Be connected

13 Oct 2015
Hotels have realised that leveraging cutting-edge communication technologies that enhance guest services, keep them ahead of the curve and competition. BY MINI RIBEIRO
 
Tech-evolved guests today at hotels have high expectations for secure, reliable access to communication services, both wired and wireless. Again, staying connected with guests and delivering an enhanced experience is imperative for every hotel. Internal communication systems in hotels is also a crucial tool to ensure smooth functioning.
Technology enables hotels to stay connected with the help of a unified communication system — a combination of a set of products to provide a single solution that unifies voice, instant messaging, audio, video and web conferencing for a richer and simplified experience for enterprises.
M Srinivasan, corporate IT manager, The Leela Hotels, Palaces and Resorts, reiterates, "Good communication is crucial for the success of any hotel. We need to be able to communicate effectively with everyone within our company as well as with our guests. This is to ensure smooth operations, a hassle-free and memorable experience for our guests.” He adds, "With unified communications, the guest during the stay with the hotel, does not need to communicate verbally about his/her preferences starting from newspaper to food to in-room entertainment."
Unified communication system at The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, makes message delivery prompt and effective, thus ensuring speedy communication. Says Ritesh Sharma, resident manager of the property, "With accurate use of the system, we can locate the right set of people assigned for a particular task and it helps us deliver categorised messages to the correct group to avoid confusion. In times of emergency, any update or feedback that requires immediate attention can be brought to notice without delay, especially in case of a medical situation the concerned team can be notified without losing time."
Reaction time to a guest query or request in a hotel, is critical and that is where hotels clearly see the tangible benefits of a unified communication system. Sharad Datta, GM, Hyderabad Marriott Hotel & Convention Centre and Courtyard by Marriott Hyderabad elaborates, "The clear advantage of a unified communication system is that it helps save time. In the age of social media, having a unified communication system goes a long way in creating memorable experiences."
A communication system that works with different kinds of phones and integrates with the existing property management system software in the hotel, is what is preferred. The Panasonic KX-TDE system is an ideal communications solution for the hospitality industry. DECT wireless handsets give hotels an ideal mobility solution, assuring staff can always be reached anywhere on the property. Unlike with cumbersome walkie-talkies, DECT wireless handsets are connected to the phone system, so one can instantly reach your maintenance man whether he's by the pool or in a meeting, simply by dialing his extension.
Arun Shetty, director of collaborations solutions, Avaya, India, emphasises the importance of such a system. "Avaya solutions are helping hotels to create a cost-effective, personalised guest experience through integrated communications solutions. From the first contact with guests whether by phone or at check-in until they depart, there are countless opportunities to win their loyalty. In addition to that, we help them increase revenues by providing more attentive, and expedient customer service, improve staff efficiency, provide a wide variety of options for new hotel services and enable the guests to access hotel services and amenities more easily. Avaya provides hotels with seamless features like simple and scalable networking platform that reduces cost and enables flawless communications with the help of internet connections, Wi-Fi and video surveillance."

In the long run, a unified communication system proves to be a cost-efficient investment for a hotel, because both email and telephone – the two most important communications tools can be managed as a single entity, and thus, hardware and software costs are typically reduced. This results in maximising efficiency for use of IT staff time and lowers labour costs.
Srinivasan concurs. "Since most of the services are hosted on the cloud, our hardware resources are close to zero. Pay-per-usage is very popular, hence the cost is relatively cheaper as compared to the tradition of maintaining hardware and software at the property level."
Sharma highlights other benefits too. “A unified communication system not only enhances guest experience and cuts down cost, it also increases efficiency of the staff since seamless communication leads to inter-departmental interaction on guest movement.”
Shetty quips, "With an efficient and collaborative communication infrastructure, hotels can improve property performance in several important ways like reducing the communication costs with converged communications (voice, data), infrastructure consolidation and virtualised networking solutions (more performance, less administration, less hardware). The costs can also be reduced by improving staff efficiencies with the help of real-time communications and task management and creating staff mobility."
Tablet computers are revolutionising the way hotels and restaurants deliver guest services and Panasonic Toughpad tablet and Toughbook computers are leading the way. Guests can be impressed with express curbside check-in service using the Toughpad tablet, bypassing the front desk. Again, the dining experience can be enhanced while boosting revenue with dynamic, interactive menus on the Toughpad. Housekeeping can update room-ready status in real time so guests waiting for an early check-in know when their room is available and current guests lounging by the pool can receive a text when their room is made up.
Hotels are constantly endeavouring to value-add to their guest experience. The Leela Group has gone a step further and deployed a product called Winsuite, which is a hospitality system with real-time interface. Informs Srinivasan, “This is in operation at some of our properties and we are looking forward to installing it at all our properties. This product allows our guests to look for certain information like their flight details, local tourist attractions, hotel facilities like dining options in the hotel, spa and salon information, butler service, our Royal club facilities and more. Guests can also refer to stock values, weather forecasts and get assistance with international dialing. All of this is easily accessible through the IP phones in the room, the phones are equipped with a touch menu to access all the services mentioned above."
Datta adds. "At the Marriott Hyderabad, we use LCD screens at the lobby level that showcases the various Marriott properties across the globe, through reservation confirmation email messages, guests are notified of the various food festivals and promotions that are scheduled at the hotel during their stay and the recently launched Red Coat Direct App (a Marriott International initiative) allows guests to connect on real time with the hotel events team through group chat."

