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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Five Ways Hotels Can Build a Successful Digital Strategy for Improving Guest Experience

If research has shown us anything, it’s that companies across virtually every sector are realigning around digitization. So much so that 80% of companies identify digital transformation as their top strategic priority, and nearly half of CIOs plan to spend 50% or more of their time in digital activities by 2021 (compared to 13% currently). Overall, IDC expects spending on digital transformation to surpass $2 trillion by 2019.

With digitization proven to enhance business outcomes, cost savings, and CX possibilities, implementing a digital strategy seems to be a no-brainer today. At the same time, however, 62% of companies believe the current pace of change related to digital transformation is “accelerating significantly” in their industry, making it hard to keep up.

This without question includes the hospitality industry, where hoteliers are working overtime to stay ahead of today’s rapid pace of innovation. Just consider that 35% of Americans believe outer space travel will become a reality within the next 15 years. So, how can hotels stay ahead? Here are five ways hospitality leaders and/or IT decision makers can begin building a successful digital strategy:

  1. Extend customer communications beyond the call center:

    Customer relationships are shaped across every business unit at every touch point, so why quarantine communications within the call center? By extending communications organization-wide, customers can be immediately put in touch with the best resources—billing representative, property manager, housekeeping supervisor, event planner—to meet their exact needs. With the right technology, organizations can even build learning algorithms to bring intelligence into the last mile of routing selection, enabling them to match customers based on several deeper variables such as personality, emotion and call outcome.

  2. Build/embed custom communications into the CX:

    Hoteliers can tap into new engagement opportunities by creating or embedding custom, real-time communication capabilities into the customer experience. For example, they can uniquely differentiate themselves by embedding video into the mobile customer experience. By doing so, guests can escalate any mobile interaction to a video chat session with the touch of a finger—anytime, anywhere via an integrated mobile app (more on this below). As customers increasingly use digital channels to interact with the brands they love, it’s imperative that hotels can support a personalized, omnichannel experience that drives insight and engagement at the individual account level. With the ability to build and/or embed custom communications into the CX, they can seamlessly do so.

  3. Invest in a media-agnostic solution:

    This kind of solution should support multiple customer devices (i.e., smartphones, tablets, smartwatches), as well as larger interaction platforms like kiosks, to innovate the CX with flexible new touch points. Consider Caesars Entertainment: the corporation—which owns and operates over 50 hotels and casinos—launched self-check-in kiosks in properties such as the Rio and Planet Hollywood last summer. In addition to being more responsive to and convenient for guests, research shows that customers are also more receptive to upselling and cross-selling via digital platforms. For example, a study of McDonald’s self-service kiosks found that customers were 20% more likely to buy products offered through the kiosk.

  4. Enable data to be shared organization-wide:

    The hospitality industry serves millions of travelers who are generating, sharing and consuming their fair share of data each day. It’s imperative that hotels take advantage of this seemingly endless array of data to reimagine business outcomes and CX possibilities. Consider Starwood Hotels and Resorts: the company uniquely leverages social customer data to meet and exceed guest expectations, like the time a customer tweeted that his hotel room was cold only to soon after be surprised by an Alpaca throw blanket, a box of tea and a handwritten note on his bed. With the ability to share all relevant interaction data across all teams, processes and customer touch points, hotels can easily capture the kind of customer and situational context needed to reimagine engagement possibilities.

    Of course, this also means customers will be less likely to repeat themselves or face the frustration of being transferred across multiple departments. For example, when on the phone with a customer, a front desk worker may see that the individual engaged in a live chat session with an event planner two days ago about reserving a room block for a wedding. With enhanced data visibility, outcomes can be achieved more quickly, efficiently, and in the customer’s favor.

  5. Offer an integrated mobile app experience:

    In today’s world where 40% of people feel they can’t live without their smartphone, mobility is a vital part of digitization. This is especially true in hospitality, where over 75% of travelers consider their smartphones to be critical. Hotels should enhance the mobile UX by offering a sophisticated and integrated mobile app experience—one that seamlessly integrates a myriad of service channels, as well as out-of-the-box features designed to engage and entertain. The Ritz-Carlton, for example, offers a mobile app experience that lets guests make and edit reservations on the fly, initiate service requests, view and track bill charges, and even transform photos into vintage-inspired travel posters that can be easily shared via social.

With research showing that a hotel’s digital tools have a moderate to strong impact on 70% of guests, it’s clear that hoteliers should be working to build a successful digital strategy. To do so, however, they must invest in technology that enables their organization to be open, agile and integrated enough to support the future of the customer experience. At the same time, digital transformation must be considered an enterprise-wide initiative in which all lines of business move at one unified pace of innovation—something that research suggests only a fraction of organizations successfully do.

The right technology, combined with the right approach, will enable organizations across every sector to master digital to a point of competitive differentiation.

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.