for the hotel, while giving guests complete control over their travel experience.

As guests are becoming more autonomous during their stay by leveraging the use of their mobile devices, hoteliers can also deploy personnel much more efficiently. With fewer guest-staff interactions needed, hotel employees can be more attentive to tasks at hand, and remain more customer focused, while requiring fewer workers to be on the job at any given time.

Metrics built into the apps' framework can generate reports on peak usage times and popular amenities, delivering measurable statistics on quality issues like slow periods in valet service or optimal housekeeping staffing assignments. Hoteliers can also benefit greatly from apps that include a housekeeping scheduling function, which can help prevent frustrating guests with maid service at inconvenient times, ensuring guest satisfaction. Such functionality allows guests to schedule maid service and turndown service at times that are most convenient for them, but just as importantly, it invites guests to decline housekeeping entirely, which translates to reduced staff hours. By delivering this data into an automatic scheduling program, the apps help housekeeping managers to efficiently coordinate shift schedules and ensure that the ideal number of workers are on duty at any given time. Guest requests and concerns made through self-service apps are instantly transferred to the hotel's guest response system or property management system, categorizing open issues on a central dashboard for management and appropriate hotel staff to view and process. Management can then assign the issues to the proper staff members and track issue status in real time, following up and remedying ongoing concerns as needed. Alternately, the system can also be programmed to automatically notify specific personnel, depending on the nature of the request or who is making the request. For instance, a hotel engineer might receive a message based on a specific skill set when a guest submits a maintenance complaint.

Many consumer-facing guest service apps include backend component mobile apps intended for use by hotel staff. These complementary apps receive guest service requests and display assignments in an easy-to-follow checklist format, ensuring that busy workers do not neglect any open issues as they make their rounds.

Mobile apps are branding gold

The best third-party apps are fully customizable for individual hotels and groups, permitting user-interface branding, changes to the service forms and icons, multi-lingual capabilities and infinite options for available services. Adjustments as basic as infusing the app with the hotel's signature colors or font style can make the system appear proprietary. To that point, self-service technology is an economically efficient way to generate incremental revenue while simultaneously establishing a distinct, promotable market differentiator. Indeed, self-service has become an amenity in its own right, to the extent that some guests even seek out hotels based on their self-service offerings. It also contributes to a hotel's green initiatives, by helping reduce waste and clutter. For example, in some hotels with guest service apps, the guestroom compendium and other printed material has been altogether replaced by the apps. Modern-design hotels use apps in lieu of compendia, providing a comprehensive collection of relevant hotel information that is both browseable at the guests' convenience and interactive, not to mention sleek. There is practically no limit to the amount of information a hotel can put into such a digital compendium - plus unlimited images that highlight revenue-generating aspects of the property - allowing the hotel to communicate its offerings in a non-static way that is easily digestible and completely thorough.

Mobile upselling and enhanced loyalty

In addition to enhanced service for the guest, these mobile apps facilitate an endless array of upsell opportunities. These apps often feature the ability for hoteliers to create interfaces with major third-party hospitality management systems, and thus can streamline incremental revenue opportunities throughout a guest's stay. Consider the possibilities from an F&B perspective. An app can display complete F&B menus from all the available outlets, complete with clickable item images and even video tours of the spaces and specials of the day. Reservations can be made with a tap of a finger, with the user able to view available seating times from a dropdown menu. Or, if they prefer roomservice, orders can be placed from the app, complete with prompts to add complementary items ("Add a glass of wine with your steak?").

Furthermore, by linking to a guest's hotel loyalty club account, these apps can be designed to incite impulse purchases using accumulated loyalty points. Push notifications can be programmed to recommend redeeming points for a spa booking, for instance, or to suggest a points-based upgrade to a better room type prior to check-in. Giving guests the ability to monitor point accumulation from the app also helps strengthen brand loyalty, and perhaps leads us down the path of creative bundling through the use of loyalty points. Guest service apps have an invaluable customer relationship management (CRM) component to them, as well. Any service request submitted digitally can be automatically recorded on the guest's profile, delivering customer intelligence that can be used to both identify popular requests on a macro level and to identify that guest's preferences for future stays at an individual hotel or across the brand.

So, whether a hotel embarks on the costly process of creating its own guest service app from scratch or adopts an off-the-shelf customizable app or a combination of both, it is only a matter of time until guests come to expect such technology at all service-oriented hotels. Savvy hoteliers recognize the tremendous marketing value of being an early adopter and understand the other benefits that come from a more efficient operation. These factors combined should make the decision to deploy mobile apps a very easy one.

Cris Davidson currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia and holds the position of Sr. Director of the Americas for a leading Global Hospitality Technology firm, FCS, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In his role, Mr. Davidson has complete P&L responsibilities and was recruited to expand the presence of FCS through the development of strategic channels throughout North & South America. Previous to his position with FCS, Mr. Davidson has been a serial entrepreneur, initially starting a global consulting practice, ITS, in 1993 with offices in the US and Dubai and clients including Jumeirah, IHG and Ritz Carlton. Later he started a firm, CNI, that developed an award winning software/hardware platform that was a precursor to what is now becoming a hospitality brand standard for mobile deployment. Mr. Davidsonís real passion is his family, coaching his three children in all their various sporting activities and his involvement with the non-profit world, in particular those organizations whose mission is the betterment of childrenís lives. Mr. Davidson can be contacted at 714-731-2350 or cris.davidson@planet1world.com Extended Bio...

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