What I Learned About Modern Hotels from 1960s Hawaiian Resorts

I recently took a trip to the Filoli house, a 654-acre historic country estate located 30 miles south of San Francisco in Woodside, California. This fantastic property–noted for its 16-acre formal garden–appears on the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and is open to the public. The home itself, built in 1917, features exquisite architecture and details right out of fairytales.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

While I had a great time touring the estate, I ended up walking away with–of all things–insights into the hospitality industry. In 1937, Filoli was purchased by the Roth family, which famously created the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (the first resort in Waikiki) and the Matson luxury cruise line to transport guests to the resort. The hospitality industry was integral to the success of the family and was instrumental in the creation of the Filoli house you see today.

Filoli House

While touring the house, I noticed many artifacts from the cruise lines and hotels. I also noticed that the kitchen and staff quarters operated on modern hotel principles, while using 1930s- to 1960s-era technology.

I had an interesting conversation with the tour guide about how the Filoli estate and the cruise ships/hotels operated in the 1960s. While certain challenges hoteliers face today are new, many guest services issues haven’t changed much at all.

  • There were servant quarters at Filoli, and it took 16 household staff–chefs, butlers, groundskeepers and maids–to serve the Roth family. That’s not very different than operating a modern lodging business, in terms of the employee-to-guest staff management ratio.
  • Guests at Filoli could push a ‘room service’ button by their beds, which would light up an indicator board in the butler’s room. Today, room service is ordered through multiple means–through the phone, in-room tablets and even smartphone apps.
  • The Matson cruise line was the first to hire artists such as Frank McIntosh, Eugene Savage, John Kelly and Louis Macouillard to create commercial art for resort advertisements (I included an example above). Hotels today also use commercial artwork to build their brand image.
  • Guests got newspapers in the morning as part of breakfast service. Today, hotels offer Wi-Fi, so guests can read the news on their mobile devices.
  • To generate demand for the resort, Matson built a cruise line from the West Coast of the U.S. to Hawaii. Today, hotels invest in their own infrastructure to attract guests, notably contact centers that leverage email, Web and social media to market their properties to customers.

It was refreshing to look at how the hospitality industry operated in the past, and the ways technology changed the guest experience.

Filoli

One last note. I took a photo of Filoli’s kitchen stove because it stuck out as unique to the era. Turns out, it was an industrial stove from one of the Matson cruise ships. It’s electric (which was rare back then), and is mildly magnetized while powered, so that the pots and pans wouldn’t spill while the cruise ship was in motion. I thought that was an ingenious way of addressing cooking on a cruise ship before modern stabilization measures.

Avaya will be at the Hotel Industry Technology Expo and Convention (HITEC) next month in Los Angeles, June 23-26, where you will learn how Avaya helps modern hotels and resort address various guest and operations needs. I hope to see you there!

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Hoteliers: Your Best Laid Plans Will Go Awry Without Strong Wi-Fi

In today’s smart, digital world, the average guest experience isn’t so average anymore. Traditional room service, for example, is being replaced by in-room kiosks that offer guests interactive experiences at the touch of a finger. Virtual concierges can now arrange for everything from guests’ daily papers to checkout applications. The days of hotel card keys (let alone actual keys) are dwindling as more hotels enable keyless room entry via smartphones.

Technology has become an integral part of the way we work and live, and that certainly includes the way we travel. It’s not surprising, then, that forward-thinking hoteliers are working to quickly adopt emerging new technologies to enable next-generation guest experiences. At the heart of this massive technological shift, however, is one critically important thing that cannot be underestimated: Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi: Once a Luxury, Now a Necessity

Wi-Fi has never been as significant for the hospitality industry as it is now, especially considering the rise of new mobile network standards like 5G (pilot networks are expected to be available by the end of next year).

Whereas Wi-Fi once meant offering guests uninterrupted music and video streaming, it today means an integrated mobile app experience that enables anywhere/anytime service, supported by faster response times and more anticipatory engagement. In fact, this is something 81% of hospitality leaders we recently surveyed said they’d like to incorporate for improving on-location services. For hotel management, this means streamlining staff communications with dynamic Unified Communications (when asked what most negatively affects the quality of their guest experiences, nearly 40% said fragmented team communications).

