Guest Service: Health and Safety First


Evolving the Industry With Digital Hospitality

By Ahmad Ouri Chief Executive Officer, SONIFI | April 11, 2021

There's a palpable energy in our industry to regain what we lost in 2020, and to thrive in the coming years.

While we're in this moment of recovery, we have an opportunity to evolve the fundamental business model of hospitality.

In the past 20 years, major events that have impacted the world have also impacted the hospitality industry, resulting in us redefining what's normal. After 9/11, we completely changed our mindset around travel safety and security. The 2008 recession caused us to think differently about the impact of macroeconomic factors to hotel revenue management. And 2020 introduced a new challenge of a public health crisis and its unique impact to our relationship with physical contact.

Technology trends that were slowly unfolding before the pandemic have been fast-tracked, giving a green light to fully adopt changes our industry was headed toward anyway. We are primed to reinvent what a hospitality experience looks like, transforming from one that is purely physical in nature to one that blends digital and physical in harmony.

I believe digital hospitality can - perhaps even must - be part of our hospitality operating system going forward.

The Right Opportunity for Digital Hospitality

When we look at other sectors like airlines and banking - and more recently healthcare, business, entertainment and food - the digital experience is a predominant part of the consumer journey. In many of these verticals, digital technologies are no longer just part of a transaction, but are the actual mechanisms to deliver the service.

We use mobile apps for travel bookings and bank transactions. We get check-ups at home with telehealth. We attend virtual presentations, make video calls and host online meetings. We stream the exact content we want any time we want. We place online orders for local takeout and grocery deliveries.

What were occasional convenience options have now become a daily way of life.

When it comes to the hospitality industry, it's a real estate-based business. The core asset has been and always will be about the geographic location, the physical building, the guest room interior. When guests arrive at a hotel, technology has been an amenity among many others - the food and beverage venues, the toiletries and lush linens, the pool and fitness center.

Hospitality is still very uneven in terms of meeting the technology expectations of the modern consumer. While all hotels offer guest internet access, many properties don't offer adequate Wi-Fi coverage and bandwidth, or have not upgraded their systems in years.

A few major flags have invested in rich mobile app experiences around bookings and loyalty programs, but are still lacking in on-site mobile services. And there are thousands of hotels that don't offer mobile capabilities at all.

This is not a criticism, but an opportunity to upgrade the hospitality operations model to one that incorporates digital technologies more consistently, robustly and seamlessly.

This opportunity surpasses the use cases beyond pandemic recovery. We can go further by augmenting the experience for travelers, while also streamlining operations for hotels.

Instead of an ancillary feature, technology can become the vehicle of delivering services and a principal mode of interaction throughout a guest's stay. With digital hospitality, we can deliver a more efficient, convenient, personalized and modern experience to the guests we're all eager to welcome back.

The Guest Experience of Digital Hospitality

In the past year of near isolation, we've grown accustomed to working online, accessing our entertainment on demand, and ordering doorstep food delivery. These digital experiences have become a staple of our everyday lives. And they're sure to be expected by guests anywhere they stay going forward.

The digitization of service is not new to travelers - we're used to it in every aspect of air travel and transportation. Digital hospitality is an extension of that experience, giving travelers the convenience and autonomy to choose when and how and where they interact.

Much has been said about "touchless" transactions and capabilities. But temperature sensors and facial recognition cameras sound more like an episode of Black Mirror than hospitality. There are other, more graceful, touchless experiences to consider that offer guests the choices and options they're looking for most.


Basic messaging technology has advanced to a point where interactions with chatbots no longer feel robotic. You can use your app, email and text to communicate with guests before, during and after their stay. Give them immediate confirmations and status updates. Set up AI chats for frequently asked questions, like how to connect to your Wi-Fi network. Check in on their needs and experiences, even conduct micro-surveys, so your staff has the chance for timely service recovery.

Check-in: Starbucks has shown us that ordering ahead and picking up on the go increases transaction volume - and customer satisfaction. Advanced check-in via text or app can similarly limit contact and queueing, even without digital key upgrades. All the guest needs to do on arrival is pick up their key cards, without the extraneous overhead of manual keyboard entry at the front desk.


In public areas, digital wayfinding and other smart signs can reduce physical contact without compromising convenience or efficacy. Incorporating real-time location services, or creating a QR code to an online map of your property, can help orient and navigate guests through their stay.


