Getting personal

It doesn't seem so long ago that the only technology a guest could use in a hotel was his bedside phone - but now hotels are using technology in a host of new ways. ACN talks to the industry about how IT has made the personalised guest experience possible.

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By  Brid-Aine Conway Published  November 18, 2007

When people think of franchises or chains, the first type that comes to mind is usually the ubiquitous fast-food chain. The supposed benefits of these franchises are in their uniformity. Anywhere a person goes in the world can be familiar, with familiar surroundings and familiar food, and a certain level of quality. Hotel chains are almost as pervasive as restaurant chains, and often they have taken advantage of the same idea, that anywhere a customer goes in the world, they can be sure of familiar surroundings.

But times are changing and modern hotel chains no longer want to rely on uniformity to attract custom - the new standard for a hotel that wants to remain competitive is personalisation. And what's driving this change is that hotels now have access to technologies that can provide a level of personal attention to each guest that was previously considered impossible.

A converged network is more flexible if you want to implement services in the future, it’s ready to take new services.

Modern CRM systems can provide chains with the kind of detailed personal information, accessible to all of a hotel's staff, that means a guest's every preference can be anticipated for subsequent stays, even if they first stayed in a hotel in London and are now in a hotel in Qatar.

Ian Jones is general manager of infrastructure at Seven Seas Computers, a UAE-based integrator and reseller with a number of clients in the hospitality sector, including J W Marriott and Jumeirah Group. He feels that technology behind the front desk at a hotel can enhance the whole guest's experience - without them even realising that technology is at work.

"Because you can profile your guests, you can set up guest loyalty schemes that can be rolled out over the entire chain. When you do profile your guests, you can make sure that you have the right language settings [on the phone and television], you can make sure that you have the right TV channels that they want to look at, you can set the temperature in their room, if they always like their room at 18 degrees then you've got their room automatically set to 18 degrees. So it's enhanced the guest experience and a lot of the time the guest doesn't actually know that this is happening, which is the best way the technology can actually work in a hotel," he says.

CRM doesn't just collect and provide guest information; it can also be used to monitor and track the customer experience, as well as providing revenue information to the hotel, according to system integrator and EMW's Middle East vice president, Serjios El-Hage.

"If you follow the process bit by bit from the time a guest calls or e-mails for a reservation, to providing personal identification when checking in, to ordering his or her favourite meal, a movie, a bath robe, diverting his or her faxes, reserving a taxi or a show, and so on. All of these are carried out over technology that not only helps to track who is generating revenue, but also to track and improve any level of service that is lacking along this process from start to finish," he says.

It is not just vendors who see the hospitality industry heading to personalisation; many hotel IT staff agree that the personal touch is the best use technology can be put to in order to improve guest service.

"If we gather all the necessary information about a guest who is coming to us, say that the guest prefers a particular newspaper or the guest is particular about his or her food habit, we can have all this information well in advance and key it into the system. This information in turn can help us to deliver the right thing at the right time to satisfy our guest. I would say to dazzle and delight our guest," says Rupendra Shakya, IT manager at the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa, Dubai.

Floor Bleeker, group director of IT at Jumeirah Group, also agrees and he adds the next step to the personalised guest experience.

"The CRM system is where we collect a lot of data about our customers, we have a rewards and recognition programme and that is purely used to create a better experience for our customers. On the unique experience that our customers can expect in every hotel, we use a lot of in-room technology, whether it is the TV system, the lighting environment or the Internet experience they have within the rooms," he explains.

The in-room technology is what contributes to the next level of personalisation. The CRM tells the hotel that the guest likes his room at 18 degrees, but it is the energy management system that controls both that and the lighting in a room.

Energy management ticks a lot of boxes for the hospitality industry. It can obviously come under the banner of greener business practices, which has of late become a topic of interest in various parts of the world and may soon become a deciding factor for potential customers in these areas.

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