These key objectives are dependent on a strong Wi-Fi network. In fact, “network Wi-Fi” was cited by those we surveyed as having the biggest impact on improving the guest experience. It makes sense, then, that over 40% of hoteliers plan to upgrade their Wi-Fi service by the end of 2017.

This is certainly a good thing, especially as hospitality leaders look to make their properties more multifaceted and profitable. Imagine larger hotels, for example, being able to send automatic text notifications to convention attendees informing them of changes to a schedule of events. Or, consider smaller entities—like boutique hotels and B&Bs—being able to maintain their classic charm while amplifying backend operations with a robust data network and IP phone solution.

Regardless of size, hospitality leaders and/or IT decision makers can agree on one thing: the right Wi-Fi network is crucial for supporting today’s next-generation guest experience, as well as mission-critical operations.

Simplifying the Solution: Five Things You Need from Your Wi-Fi Network

The right network solution can transform large and small properties alike (we should know, we currently provide solutions to over 2,500 hotels worldwide). If you’re part of the almost half of hoteliers looking to improve Wi-Fi networking in the coming year, we encourage you to look for a solution that:

  1. Meets the ever-evolving needs of today’s next-generation guest:

    Your network should offer reliable and scalable applications that enable you to expertly handle guest communications via any point of interaction: voice, email, fax, video, Web, IM, social or mobile. As I mentioned in a previous blog, open and extensible network architecture supports this dynamic communication environment with the ability to create apps that customize and extend your hotel’s call center.

  2. Allows you to easily expand:

    For many hotels, continuous expansion is a challenging yet necessary goal. The key is to implement a network solution that can seamlessly scale alongside your property. Consider Best Western Premier Boulder Falls Inn. The Oregon-based hotel—newly opened in 2015—implemented an Avaya data network, Wi-Fi, and an Avaya IP Office phone solution to not only meet its current needs, but those that would inevitably arise as the property further developed. Future expansion plans, according to General Manager Nia Ridley, include the addition of a luxury spa, as well as a focus on hosting regional and state conventions.

  3. Supports legacy architecture:

    Restructuring older networking can be exceedingly difficult, especially when legacy solutions have been heavily invested in and, for the most part, still run efficiently. In this case, it’s important that a hotelier’s new network investment supports an intelligent migration from existing technologies to next-generation networking with little to no interoperability issues. This is especially important for international hotel groups, where all entities must move at one unified pace of innovation.

  4. Streamlines back-office operations:

    Your network solution should fully and seamlessly integrate with key hotel administrative platforms—like your property management and call accounting systems—to simplify and maximize back-office support. In addition to seamless integration with existing vertical applications, you should be able to easily extend or customize your telephony and UC features as you see fit to improve your various back-office systems.

  5. Embodies ease and reliability:

    In the end, you need a flawless system implementation that quickly creates value for your organization. This means a network solution that is truly easy to implement and manage. At the same time, it means a solution that is reliable, secure, and agile enough to support whatever is on the horizon for your property—from withstanding unexpected conditions to enabling strategically planned growth. Just consider Best Western Premier Boulder Falls Inn. The hotel was preparing for its grand opening when leaders decided on the last-minute addition of a second-floor bar, which required serious reconfiguration of the building during construction. Nevertheless, the property “came online faster than any hotel in the history of Best Western,” according to Ridley.

There is no shortage of opportunities for hospitality leaders to transform today’s guest experience. Just as significant as these advancements are, however, is what makes them all possible: next-generation wireless networking.

How Do You Create a Tech-Driven Guest Experience?

Hospitality, one of the world’s most prevalent and influential industries, is using tech-driven guest experiences to boost success. In addition to the usual business trips and family vacations, hotels are a staple for everything from weddings to global conferences to concerts and shows. At resorts, hotels, casinos and cruises, billions of people worldwide book reservations every year, each expecting a guest experience that goes above and beyond the norm.

