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.


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!

Related Articles:

10 Ways to Innovate & Transform a Hotel’s In-Room Experience

Technology is about human empowerment. It’s about customers having as much control over their experiences as possible. It’s about adapting to the specific needs of users. In hospitality, the smart, digital, next-gen environment drives the in-room experience.

Over 60% of hospitality execs believe the quality of the guest experience would be significantly improved by enhanced in-room services. Meanwhile, 70% of guests want to use technology to enhance their overall experience. As a result, hotels are working overtime to create more adaptable, tech-driven in-room experiences.

The hotel room is a massive innovation opportunity for forward-thinking properties. How can brands deliver real customer value? Here are 10 incredible ways to innovate the in-room experience, based on real guest preferences and expectations:

  1. Customize messages and offers: Nearly 75% of guests appreciate custom messages and offers. Consider, for example, a list of nearby activities based on a customer’s TripAdvisor ratings. For business travelers, consider personalized reminders about upcoming meetings or conference show happenings. Guests should also be able to instantly initiate conversations with experts should they have any questions.
  2. Offer transaction/interaction history: Imagine guests being able to opt for transcripts of recent interactions so they don’t have to initiate new conversations or repeat the same information. The copy could be sent to either their personal or in-room devices. This could also be a history of transactions during their stay, with the option to pay using their mobile wallet.
  3. Automate check out: Consider guests being able to automatically schedule check outs for a specific time. With the touch of a finger, they can take care of their departure plans. Meanwhile, housekeeping and front desk workers can receive notifications about the status of each room so they can streamline operations.
  4. Support online table reservations: Consider featuring daily menu specials that reflect guests’ dietary restrictions and/or affiliations. Imagine guests being able to view table availability and make reservations with the touch of a finger. If they have a question, they should be able to seamlessly initiate voice, video or chat sessions with dining room staff.
  5. Provide exclusive loyalty member perks: Consider how you can further differentiate service for loyalty program members with exclusive perks and incentives. For example, special coupons or discounts (a preference noted by 85% of loyalty program members) or points/rewards for social media likes (noted by 58%).
  6. Deliver amenity control: The traditional hotel room transforms into a connectivity hub with increased amenity control. Consider, for example, guests being able to use a hotel’s wireless printer right from their rooms, or being able to see a real-time count of people using the fitness center. This kind of visibility and management is key for amplifying the overall guest experience.
  7. Provide in-room control: 71% of guests want a smartphone or tablet to control their in-room needs (i.e., TV, curtains, thermostat). Consider the ARIA Resort & Casino, which allows guests to automatically control their curtains, climate, lighting and “Do Not Disturb” status. Guests can even set a mood to their room using a “Scenes” feature, and coordinate alarm clocks with the opening of their curtains.
  8. Support location-based offerings: Nearly 75% of hotels surveyed in 2016 reported plans to implement location-based technologies within the next year. Consider, for example, location-based coupons, noted as a preference by 70% of guests. Or, location-based alerts (i.e., open tables/machines, spa availability, golf course tee times), noted by 64%.
  9. Offer activity-based services: Imagine customizing the in-room experience based on guests’ in-room activity or knowing when they enter and leave their rooms. Tracking location can help significantly improve quality of service. However, be sure to consider guests’ level of comfort—60% express some level of concern about hotels tracking their location and movement. Overall, 80% want to control how their personal information is used to tailor their experience.
  10. Streamline surveys/reviews: Customer satisfaction data is vital to improving the in-room experience. Let guests take a satisfaction survey, or leave a review through reputable sites like Expedia and TripAdvisor, right from their rooms before checking out. This is especially important for loyalty program members, cited as a preference by 72% of such guests.

Now, how can hotels begin seamlessly delivering this advanced in-room experience? This largely depends on the tools and technologies that are implemented. Learn more about how an open, customizable desktop device can support next-gen initiatives in “A Look at the Radical New Desk Phone You Never Knew You Needed.”

How to Increase Hotel Revenue with Better Booking Experiences

Kayak. Expedia. Priceline. As a hotel executive, you know these brands good and well. They’re the ones battling for market share with seemingly better booking experiences. To say they’re shaking things up is an understatement. Global sales of online travel agencies (OTAs) grew by 19% from 2014 to 2015 alone, with sales in some regions increasing by as much as 43%. By 2020, it’s expected that OTA sales will peak at $434 billion.

This tells us a lot about the current state of direct booking, confirming that properties can and must do better. The booking experience is one today’s greatest untapped opportunities in hospitality. It’s time for leaders to address the rising problem of revenue being lost to OTAs due to poor booking experiences.

So, how can hotels deliver distinctly better booking experiences? We can think of three ways.

No. 1: Innovate at the First Point of Contact

What’s the reason almost half of customers book through OTAs? Simply because the “website is easy to use.” This is understandable, considering the limited communication tools currently used by hotel staff: 91% have phones, 84% email … and that’s about it. Today, only half of hotels can innovate guest experiences with communication features like chat, and only 11% with video.

It’s imperative that hotels innovate at the first point of contact by transforming the web user experience—whether this means meeting customers during the actual booking process, or delivering unmatched expertise as they surf the web for deals. Consider that consumers visit an average of 38 websites before making a reservation, and tend to double the time they spend on the web the week before booking. Imagine a world where customers can simply click a button on your website to be instantly connected via automated call routing and queuing with your front desk, management, or even the kitchen. This kind of simple, instant, natural engagement enables customers to get the information they need for better booking experiences.