For a while, guests will look for reassurance about their safety, wanting to know about the cleanliness of their room and public areas, the HVAC air quality and circulation, and contactless services available. You can broadcast these messages on the in-room TVs, your app and digital signage throughout your property. Offer reserved access to your fitness room, pool, spa, business center or table seating. Provide the latest information about the safety protocols in place at your hotel, and in your community.


Whether through your in-room TV platform or your mobile app, you can give guests easy access to digital hotel directories, guest request features, scannable QR menus and account reviews. Use these platforms to also integrate your smart room controls for room temperature, lights, window shades and mobile TV remote. Highlight digital concierge services guests can access via voice controls, AI text chats, video calls, or requests through your app or TV platform.


Evaluate your in-room entertainment to assess if it matches or exceeds guests' at-home programming and streaming experiences. Consider the importance of offering robust casting solutions for OTT content, and enhancing the quality and diversity of your on-demand videos and TV programming.


Balancing our mental, emotional and physical well-being has become a major focus in the wake of challenges brought on by the pandemic. As such, integrating wellness technology as an in-room offering could be a differentiator for your property. Based on the type of traveler you most frequently have, this could be as advanced as installing Mirror or Peloton equipment in select guest rooms. Or it could be as simple as adding a library of wellness videos to the in-room TV, including on-demand cardio workouts, guided meditations, resistance training, yoga practices and more.

Food Delivery

For hotels with on-premises food and beverage services, give guests a way to order and pay via mobile or on-screen with POS integrations on your TV platform. Incorporating food delivery securely and seamlessly into the hospitality environment can be a differentiator without carrying the burden of full F&B services. We're already seeing positive innovations of ghost kitchens in the lodging space emerge. Partner with local restaurants or delivery services in your community to offer great deals and service experiences to guests on site. Use your app, QR codes or TV menus to direct guests to preferred ordering and delivery options.


Travelers have previously relied on the concierge, local taxi companies, hotel shuttles and valets for transportation needs. Now we're used to the ease of Uber and Lyft, and the privacy and control of self-parking. Use your app or in-room TV to provide guests information about your property's transportation, promote companies you have a relationship with, and make contactless requests for prompt valet services.


Options like mobile check-in, digital keys and voice controls are more appealing to frequent business travelers than casual vacationers, and may be worth considering for properties with high volumes of this segment of travelers. Creating a productive space to attract "bleisure"-seeking guests could drive a new use case category for hospitality. Here, verifiable secure connections on your Wi-Fi network will be key for travelers needing VPN access and video conferencing. For those seeking an alternative office, offering daytime-only reservations can provide high-quality service with a comfortable work-from-home feel.


For conference and group services, the digital experience is now essential. It's expected that many events will become hybrid, with both in-person and virtual attendance options. To create flexible offerings, have easy connections to livestream and video conferencing platforms both in your event spaces and in your guest rooms.

Why Now is the Time to Shift Our Business Model

Digital hospitality is not a product choice at different points in the guest journey. It's a business model. Those flags, boutiques and resorts that choose to reimagine the delivery of digital hospitality will have a sustainable advantage over those that don't.

Digital hospitality goes beyond reacting to a crisis situation and instead making changes that are right for travelers and good for business - some that have been a long time coming, and that we now have the incentive and opportunity to embrace.

Our data shows that guest usage of technology over the past year has increased, up 10% for video on demand and 200% for streaming content, accompanied by significant increase in bandwidth consumption per guest, and the use of contactless features like mobile TV controls, digital directories and in-room guest requests.

The good news is that much of the technology for digital hospitality is already enterprise grade and ready to support an industry transformation.

Systems have been time-tested. Smartphones and text messaging are ubiquitous. Digital signs are hardened and affordable.

Online and on-screen guest services have been around since the 1990s, and mobile controls and features have been around almost as long. Casting has been in the hospitality market since 2015, as have voice assistants and robots for cleaning and delivery services.

IoT has evolved and been greatly refined in the past couple years, with innovations coming into new and exciting spaces for hospitality.

The technology is here for digital hospitality. But to make it all work, the first step is to get the basics right. Regardless of your chain scale or location, a strong and reliable internet network is table stakes.

There are more connected devices - both guests' and hardware - than many current Wi-Fi networks can handle supporting. Outdated PMS cannot work seamlessly with modern technologies. Being able to integrate guest experiences seamlessly is critical; otherwise, you end up with cracks in the guest journey, and finger pointing between vendors. Picking the right partners and platforms will lay the groundwork for your long-term success.

Connections That Matter

Connected technology is here and needs to be part of a hotel's go-forward strategy.

