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Checking In: Delivering a High-Quality Guest Experience Through Optimization

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June 18, 2018
Connectivity Trends
Regan Yeldell

In the hospitality space, the guest experience is paramount in driving customer loyalty. These days, thanks in large part to the prevalence of online reservation sites, customers have a plethora of hotels from which to choose. Hotels, therefore, must ensure they provide an exceptional guest experience, from booking to checking out and everything in between.
Hotel brands, too, live and die by the quality of their locations, regardless of whether the hotel is corporate-owned or a franchise. Guests don’t make that distinction when forming their opinion of a hotel; their experience will forever be linked with the name on the sign.
Smart hoteliers understand the importance of ensuring each location is optimized technologically to ensure the highest-quality guest experience, from the back office to the front lobby, inside the guest rooms and around the property. Technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, chatbots, intelligent digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, Internet of Things and other technologies increasingly are being adopted to help improve guest satisfaction, create new and improve existing business processes and make more intelligent decisions that impact the bottom line.
What’s Driving Location Optimization
The travel sector in general is experiencing exciting growth. In 2017, global gross travel bookings reached $1.7 trillion, and travel and tourism accounts for more than 10 percent of global GDP.  In the U.S. market, the travel sector as a whole reached $353 billion in 2017 and is expected to increase to $370 billion in 2018. 
A healthy market is good for the hotel business, but it also adds up to increased competition as brands struggle to obtain and keep mindshare with their customers. In New York City, for example, the number of hotels has grown 55 percent in the past 10 years, with 115,000 total hotel rooms at 634 properties. Such an abundance is forcing some hoteliers to lower their prices to attract guests, putting further stress on the market as a whole.
In addition, business travel continues at a healthy pace, with spending in 2018 expected to increase 6 percent from 2017 and rise to 7 percent by 2021. These road-weary guests expect a level of comfort and convenience when traveling, including free and dependable Wi-Fi service from anywhere on-property and personalized services such as upgraded rooms or rooms in preferred locations (away from the elevator, for example). Understanding their needs and desires is an important factor in ensuring these guests return.
Hoteliers are finding ways to distinguish themselves from their competitors, focusing on improving their overall guest experience – and some in unexpected ways. Certain hotels have begun incorporating different business types onto their property, such as art galleries or destination restaurants, while others have added one-of-a-kind amenities specific to each location. For example, the Line DC Hotel in Washington, D.C., broadcasts its own radio station live-streamed to each room, featuring content that ranges from politics to music, art and food. 
And, recognizing business travelers don’t want to spend all their time in their rooms yet need to be productive, a growing number of properties are adding co-working spaces where guests can work and be social at the same time. Such spaces go beyond free Wi-Fi and power at every seat to include conference areas with video and audioconferencing units, collaboration spaces, shared printers and even cafés with free refreshments. 
Even in guest rooms, more hotels are providing a more technology-centric environment. “Connected rooms,” for example, are growing in numbers, enabling guests to unlock their room door, adjust the room temperature, request extra towels, order room service or put themselves in “Do Not Disturb,” for example, all via an app on their smart phone. Guests also can utilize hotel chatbots both on and off the property to book a spa or personal trainer appointment, make dinner reservations, determine their loyalty program status, request an airport shuttle and more. 
Among a growing number of travelers, these guest-focused amenities and services are becoming essential elements of their overall experience, and often tip the balance in choosing a hotel. In addition, these services can provide valuable customer data the hotel can use to better target marketing efforts and other activities to further expand its customer relations, as well as help improve its back-office functions to work more efficiently and productively.
However, many – if not all – of these amenities and services depend heavily on technology to provide value to the guest, the hotel or both. Yet, many properties rely on networks that are outdated and inadequate to meet today’s technology needs. As a result, these hotels are falling short in providing an exceptional guest experience and deriving value from their technology investments.
Hotels that aren’t properly equipped to provide the guest amenities and services that create exceptional guest experiences risk endangering the brand as a whole. Guests who have a less-than-stellar experience at one hotel location are less apt to book the same hotel brand later, regardless of location. Therefore, it is imperative each location have networks that can meet the technology needs today and in the future.
Technologies to Optimize Hotel Locations
An optimized environment is one that can handle the voice and data needs of each user at all points on the network, whether it is the front lobby, back office, guest room, sister locations or corporate headquarters. Hotels need technology that will enable them to work independently of corporate headquarters, yet integrate seamlessly with HQ to communicate and collaborate effectively. It takes the right mixture of wired and wireless connectivity, robust voice and data solutions and data center and cloud connectivity to ensure all locations have the information they need to delight guests in a manner that is the most efficient and secure.
In building the network for optimized locations, hoteliers should consider an environment that includes both on-premises and cloud, and networking technologies such as SD-WAN and high-speed broadband to better manage business applications across all locations. Networking components such as Wi-Fi and unified communications can ensure users of the network – hotel properties, corporate headquarters and guests alike – interact and transact using their preferred method of communication.
To help ease stress on a hotel’s current network – not to mention the daily burden on IT managers – managed services can be utilized to offer certain services without further impacting the network. Managed services can be used to help tie disparate systems together and “fill in the gaps” as hotels update their current infrastructure and can prove useful even after networks have been upgraded.
Working with a network service provider can help ease the burden associated with building and maintaining a network capable of handling the bandwidth-intensive needs of various technologies today and in the future. By working with a third-party network services provider, hotels can leverage virtual and physical private Ethernet connectivity to assure there are no gaps in network performance and availability for critical applications at locations. They also can receive all or some of their most critical connectivity functions as a managed service, including managed connectivity, Wi-Fi, security, voice and business continuity.
The hospitality industry is experiencing tremendous growth, fueled in large part by an increase in business travel. Competition, too, is growing, as more hotels vie for the hearts and minds of travelers. Technology plays a critical role in providing an exceptional guest experience, from booking to check-in and beyond. 
As hotels live and die by their brand and guests make no distinction between a property that is corporate-owned or a franchise, a bad experience at one location can damage the customer relationship with the brand forever.
To ensure a consistent, high-quality guest experience, hotels must ensure each location is equipped to provide guest amenities and services efficiently and without fail. That requires a flexible, robust network designed to handle the needs of today’s technologies and meet the requirements of the next generation of technologies and services.

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