Boutique IT: A Long Way from Color TVs

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April 16, 2019
Boutique I.T.
Trevor Warner - Trevorwarner@warnerconsultinggroup.com

You could argue that the last great technology innovation in the hospitality industry was color TV. At a time where household income was tight and a high percentage of homes had black and white sets, the hotel industry was able to absorb the cost and deliver this new technology. The days of neon signs proudly proclaiming color TV seem a long way away in 2019, but back in the day those sets were part of what made it exciting to stay in a hotel.  

Since then, though, we’ve been playing catchup to the consumer technology evolution. The goal now is to try and adapt to the customer and the technology they bring to the property.  Meeting expectations or creating a unique or seamless experience is a never-ending task that pivots as quickly as the next OS update is released or a new consumer gadget hits the market.  
 
However, boutique hotels are in an envious position when it comes to embracing the latest technology. They don’t have the constraints of a brand platform, so they can be more flexible. On the other hand, they also don’t have the buying power of a large organization, so that eliminates options that are too expensive to implement without economy of scale. We identified three technologies boutique hotels should consider as they differentiate themselves and adapt to 2019 and beyond. 
 
Wi-Fi Portal
High-speed internet access (Wi-Fi) is still the lead technology in any conversation regarding the guest experience. Patrons expect Wi-Fi will be fast, seamless to connect to, and work in all areas of the property. Obviously, that isn’t breaking news in 2019. Some 95 percent of guests connect to the Wi-Fi within the first 3 minutes on property. Those guests touch the property digitally almost immediately.  
 
This makes the portal page extremely valuable to a boutique hotel. Eleven is a technology boutique hotels might seriously consider. It offers a seamless portal experience and can provide valuable information to both the guest and the hotel team. The product’s flexible content management options allow the property team to create and easily update a splash page that gives the feel of a million-dollar listing for a very low cost. No expertise is needed. 
 
Eleven layers onto your Wi-Fi network and integrates to the PMS to allow for guest authentication, but can also be used to gather basic information for the marketing team. Your existing guest internet provider may also be able to offer similar options or partner with another company to provide this technology.  
 
Mobile Key
This technology has dominated the guest experience conversation for the last two years. Most of the industry believes it’s too expensive and complicated to implement. But as technology evolves, that’s no longer the case.  
 
Born in Spain to serve the apartment industry, StayMyWay has transitioned into hospitality. It works with almost any existing lock and can be retrofitted to add BLE (Bluetooth Low Emission) technology that lets guests use their smartphones as a room key. This isn’t new, but StayMyWay’s software allows for a complete, seamless, unique mobile key experience.  
 
The app can stand alone or be imbedded in the hotel’s app. An email confirmation for the reservation contains a link to the app which, in turn, authenticates the guest to the reservation. The guest can upload security information such as a passport, driver’s license, and photo to the account. This allows the property to use facial recognition as authentication upon check in. When a guest pre-checks in using the app, StayMyWay lets the hotel assign a room. The guest can access his room via facial recognition at the guestroom door.  
 
It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. The technology is seamless and easy to use. Most important, it’s inexpensive. The annual fee per room is less than $40. Installation is 5 percent to 10 percent of what it costs to change out door locks. With low barriers to entry, a low operational cost, and a significant impact to the guest experience, this product offers boutique hotels a great way to improve their guests’ experience. Open Key and Zaplocks are two other options in the mobile key space. Your existing door lock may drive your final buying decision.  
 
The hotel industry has made purchasing decisions on a reactive basis or based on price/performance of the vendor/product. Looking at best-in-breed technologies is smart, but the cause effect has been integration. As an industry we struggle with innovation directly because of integration. It is very difficult for innovation to be effective when the technology can’t be fully utilized because the integration to multiple hotel systems is not seamless or just not available.  
 
All-in-One Systems
Instead of pulling together a best in breed products from multiple vendors that don’t integrate well, boutique hotels should consider a vertical buy. ResortSuite isn’t a new name to the industry, but the company continues to evolve into a full-service provider that lets boutique hotels grow vertically as well.  
 
These properties often don’t have the funds or the growth plan to buy ahead, so working with a company that lets them start with the PMS and add technology like spa management, F&B, guest request system and a mobile app is a good idea. Growing vertically takes integration concerns out of the equation. The boutique property can grow without throwing money and time at due diligence to make sure the next step/vendor/software will work with existing systems. 
 
Springer-Miller Systems offers various mobile applications that carry a low monthly subscription fee making the solutions more affordable for independent hotels as they avoid large upfront capital investments traditionally associated with hotel software.  A staff-facing application that operates on a variety of devices allows staff to complete a curbside check in via an iPad, while a GM can review the current day's arrival and departure statistics from an iPhone. The low-priced subscriptions allow independent hotels to more quickly recognize a return on investment.
 
Driving the guest experience through technology is key for boutique operators. That’s what the guest is buying – that unique experience at every touchpoint at the property which differentiates them from other properties. The experience elements are variable property to property. Understanding their guest demographic and preferred technology plays an important part as well. 

Having strong third-party integration capabilities with their core PMS system is key, as boutique operators need the flexibility to work with the partners that can offer them precisely what they need and is unique to the property. Some elements of the technologies should encompass everything from the moment the guest visits with the property during the booking through to the check out, and beyond check out. On-property apps for service requests and fulfillment. Seamless check in with the ability for precheck in through a mobile app, making the process personalized yet efficient. Maestro PMS’ popular digital registration tablet forgoes the traditional paper registration card and replaces it with a branded tablet fully registration capable and even allows the guests to update personal information.
 
Technology isn’t static. And it isn’t a commodity purchase. There’s no such thing as future proofing since the variables that drive evolution are unknown. What we can do is focus on the best we have now and the ability to adapt as things change and evolve. 

The technologies mentioned in this article are just a few examples of solutions what can help now and adapt to what may come. The great news is you have options and competition. More technology is coming and it’s becoming more affordable. Boutique hotels will always be able to adapt to the market much quicker and finally, they can do so affordably.  
 
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