At The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, the engineering team has taken extreme care to ensure that the staff across departments can work seamlessly to ensure smooth operations. "We have facility to send out SMS alerts to inform a large team about any specific task at hand. We also send out focused messages to large groups for key updates and work in progress. Key desktops have an icon that is powered to avail the unified communication system at a click," states Sharma.
Avaya ensures that with their unified communication solutions, they enable hotels to offer various platforms for communicating with their customers via text chat, email or link to make a direct call to a hotel agent. With their solutions, hotels can build a stronger level of engagement with the customers by offering features like welcome messages on the TV display or any other device used by the customer. Another feature is asking for their reservation requirements in any restaurant that they may have visited in the past. Shetty explains, "This is how we create a personal control centre for the guests where they can access a virtual concierge, to order food, to get a wakeup call, check on local events and attractions and book appoints and golf tee times, etc. The guests will be able to utilise 24-hour concierge level service at the touch of a button."
For those hotels focused on “green” initiatives, again, unified communications can support these initiatives in several ways. The power requirements can be cut down drastically. Also, the number of individual systems can be reduced. Furthermore, reducing employee travel into the office by allowing them to work remotely, minimising the amount of floor space in an office by allowing employees to coming into an office location only when necessary, are clear advantages.
Smooth functioning of the communication system, cost-efficiency and time-saving may be the most important criteria for most hotels when selecting a service provider, but for The Leela group, guest satisfaction is foremost. Says Srinivasan, “We have done a survey with our hotels where we capture guest feedback suggesting the services that they would love to have through technology which would offer convenience and comfort, thereby enhancing their experience. We thus engaged a service provider who is experienced with hospitality and also has a good track record. The provider can also offer us insights based on their experience. We work with Planet1world and Paragon solutions – Digivalet."
Sharad Datta adds, "At Marriott, the vendors or service providers are chosen by the area procurement team, keeping in mind that these vendors will have to adhere to the strict international standards. At a property level, we ensure that the service providers we work with, deliver a satisfactory experience."

Hotels are constantly looking to upgrade their communication systems and are thus picky when it comes to selecting a service provider. Shetty of Avaya reveals, "We work with international and regional brands like Kempinski, Marriott, Hilton, Intercontinental, Four Seasons, Fairmont, ACCOR group, etc. These brands are working with Avaya either to deliver a fully integrated communication hospitality solution or to respond to individual requirements in the call centre, unified communications or infrastructure. Our latest project in India is with Taj corporate HQ, where we installed the networking, cabling and wireless and the entire telephony and mobility solution including collaboration needs."
A unified communication system is the way forward in hotels and they are sparing no efforts in installing the best. Yet, they acknowledge that personal communication can never be replaced. Srinivasan admits, "No digital technology can replace the human touch. The Leela group believes it is most important for our teams to know each and every guest staying at our properties and provide personalised service and have one-on-one interactions with our guests. While technology has its advantages, personal engagement with our guests and loyal patrons is always the best way to enhance guest experiences and interacting with them helps us get real time feedback."
Unified communications on any device, over any network, creating seamless and ubiquitous communications and collaboration, is the unanimous need of the hour for the hospitality industry.
Shetty of Avaya, sums up succinctly. "Hotels need to provide convenient services to their guests and match up to their expectations along with enabling their staff to provide personal attention that can differentiate their brand and streamline or automate activities across their operations. Hotel managers need to rethink their property architectures and focus on building a communication system that can provide a set of consistent services. Avaya’s integrated hospitality solutions provide an overall connected guest experience and at the same time, our communications experts can help hotels leverage their existing technology investments and lay the foundation for the cost-effective addition of new capabilities as they become available."

This article appeared in HotelierIndia.com on 13 October 2015