Putting the Front Desk in the Hotel Guest’s Pocket

Hotels are spending as much as 6 percent of total revenue on technology, according to Hospitality Technology’s 2017 Lodging Technology Study. Titled “Frictionless Hotels: Enabling the Omni-Experience,the study said that 57 percent of hotels planned to spend more on technology this year than they did in 2016, while 42 percent planned to spend about the same and just 2 percent said they would decrease their I.T. spending.

Hotel occupancy rates in the United States are at 65.5 percent, the highest since 1984, said Bjorn Hanson, a professor of hospitality and tourism at the Tisch Center of New York University. Though they had typically been slow to adopt new technologies, hotels are seeing a place for tech tools to make sure that guests’ needs are met.

“They’re trying to improve the guest experience by doing things on the guests’ terms instead of the hotel’s,” said Gregg Hopkins, chief sales and marketing officer for Intelity Corporation, which creates technology products for hotels, including companies like the Four Seasons, Loews, Conrad and Pacific Hospitality Group. “It drives loyalty and drives repeat business and drives revenue.”

“Hotels need to stay engaged with the guest from the time they make the reservation until they check out and check in again,” Mr. Hopkins said. “They need to differentiate what they do for the guest.”


Tina Amber, a guest at the Bacara Resort and Spa, using the custom iPad in her room to make her plans. “I like the ability to do things with the click of a button,” she said.

Kayla Reefer for The New York Times

In the last five years alone, communication with Marriott International from mobile devices has quadrupled, said George Corbin, senior vice president for digital at the hotel chain. In addition, 75 percent of all Marriott guests used a smartphone, tablet or laptop during their most recent stay. “This space is moving so fast,” he said. “We sort of take a bite at a time” in refining technology developments.

And that is indicative of what is happening in the hotel industry. Marriott was among the early technology adopters, having introduced an app in early 2012 that offered the ability to book a hotel room. Since then, the company has added features that allow guests to use the app to check in and check out; receive an alert when a room is ready; make requests of the hotel staff; and, in at least 500 locations, to unlock a room.

Technology also helps to resolve problems. A quarter of Marriott’s guests have an issue, problem or question during their stay, Mr. Corbin said. But guests whose problems were solved the first time they contacted the hotel “report higher satisfaction than people who had no problem at all,” he said.

“This is where ‘mobile requests’ come in,” he added. “That thing in your pocket” — the smartphone.

For Tina Amber, 64, who travels with her husband to visit family and explore the world, apps are a way of life.

“I like the ability to do things with the click of a button,” Ms. Amber, a retired retail executive who lives in Pleasanton, Calif., said. When she and her husband drive from the San Francisco area to San Diego to visit two of their grandchildren, they stop halfway down the coast at the Bacara Resort and Spa, part of the Meritage Collection, where she relies on the iPad in the room to make all her plans.

Technology, she said, has become her constant companion: “If a hotel doesn’t have it, I’m somewhat put off.”

Shayne Paddock, chief innovation officer for guest management solutions at TravelClick, an e-commerce service provider for hotels, said different guests wanted different things.


An app at the Bacara Resort and Spa that can be used for room service tray pick-up, making spa reservations, ordering food and requesting room amenities.

Kayla Reefer for The New York Times

“For hospitality, you don’t want to lose the human element,” Mr. Paddock said. The aim is “to blend technology with the human side if you want to be successful in this space. Not using cool technology for the sake of cool technology.”

While any hotel can use TravelClick’s new Guest Messenger, which allows guests and hotel staff to communicate by text message, he said the company’s “sweet spot” was independent hotels and hotel groups with 50 to 100 properties.

Other companies are marketing products to hoteliers, finding niche ways to improve guests’ experiences.

Tech tools “make it easier for guests to let hotels know what they need and what they want,” said Bernard Ellis, chief executive of Gem Touch Guest Experience Management Solutions, based in Roswell, Ga. The key to any new technology, Mr. Ellis said, is that it functions well and consistently.

Making things easier for guests is the goal, said Carol Beggs, director of technology at Chatham Bars Inn, a resort over a century old on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “You can book online, not just rooms but everything else,” she added.

By May or June, Ms. Beggs said, she expects guests to be able to book “ancillary activities,” like a cabana or a sailboat, on the hotel’s website or app using “smartphones, laptop, phone, whatever method you want to use.”

Of course, Ms. Beggs said, “If the guest wants to speak to a particular person on the staff, nobody wants to take that away.”

At the Washington Marriott Georgetown in Washington, which has just undergone a $28 million renovation that included an update of its technology, guests can use mobile requests to obtain tickets to a show at the Kennedy Center, make dinner reservations or have maps ready for them when they return to the hotel.

The digital conveniences are among the ways hotels are “trying to differentiate from each other and from Airbnb, and wean off of online travel agencies,” said Lorraine Sileo, senior vice president for research at Phocuswright, a travel industry research firm. They want to “grab you in the search process and booking process and in the destination — they want to have that relationship with you.”

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