Remember that when you implement new technology, it must co-exist in a technology ecosystem of sorts with your current technology. It's important to have integration and roadmap discussions in addition to stand-alone product demos so you can make wise choices that will allow you to evolve and expand your offerings.

Look for platforms and providers that integrate well. There's a spirit of collaboration happening with technology in the industry. Good partners accomplish better faster.

A company well-versed in connected technology should also be able to provide system data so you can be confident everything is working before a guest walks in the room. They should also provide guest usage data, so you can see how much your technology investment is being used and make informed decisions on future additions.

Choosing vendors with a cooperative attitude that look at the holistic picture and keep your needs in mind makes a big difference.

Let's not forget that your staff is eager to get back to work…but not busywork.

Consider how often you're putting valuable human resources toward repetitive tasks that can easily be aided, or even better served, by technology. How much efficiency is wasted while guests are queueing at the front desk. Or how much customer satisfaction is lost with long wait times for resolving a guest request.

The essence of hospitality is the feeling of being taken care of. The goal is not to replace people, but to create opportunities for efficiencies and guest satisfaction.

By optimizing your front-of-house and back-of-house systems, you can make sure technology is working for your staff, not the other way around.

A digital hospitality operating model gives your staff more time to focus on what technology can't yet do - to notice the tired traveler, to assist a family with an extra hand, to make a new city feel more welcoming. To get out of the cycle of busywork and return to the spirit of true hospitality: Providing thoughtful care.

High Hopes and Big Possibilities

We know technology cycles more rapidly than buildings. Software, cloud technology, artificial intelligence and mobile devices are advancing at an alarmingly fast rate, while the same building infrastructure may be in place for many years.

But we can't allow technology to get stale and be an afterthought in the delivery of hospitality. We have to work together to weave technology into the fundamental operating system of hospitality.

These digital transformations to operating models could not only help differentiate a hotel from a competitor, but also upgrade the category definition of the hospitality experience altogether.

Anxiety of recent months is shifting to enthusiasm for possibilities on the horizon. We have the tools, the motivation and, now hopefully, the confidence to take the next big step forward.

Mr. Ouri Ahmad Ouri joined SONIFI® Solutions, Inc. as Chief Executive Officer in January 2015. He has introduced a culture of innovation into the company as evidenced by the number of new products launched and the number of patents filed over the past 24 months. His record includes building strong teams, driving new business growth, and managing large-scale/high impact changes that support innovation and operational efficiency. Prior to joining SONIFI, Mr. Ouri held the role of CEO of Technicolor's digital out-of-home media company, IZON Media. Mr. Ouri was CEO of Philips Electronics' MP4Net, a startup focused on content streaming products. He was also President and GM of Philips' video server division. can be contacted at 605-988-1210 or aouri@sonifi.com Please visit http://www.sonifi.com for more information. Extended Biography

HotelExecutive retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.

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This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California notwithstanding any conflict of laws provisions. You and HotelExecutive agree that the venue for all legal disputes, controversies, actions of any kind arising under or related to this Agreement shall be San Francisco, California. You and HotelExecutive further agree that in case of any litigation regarding this Agreement, you irrevocably and unconditionally (i) consent to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state and federal courts in the County of San Francisco, California for any litigation or dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, (ii) agree not to commence any litigation arising out of or relating to this Agreement except in the California Courts, (iii) agree not to plead or claim that such litigation brought therein has been brought in an inconvenient forum, and (iv) agree the California Courts represent the exclusive jurisdiction for all litigation relating to this Agreement.


Hotel Business Review Subscriptions

If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.


Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.


The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Robert O'Halloran
Suzanne McIntosh
Zoe Connolly
Mark Munoz
Norm Rose
Rachel Hodgdon
Florian Kittler
Coming up in May 2021...

Eco-Friendly Practices: Now More Than Ever

One theory about the pandemic states that future viruses are more likely to originate and flourish due to global warming. If true, the urgency to accelerate the adoption of eco-friendly practices is greater than ever. Of course, there are many other reasons to create a sustainable operation, including reduced utility costs, savings on operational costs, healthier and happier guests and employees, and positive publicity, marketing and community goodwill. Many hotels are introducing innovative programs into their operations - from recycling bins in guest rooms to starting a roof top garden. Other hotels are using eco-friendly cleaning products, reusing towels and sheets, sourcing locally grown food, supporting the use of electric vehicles, and permitting guests to refill their reusable water bottles with clean, filtered water. Finally, some hotels are encouraging guests to get involved by making it possible for them to participate in local community clean-up projects. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.