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October 01, 2013
Guest Services
Dan Phillips - dphillips@dare2i.com

I love the technologies that make hotels run, almost as much as Rich Siegel. And, I’ve been in the industry almost as long. However, occasionally I get confused by some of the survey data on both hotelier and guest perceptions on what a hotel should offer regarding technology. Additionally, some hotel companies are motivated to put in everything that is brand new and trend setting while other hotel companies sit back and wait, and many times their guest satisfaction levels are nearly identical.

In a recent survey by SmartBrief Media Services (SB), the results showed that 85 percent of the guests surveyed carry two or more devices with them that need to connect to the Internet.  Of those same guests, 87 percent also said that Wi-Fi should be free. But, when asked whether or not the technology a hotel has to offer has an impact on whether or not they’d book a room, only 21 percent said that a hotel’s technology is essential (33 percent said no; and 46 percent said it is important but not a deciding factor). With this information, should a hotel really invest in a superior Wi-Fi system that can support the ever growing need for bandwidth, or just a good one?

To add to the confusion, J.D. Power’s (JD) provided the following information regarding Internet and Wi-Fi:  in 2011, 55 percent of guests used a hotel’s Internet, with 87 percent of them using Wi-Fi. Of these, only 11 percent paid to use HSIA.  On a rating scale of 1,000 points, the guests that had to pay for Wi-Fi had a 76 point lower satisfaction score. In 2012, 31 percent of the guests using hotel Internet solutions had problems with it, which lowered their satisfaction score by a whopping 133 points below average.  Is a hotel supposed to install a superior Internet solution with Wi-Fi and not charge for it; not have any ROI?

Another technology to look at is the check-in process.  According to SB, 76 percent of guests have already used a kiosk to check in, and another 15 percent stated that they would do so if faced with that option.  The JD survey found that if a hotel could provide at least four human-to-human, staff-to-guest, interactions after check-in, the guest satisfaction score rose an average of 79 points.  For hotels that only provide this human touch at check-in, the satisfaction score drops 132 points below average.  So, what kind of score does a hotel get if they only use a kiosk to check guests in?

Some of the new technology trends include keyless door locks, hotel provided in-room iPads® (or iPods), remodeling of the lobby and public space areas to make them technology hubs, and, high-tech meeting space. Does a hotel need to do all of this to attract guests and then have them post favorable comments or reviews?  JD results show that among guests who research before a stay, hotel websites that provide a great deal of information about amenities and the local area have satisfaction scores 114 points higher than average, and much higher than for hotels that simply post prices on the Web. What social media strategy should a hotel employ, and would that be a better spend than in-hotel technology purchases?

A hotel has never been a four-walled room inside of a four-walled building. Hospitality must include much more than technology.  As hotels strive to differentiate themselves from their competitors to gain market share, they need to evaluate their offerings on many different fronts. In addition to technology, service, guestroom amenities, location, meeting space and experiences, are all areas of differentiation.  Few, if any, hotels can be the best in all of these categories, but the successful hotels choose one or two of these areas to stand out from the crowd.

Consider technology as one of the key differentiators, and look at technology as a behind-the-scenes enabler of other categories. Using kiosks plus iPads at check-in with a strategy that enables staff to move with guests, identifying and introducing them to the next staff member in the service plan would be an example.  Another example is to use digital advertising that promotes local attractions as a digital concierge to create a revenue stream enabling a hotel to beef up its Wi-Fi offering and provide it free to guests.

For decades, when discussing technology in hotels, many people thought that if a hotel could provide technology offerings that were at least equal to, preferably better than, what guests had in their homes or offices it would satisfy.  For the vast majority of guests today, that really isn’t possible anymore.  Perhaps, what hoteliers need to determine is in what areas in which they need to stand out and then use technology to enable them to get there.

Dan Phillips is a partner at Dare to Imagine and can be reached at dphillips@dare2i.com.

The author references two surveys in this article. JD refers to the J.D. Power’s 2013 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study. SB refers to the SmartBrief Media Services White Paper, “10 Hospitality Technology Trends."

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