IT extends hotel experience
New technologies are enabling organisations in the hospitality sector to offer new services which improve services and satisfaction for guests, increase efficiency and create new revenue streams.
In the last few years the function of IT within the hospitality sector has evolved. Today IT plays a role in creating the best possible guest experiences as well as driving revenue generation and profitability. Many say that the latest technological advances have transformed the entire environment and the services on offer.
Guests see — and expect — technology in a growing number of ways: everything from unlocking their hotel room door or paying their bill via mobile phone through to downloading entertainment services directly to their tablets. This could have been considered another issue for hoteliers to face, however the majority of organisations embraced this evolution as an opportunity.
“I believe that the DNA of next-generation service lies within the hotel’s network, and IT practitioners in our business have a choice: they can treat technology as a crutch, required to deliver these services but expensive and challenging to use, or as a core foundation to the future of custom hospitality,” says Prasanna Rupasinghe, director of Information Technology, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates.
“At Kempinski we made that decision by, first, upgrading the capabilities of our hotel to match the requirements of the coming generation of services and applications.”
Even with many new technologies changing the IT space, some things do stay the same, and Wi-Fi continues to be the main focus of IT for the hospitality sector.
“A revolution has taken place, from the days when we had one Ethernet port in the room with the hotels offering guests a wired connection, or a dedicated hotel business centre often found in the lobby. A couple years ago, the typical traveller would have carried only a laptop and a phone. With the mass adoption of smart phones and tablets in the last three years travellers now use their devices anytime and anywhere — for business, personal entertainment, social media engagement and other such purposes. And when they arrive at a hotel, they expect to connect to everything all the time,” says Graeme Kane, sales manager, Hospitality, Aruba Networks.
“Guests now demand always-on Wi-Fi across the hotel complex, access to self-service apps and content streaming without delay.”
Lijeesh Rajan, director of Centralised IT Services Dubai and Northern Emirates at Rotana Hotel Management Corporation, agrees that “in terms of bucks to spend”, Wi-Fi continues to come out on top.
“The hospitality sector is trying to catch up with the advanced consumer home technologies and cater for the devices they carry,” he says. “Wireless is a very important area and the hotel industry [must] invest to assure the coverage and bandwidth is adequate to cater for customer needs.”
Meghan McCarthy, regional sales manager, Partner Organisation and Commercial Segment, Cisco UAE, highlights the range of technologies which are being introduced to hospitality.
“The days when clean bed linen and a mint on the pillow were enough to win guests over are clearly long gone. Now guests — and that includes all of us, since we all travel at some point — want their hotel experience to include so much more. Today video solutions are enabling access to a virtual concierge service. Additionally, while guests wait in the lobby, they can access promotional and tourism information. In their rooms, guests can project films from their tablet onto the in-room TV screens. Hotels are also increasingly enabling employees to connect over a secure guest Wi-Fi service to work while on the go, or to conduct video interviews with customers around the world.”
For many hotels, bandwidth charges can be a sore subject. The majority of modern travellers expect free access to high-speed broadband. There are different models to accommodate the cost of broadband, such as providing basic levels of bandwidth for free and higher speeds at a cost.
McCarthy explains: “Middle East hotels should evaluate the economics of a tiered broadband “free and fee” model, where basic services and services in certain locations — for example, email, web browsing, and lobby — are free. Fee-based broadband services would include high-bandwidth apps, where content and performance demands are considerable and applications require minimum latency — for example, Netflix or Hulu.
“The business case should address termination of current fee models against the possible erosion of revenues for basic free services and increased revenues for fee services, and possible revenue streams from advertising and increased group and corporate sales.”
However, Many hotels in the Middle East are simply taking on the costs themselves.
“We have the ability to charge guests, but are no longer in a position to effectively do that,” explains Roy Verrips, director of Information Systems for Hyatt hotels, situated in Dubai. “The cost of bandwidth is one challenge — The UAE ISPs charge us disproportionately when compared to home users. We also require the access points, Wi-Fi controllers etc., which are again of a different class and higher cost than home or small business use. Ultimately we simply absorb the cost as infrastructure utility/overhead, similar to what we do with the cost of air-conditioning or water.”