Hospitality leaders are largely responsible for ensuring that experiences do in fact meet and exceed guest expectations. Nearly 90% of companies today compete solely on the basis of the customer experience, and that certainly includes hotel entities. The guest experience is everything—especially in a smart, digital world where consumers’ demand for speed, agility and quality are at an all-time high.

Guests are focusing less on room service and bell boys and more on 24×7 virtual concierges and personalized mobile travel guides, which proves that the tech-driven guest experience has arrived. In a recent Information Age article, Avaya UK Managing Director Steve Rafferty explores the transformative power of a mobile app for delivering a truly custom—even predictive—guest experience. In Rafferty’s much-needed discussion about the ever-evolving hospitality industry, he concludes that “technology, customized for the hospitality industry and backed by solid in-person service, can help hoteliers today to deliver the superior and personalized experiences their guests expect.”

This leaves just one question: how can hospitality leaders go about creating this tech-driven guest experience, specifically through infrastructure investments and/or upgrades?

Many organizations have proven that a next-gen guest experience is very possible to achieve. The Rotana Group, an international hotel and entertainment chain, uses advanced contact center and IP solutions to enable secure and seamless communications across its properties worldwide, supporting a more 360-degree guest experience.

Three Ways to Create a Tech-Driven Guest Experience

So, as a leader or IT decision maker within the hospitality industry, how can you proactively address your guest’s needs with the right technology? Here are three significant ways a customer engagement platform can help drive the desired guest experience:

  1. Innovate at the first point of contact.

    There’s no denying that for most guests, the first point of contact is a hotel’s web site. A 2015 study conducted by Expedia found that consumers visit an average of 38 websites before booking a reservation. Overall, travelers tend to double the time they spend surfing the web the week before booking. Needless to say, there’s plenty of opportunity for hoteliers to elevate guests’ web experiences with the right technology.

    How? As opposed to offering guests a web form (or worse, a dreaded 800 number), you can offer guests live chat support via WebRTC. Of course, guests should also be able to easily escalate their live chat session to voice if needed—and from there to video chat or screen sharing for particularly complex reservations or issues. A customer engagement platform created on an open, extensible architecture lets you support this dynamic environment with the ability to create apps that customize and extend your call center. This can help you to create new points of differentiation, or change them as you see fit. So you can ensure a stellar guest experience from the first point of contact onward.

  2. Improve resource matching.

    Front desk workers must skillfully handle calls from families, school groups, business travelers, wedding planners, convention planners, language specialists, and more. With hotels becoming more dynamic by the minute, the need for improved resource matching is vital. This means ensuring callers can be quickly and intelligently routed to the right subject matter experts—regardless of where they reside within the organization—based on rich context, KPIs and organizational goals across all channels.

    An advanced customer engagement platform tracks guest conversations and consolidates customer data across all of these channels (i.e., web, mobile, contact center), creating a real-time data repository for hotel workers to track, collect and share relevant information across teams, processes and customer touch points. This ensures callers will always be paired with the best subject matter experts available. Additionally, this allows agents to focus on callers’ needs without having to ask for the same information multiple times (which, as we all know, is a huge customer frustration). Above all, the technology helps to deliver more consistent and meaningful experiences at the individual guest level.

  3. Enhance the mobile UX.

    Research shows that more than 75% of travelers consider their smartphones to be critical. Additionally, about 1 in 3 people use their smartphones more when they travel than they do at home. As Rafferty explained, mobility is a key way for hoteliers to capitalize on guests’ needs and deliver the experiences they’re looking for.

    There are many ways mobility can be strategically leveraged. For example:

    • Use Wi-Fi location services to recognize when guests arrive
    • Push notifications to alert guests of changes to their stays
    • Use mobile room key authentication, verses a swipe card, for added day-to-day convenience

Perhaps most importantly, hoteliers must offer guests a sophisticated and integrated mobile app experience. This experience should include such things as seamlessly integrated self service and callback options, something that a customer engagement platform easily supports.
Mobility is not only advantageous for usage with guests’ mobile phones—it also addresses a need for staff to be mobile. For example, as mentioned in the point above, callers must be routed to the right subject matter experts regardless of where they reside within the organization. Mobility helps ensure subject matter experts are accessible, wherever they happen to be located on the property, for handling both guest inquires as well as internal operations.

