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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Use Data Analytics to Create Incredible Hotel Guest Experiences

It’s safe to say that organizations are getting serious about data analytics. Overall, nearly 60% agree that analytics improve the customer journey, with 41% currently using analytics to customize the customer experience (CX).

Not bad, but we can do better. In fact, we must. Personalized customer experiences, no matter how effective, mean nothing if they’re siloed within the end-to-end brand journey. Consumers use a variety of connected devices and channels to engage—they’re generating, consuming and sharing an exorbitant amount of data in the process (up to 2.5 quintillion bytes each day). It’s imperative that brands seamlessly share and analyze the data within each individual experience across the entire brand journey—that is, organization wide—to drive desired customer outcomes.

So, why is it that 64% of companies currently lack data analysis capabilities that combine data from all channels? Why do only 42% share customer intelligence data organization wide? When it comes to data analytics, there’s a clear gap both in organizational awareness and implementation that must be quickly closed. This is especially true for one of the most rapidly digitizing industries: hospitality.

Data-driven Innovation within Hospitality

There are more ways than ever for guests to interact and engage with hotels: sophisticated mobile apps, virtual concierges, interactive kiosks—and any number of intelligent, connected “things.” A new portfolio of advanced, data-driven solutions has reimagined the guest experience, and industry leaders are quick to get on board to drive revenue and competitiveness. Consider that 81% of hospitality managers are striving to create high-functioning mobile apps within the next five years, and 62% are leaning towards the development of smarter in-room communication hubs. These digital developments require a sophisticated level of data exchange to deliver value. Data isolation is simply not an option.

The bottom line is that hotels must be able to ubiquitously share customer knowledge to differentiate the guest experience. With data seamlessly existing across all teams, processes, and customer touch points, employees can track, share, and use relevant information in a way that truly delivers value.

Imagine, for example, a front desk worker seeing through the reservation system that a guest’s flight has been delayed an hour, so he sends an SMS informing the individual that his or her room will be held until arrival. Picture a housekeeping employee bypassing a room during her morning rounds after seeing through the CMS that the guest requested a late checkout due to a late-night concert. Consider an event planner preparing a virtual tour of a grand ballroom after seeing a series of live chat sessions in which a guest expressed concerns about décor and room size.

Making Data-rich Guest Experiences Your Standard

Data analytics are expected to drive the most enterprise change—but analytics are also perceived as the most complex of 21st century technologies. Nevertheless, organizational success largely depends on data integration and analysis. By implementing technology that is inherently built to support a smart digital world, hoteliers can begin sharing and analyzing data from virtually any source to build custom solutions that meet exact customer needs. Data collected across reservation systems, property management systems, call center systems, affinity programs, outside travel agencies and more can be analyzed to begin gaining a contextual visualization of the end-to-end customer journey.

It’s one thing to talk about data-driven guest experiences, but it’s another thing entirely to see them in action. Avaya will be attending HITEC 2017, the world’s largest hospitality technology show, to demo innovative products and solutions for hospitality leaders looking to transform their data analytics strategy. If you’re attending, stop by Booth # 2627 to see the power of intelligent data exchange or to pick our team’s brains. HITEC 2017 takes place June 26-29 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. 

Three Essential Elements in Hotel Back-office Digitization

It’s a fact that 89% of companies today are competing exclusively on the customer experience. They’re retooling their customer approaches, redirecting their external messaging, and investing in new customer-facing technologies. But here’s the thing: creating an amazing customer experience doesn’t mean focusing only on customer-facing processes. Back-office digitization is even more essential.

Allow me to clarify, as this detail is often misconstrued: innovating customer-facing functions is certainly crucial, but arguably it’s more important to innovate the back-office portion of a company. In the back office, administrative support and personnel operate behind the scenes of an organization. These are the employees who oversee daily maintenance, inventory, and operational accounting, for example.

Consider the role of these employees within hospitality: they’re the reason a customer has an amazing reservation experience, or why a favorite dish is always available for room service. They’re the reason that extra blankets can be delivered to a room in the middle of the night. The back office is the collective force behind every front-office experience that uniquely differentiates an organization. The back office is the engine that fuels every small but meaningful moment that makes up the contextual, end-to-end experience customers expect.

This makes back-office digitization vital in our smart, connected world. But just how much progress is being made in this area? Although we’ve been seeing digitization within hospitality, many of the innovations seem to be around the front end. We’re witnessing the rise of new guest-facing technologies like intelligent booking engines, intuitive mobile apps, and smart-enabled rooms. Meanwhile, in many cases, the back office continues to rely on siloed, hierarchal architecture that’s filled with challenges.

It starts to make sense, then, why only 5% of organizations today feel they’ve mastered digital to a point of competitive differentiation. The front and back offices must move at the same pace of innovation for hotels (or any organization) to enjoy true digital transformation. To this end, here are three elements in achieving the back-office digitization that every hotel needs:

  1. Property Management.

    60% of hospitality managers believe “the inability of staff to effectively communicate” severely diminishes the guest experience. Property management system (PMS) integration is a must. However, even more important is the ability for a hotel to extend and customize telephony and UC features into its PMS to innovate back-office communication and collaboration. Although out of sight, back-office employees must be able to effortlessly work behind the scenes to drive innovative new business outcomes.

     

    Property management technology is about so much more than a list of functions. It’s about being able to dynamically share data across the entire organization to optimize real-time decision making, maximize revenue generation, and reimagine the CX. It’s about making data easily accessible and sharable through open communication.

  2. Operational Accounting.

    Operational accounting must go beyond standard system integration to support an unmatched level of communications analytics—the kind that enables hospitality managers to continually learn and adjust processes as needed through constantly updated workflows. This next-gen solution lets managers strategically leverage reports on everything from daily operational activity to vendor management so they can make real-time decisions that improve spending, ROI and TCO.

     

    Using the data that flows through various connected platforms, managers can identify financial patterns and develop predictive insights that can streamline core accounting processes like accounts receivable and payable. The key here is ensuring point-to-point, built-in security that is inherent in systems designed to support this kind of analytics ecosystem (this is especially crucial when it comes to protecting sensitive financial data).

  3. Compliance.

    There’s no shortage of rules that hospitality organizations must follow, and complying is a complex, time-consuming and costly activity for most. As the regulatory landscape continually evolves, we’re seeing organizations increasingly digitizing risk and compliance to ease regulatory burdens and create competitive advantages. From automated workflow management to advanced data analytics, hoteliers can digitize compliance to drive down costs and identify links between risk and business performance (something that 85% of companies believe they aren’t fully capitalizing on today).

Overall, “the need to optimize hotel daily workflows” is listed as one of the highest-impact market drivers in the hospitality industry today. Undoubtedly, many of these critical workflows involve the back-office. As organizational boundaries blur and speed of change continues to accelerate, the back office will only further grow as a foundation for the next-gen customer experience.

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.