The Hotel Concierge: Owning the Guest Experience Through Technology

By Alexander Shashou Co-Founder and President, ALICE | April 02, 2017

Whether it’s booking travel online, buying a book or watching porn, for years, the role of technology has been to improve our access to information and our ability to act on that information. As a result, consumers have become increasingly independent and able to satisfy their needs through technology. In economics this is called disintermediation - the removal of intermediaries from a supply chain, or the "cutting out of the middlemen" in connection with a transaction or a series of transactions. We’ve seen Uber do it to the taxi companies, airlines to the travel agents and so on. In the hotel, that “middleman” has always been the concierge - the highly polished, extremely knowledgeable “Golden Keys, ” who could unlock the best restaurants in town for the guests who asked the nicest. The concierge was historically the guests’ access point to all the information they were seeking on local services and products.

With the advent of the smartphone, however, the concierge role has come under threat. The proliferation of review sites, social media recommendations, and online booking platforms has given guests the ability to discover and take care of everyday requests themselves. Many people are calling this age the Concierge Economy ( or Convenience Economy ), one in which countless networks of digitally coordinated workers deliver products and services to people who are cash-rich but time-poor. As the Wall Street Journal wrote in 2015, “there is an Uber for everything now.” When you combine these Uber-for-X offerings with the online booking platforms that can satisfy your restaurant ( OpenTable ) and theater ( Ticketmaster ) needs, you can justify the notion that a guest can effectively serve as their own concierges today.

Consumer technology is outpacing concierge technology, leaving many in our industry to undervalue the necessity of a highly trained concierge and many concierges frustrated at their inability to perform at the speed and personalization required to impress our clientele. - Noah Lemaich, Chief Concierge of Sixty Hotels

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But reports of the demise of the concierge role have been greatly exaggerated, as you will see. Indeed, let us consider another reality. Nothing has changed. A guest has always been able to figure out what to do and research how to do it. I know it seems shocking to think of a world without my beloved Google Maps, but there was a time when I stopped by the concierge to ask for a map and directions every time I left the hotel -- at that time, doing so was simply the most convenient option. This reality is true of all these on-demand apps. Consumers are not choosing them because they are cheaper but because they are more convenient and in almost all cases, we are paying a premium for this convenience. An item in a vending machine is more expensive than the same one at a store because someone else has applied resources to make sure it’s more conveniently located. In our industry, convenience premiums are placed on the items in the mini-bar, the amenities brought up to our rooms and the WiFi now on planes. The point is that consumers value time and effort and technology has not changed our values.

Technology has rarely changed what we do, just how we do it. A concierge has always been a luxury not a necessity, just as having a driver has been over renting your own car. The problem today is that technology thus far has affected everything around the concierge, but not yet the role itself. The concierge has become less convenient than the service apps I use because the service apps live on my phone and in most hotels, the concierge does not. So, in a world of mobile technology and information overload, we have to create a new model for concierge, one in which convenience is achieved through technology, and one in which guests are able to continue paying their convenience premiums but to the concierge instead of an outsourced service provider.

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Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.