Technology is changing the hotel guest experience. There’s ample room for innovation within the industry, and there’s a way to efficiently, securely and flexibly enable guest experiences that continually exceed expectations. How does Avaya know for sure? Avaya supplied the technology that transformed the Wynn Hotel, the Rotana Group, and many other world-renowned hospitality organizations. A customer engagement platform built on open, extensible architecture gives you an open scope, meaning anything is possible in terms of the guest experiences you want to deliver.

Avaya Showcasing Latest Hospitality Technology Solutions at HITEC 2015

Positive guest experiences are the top criteria travelers use to select hotels, far outweighing price and location. Improving the guest experience is profitable, too: Customers who report having positive guest experiences spend 140 percent more than those who had poor experiences.

Hoteliers are increasingly embracing technology to differentiate the guest experience, and Avaya is at the forefront of developing the technology (and the network) to power positive guest experiences.

Next week, Avaya will showcase its hotel solutions at HITEC 2015, the largest hospitality technology tradeshow in the world. Join us at booth #752.

Let’s take a look at two ways Avaya can help improve the guest experience.

Communication-Enabling Apps and Websites

Nearly every hotel in the world today has a website. Most major hotel chains have either launched an official mobile app, or are actively developing one. These self-service websites and apps are designed to help guests book a room, and connect with the hotel before arriving.

Forward-thinking hoteliers are building interactive tools to help enhance their guests’ experience during their stay: indoor maps, spa and restaurant reservations, room service and suggested day trips through partners.

At HITEC 2015, we’re exhibiting the Avaya Engagement Development Platform, a software development kit that makes it easy to communication-enable websites and mobile apps. With just a few steps, developers can add “click to call” buttons inside any app, instantly connecting the guest with the front desk, concierge, onsite restaurant, and more.

Flexible engagement modules, called Snap-ins, are capable of enabling a range of communication-enabled experiences. For example, a hotel might use Snap-ins to build location-aware beacons that identify VIP guests and notify hotel staff to greet them personally.

Hotel app developers are exploring time- and location-aware notifications to, for example, encourage people to book restaurant reservations during slow times, or push relevant information about the property as the guest walks past.

Avaya built EDP to be platform-agnostic—it’s designed to communication-enable any app, working with disparate content management systems, programming languages and competing silos of information.

Flexible, Virtual Networking

A flexible, virtual network is critical to a successful hotel experience. Avaya SDN Fx is an IEEE standard Ethernet architecture based on Shortest-Path Bridging that makes it simpler for hotels to provision new services and reconfigure networks on the fly.

Consider the Dubai World Trade Center, one of the world’s largest convention centers. It would sometimes take days to reconfigure the network between major tradeshows. As exhibitors showed up, technicians would invariably spend the day manually provisioning services, making changes to the network and troubleshooting errors.

With Avaya SDN Fx, provisioning time at the Dubai World Trade Center is 50- to 60 percent faster, and technicians have been able to effectively eliminate manual provisioning.

Avaya SDN Fx allows hotels to run all of their applications on one network, securely, with built-in resiliency. There’s no need to have separate networks for all hotel services. If a networking switch goes down, Avaya SDN Fx automatically routes traffic to the remaining switches.

That means guests enjoy uninterrupted WiFi. Hotels lower their IT costs by managing a single network virtually. Hotels control the applications on their networks—for example, limiting video streaming on the lobby WiFi, so that it doesn’t affect network performance for other guests.

Avaya guest engagement and simplified networks solutions help hotels deliver differentiated guest experiences. Join us as we showcase both at HITEC 2015, booth #752, from June 16-18 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas. Listen to our latest healthcare solutions podcast: Innovating the Hospitality Marketplace.