Guest Self-Service Applications

By Michael Kasavana NAMA Endowed Professor, School of Hospitality Business, Michigan State University | July 10, 2011

While standard hotel guestroom technology may include a television, telephone, clock radio, internet access, electronic lock, valuables safe, and a refrigerated mini-bar, guest self-service applications --centered on hotel and concierge services-- are becoming part of the amenities landscape. Hotels are redefining self-service in order to offer more choices designed to enhance the guest experience. Self-service as a market trend has gained momentum as guests increasingly expect and prefer self-service functionality within hotel guestrooms as opposed to a limited set of offerings dependent upon hotel staff. Self-service applications enable guests to request services, control transactions, research opportunities, create reservations, arrange transportation, and schedule activities. It is for these reasons that self-service applications are often described as "guest facing forward" applications.

Self-service applications may be resident on an in-room device (e.g. television, PC, or tablet PC) or downloadable to a guest's mobile device (e.g. PDA, iPhone, or PC). Despite the functional platform, in-room applications tend to rely on lodging technology infrastructure and thereby may not incur significant incremental cost to deliver a plethora of self-service options. The goal of these self-service efforts is to empower clientele in a way that enhances the guest experience.

Most businesses report that self-service applications lead to a reduction in operating expenses while markedly improving customer satisfaction. Similar to other retailers, hoteliers appreciate the extended coverage, lower costs, and reliability of automated transactions found in in-room unattended applications. As a result, opportunities to conduct on-premises applications are welcomed alternatives; even for an industry that prides itself on personal, quality service.

While current technology is sufficient to effectively initiate guest-operated functionality, integration with a hotel's property management system (PMS) and/or point-of-sale (POS) system provides a basis for monitoring and tracking service follow-through. Aggregated guest self-service transactions can be used to form the basis of a data warehouse of preferences, purchases, and services as well as staff response times. A data mining analysis can then be applied to correlate self-service outcomes with guest satisfaction, improved productivity, and strengthened profitability.

Hotel Guest Cycle

The hotel guest cycle is defined by guest-hotel interactions in pre-sale, point-of- sale, and post-sale phases of occupancy. In each phase the hospitality industry has discovered ample opportunity for self-service applications. Pre-sale phase devices have received significant attention in the form of remote (off-premises or online) and on-site (lobby kiosk) self-check-in processing. Similarly, a guest who completes a hotel stay, can access an account folio for onscreen review and self-check-out. Pre-sale and post-sale applications have become relatively standard offerings.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.