Denise Walker is vice president of information technology at lifestyle boutique brand Virgin Hotels. She came to the company in 2018 after 10 years at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, where she served for eight years as vice president of application development and two years as CIO/SVP of information technology. Combined with 10 years at Royal Caribbean International, she brings more than 20 years of hospitality IT experience to her current position.
Virgin Hotels’ tech-forward philosophy attracted Walker to the company. “Virgin innovates and disrupts in every vertical it enters,” she said. “In our hotels, everything from room design to food and beverage offerings to technology is thoughtfully considered to enhance the guest experience.”
One of the most groundbreaking projects she has been involved in at Virgin Hotels is building out the brand’s guest app, Lucy. A combination of in-room systems and mobile applications, Lucy enables guests to control everything from booking through departure with their smartphones, including lighting, thermostats, room service and more. The latest version allows users to provide feedback in real time, so that properties can improve guest service almost immediately.
Walker believes that agility is essential for hotels that want to succeed. In 2018, she and her team retooled Lucy to make it even nimbler and more responsive for guests. At the same time, they included functionality that enables managers to make quick decisions as the environment changes. “With COVID-19, many hotels are trying to figure out how to make guests feel safe and empowered, but we had already innovated in a way that provided those capabilities and more.”
Virgin Hotels is known for providing highly tailored experiences, and Walker is enthusiastic about using technology to connect with guests. The brand’s The Know program is all about preferences – from favorite sips and snacks to choices in entertainment. “We’re engaging customers just-in-time, and not in a general way but in a very personal way,” she said. For example, Virgin offers Minibar OnDemand, which gives guests the option to stock their preferences, right down to the brand.
When selecting vendor partners, it comes as no surprise that Walker looks for providers that understand the direction in which technology is moving. “Our vendor partners must embrace the need for adopting a digital operating model and understand the impact artificial intelligence will have on the hospitality industry,” she said. “Digital engagement, data capture and being able to use those platforms and forums to provide hyper-personalized experiences to guests and value owners is critical. Vendors who don’t share and embrace that philosophy won’t be competitive in the future.”
Coming up is the opening of the 1,500-room Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. Also scheduled to launch this year is Virgin Red, a comprehensive loyalty platform for Virgin Group.