First class hospitality

In the first of a new monthly series, Arabian Computer News sits down with leading IT bosses from a variety of industry verticals to find out what the major issues affecting that market is. This month, the roundtable focuses on the region’s hospitality sector.

Tags: HospitalityInterContinental Hotels GroupKempinski Hotels SAShangri-La International Hotel Management LtdTourismUnited Arab Emirates
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First class hospitality
By  Imthishan Giado Published  January 23, 2012

In what ways can hotels differentiate their image and the services they offer  through technology?

PR: If I check into any hotel, I cannot differentiate the IT product from the rest of the hotels. I’m not talking about having fast internet or a flat TV — everyone has those things. It’s like McDonald’s and Burger King — you find the same thing everywhere but with a slightly different look and feel.

SN: You always have to find the human acceptance level of the product that you bring into the hotel. What is the generation of guests coming to the hotel? You have senior people, you have younger people. Somebody who is 60-70 years old coming from a very laid-back country. You need to fulfil the needs of both types of guests, what the technology acceptance levels are.

You can provide RFID cards to a 20-year old guest and he knows by nature that they open doors by proximity. A 70-year-old guest will not know if that is secure, they will need help opening the door. This is where you are in charge to see what type of technology you bring to your hotel to make this acceptable for everybody.

RQ: If you consider a 17 year-old guy, he likes to be in touch with the hotel and place an order directly with room service. If you talk about a 25 year old, he might prefer an iPad where he can play around and place the order in a simpler way. We need to consider all the generations together and come up with a solution that’s easy for everyone to use.

PR: From my point of view – is it about gadgets that you put in the hotel? Or is it about creating a different experience for guests? We are all buying the same products from the same vendors. At the end of the day, we are simply changing the template, some fixtures here and there, and the guests end up seeing the same things.

This is the problem with IT — we have to drive this change because if we don’t, nobody else will.

HN: There is still room for improvements. How many of us change the outlet menu to iPads? That gives a ‘wow experience’ for the guests. How many of you think of having lobby check-in or in-room check-in? Now you can use Acer tablets to run Opera; we are using this in Dubai Festival City. Having this is a different experience for the guests. If you have a VIP, you just escort him to the room where you can scan his passport, check into the room and prepare his key.

When a guest comes with his kids, having the menu on iPad brings a strong reaction from his children. They will tend to ask their parents, “we need to go to this restaurant next weekend because we will have an iPad on the table”.

We need to move away from focusing on whether Opera is running or not and look at the guest experience, how we can bring ‘wow’ to them.

RQ: If you talk about guests, every chain tries to bring a different experience. The main objective of all the companies in the hotel industry is to give a different feeling compared to their competitors, which is where everyone struggles. If you go to most hotels, most things are similar as Prasanna says.

PR: Fundamentally, there’s a baseline you need to have. Wi-Fi is a commodity, there’s no question about it. I don’t see the iPad as a huge differentiator, it’s become so common now.

In a hotel room, you have iPads, TVs, IP phones — there are so many channels to give information to the guest. As a guest I would be confused because the iPad will have different information, the TV will have different information and so on.

SN: You’re contradicting yourself, Prasanna. You say each and every hotel has Wi-Fi now – was it like that three years ago? No, because you didn’t have as many iPads!

HN: To be honest, we only got Wi-Fi in Festival City guest rooms this year in March. Everyone wants to use his iPhone, iPad and you cannot stop them — they need it. We use iPads with the concierge; people come and want to find the Mall of the Emirates, you can show him the map and send it direct to his email, instead of calling him to come behind the desk.

PR: We are limiting ourselves here. We are talking about Wi-Fi, we are talking about TV. If you want to drive the change, you have to look beyond that.

SN: I totally agree with Prasanna. The main reason we have iBahn is because it’s user friendly. When you decide to install Wi-Fi in your hotel, you need a product that runs for the next five years. Two years ago, you could never imagine that a hotel would need Wi-Fi. Your hotel had cable internet and that was enough. But not today – so now you have to consider what’s going to be user equipment in the next five years? This is looking out of the box, as far as I’m concerned.

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