No. 2: Invest in Advanced Resource Matching

A major issue among OTAs involves a lack of transparency. Consider popular airlines like Delta, which have been known to remove fares from smaller online travel sites (and even larger sites like TripAdvisor) to make customers believe it’s difficult to shop around and find a good deal. Hotels can capitalize on this digital distrust by working to offer authentic and relevant information that streamlines booking—specifically, through intelligent resource matching.

Based on rich context and KPIs, resource matching ensures customers are quickly and intelligently routed to the right subject matter expert, regardless of where the expert is within the organization. If a customer starts a conversation about billing with an agent via web chat, the customer can be immediately routed to a staff accountant who’s headed back to the office from lunch. An advanced customer engagement platform can track customer conversations and consolidate that data across virtually any interaction channel—web, mobile, contact center. This creates a real-time data repository that workers can use to transform customer service. This includes (you guessed it) better booking experiences.

No. 3: Offer a Contextual Mobile App Experience

We live in a world where 65% of customers make same-day hotel reservations using their mobile device. In fact, mobile travel bookings have grown by an astronomical 1700% between 2011 and 2015. This signals the need for two things: a mobile-optimized website (after all, bookings via desktop are still alive and well), and a high-functioning mobile application.

The mobile app is especially important: 40% of guests now have hotel mobile apps, while 30% are inclined to download one. As such, 80% of hotels are planning to roll out sophisticated mobile apps within the next five years. This app should include unique mobile features that let hotels gain an inherent understanding of travelers’ intentions and motivations for improved bookings. It should also include seamlessly integrated self-service and callback options, along with the kind of intelligent resource matching mentioned above. The purpose of a mobile app is to simplify and enhance the booking experience as part of the end-to-end guest journey.

Differentiate Your Booking—and Guest Stay—Experiences

It may seem OTAs have the upper hand, yet there’s an undeniable value of personal, human service. Case in point: 93% of customers strongly agree that despite digital advances in the travel industry, the value of personal service cannot be replaced. Hotels should strategically capitalize on this with competitively differentiated booking experiences—and keep building from there to improve the overall guest experience.

Read more about building an end-to-end high-tech, high-touch guest experience in a few of my blogs:

Hospitality Solutions: Four Ways to Innovate Internal Communications

What do hotels like Hilton, Four Seasons, Marriot, Kimpton and Hyatt have in common? They all ranked within Fortune Magazine’s 2016 “100 Best Companies to Work For.” In an industry that boasts over 15 million employees in the U.S. alone, this recognition is no small feat. So, how do these companies keep their employees fulfilled? It’s simple: each understands that profit and competitiveness are driven by the guests who walk through their doors each day, and their experiences go hand-in-hand with their employees’. So, what makes for an amazing employee experience (besides complimentary stays and celebratory bashes)? A significant part involves lightening workers’ loads with simplified and streamlined hospitality communications solutions.

The Right Hospitality Communications Solutions can Improve the Employee Experience

Why do we say this? Because we’re still seeing a lot of old processes in place, and 60% of hoteliers believe the inability of staff to effectively communicate severely diminishes the guest experience. A 2015 study found that 25% of U.S. hoteliers still use pen and paper to manage their properties. And 16% admit they have no system in place at all.

Digital, social and mobile technologies have introduced a new hotel experience, and that requires a new employee approach. Here are four ways hotels can (and should) take internal communications up a notch:

  1. Upgrade your phone system
    Over one-third of hotel execs admit they haven’t upgraded their phone system in over five years. That’s a lot of time and a lot of lost opportunity, considering how rapidly desk phone technology has advanced in recent years. For example, consider the concept of a next-gen desk phone that lets organizations embed custom communication features directly into workflows to meet exact user and vertical needs.


    In hospitality, the phone can streamline everything from in-room help and recommendations (something that 71% of guests desire) to inter-departmental collaboration. The ability to launch voice, chat, video, and other collaboration sessions instantly through one-touch connections means no unnatural breaks or pauses, eliminating the need for employees to use multiple devices to engage.

  2. Communicate outside of just phone and email
    Even for hotels that have upgraded from pen and paper, collaboration options are slim. Consider that only 50% of brands currently use channels like chat, while only 11% use video. Overall, only half of hoteliers can communicate outside of traditional methods like phone and email (let alone enable seamless, multichannel experiences organization-wide).


    This significantly slows down interactions between departments, affecting employees’ ability to work and, subsequently, the guest experience. Imagine, for example, a salesperson interacting with a wedding planner who has a specific question about the hotel’s vegan meal options. An email to the head chef simply won’t produce the real-time response needed to differentiate that experience and lock in the sale.

  3. Integrate mobile into daily workflows
    In hospitality, the deployment of mobile unified communications and collaboration solutions for staff communications is one of the highest-impact market drivers. As the guest experience goes mobile, so too must internal communications. Consider that 70% of guests either currently use, or will be inclined to download, a hotel mobile app.


    Mobility is a must for employees, but supervisors can’t inundate staff with multiple devices to support disparate apps and communication tools. Rather, hotels should be embedding mobile communication features directly into existing workflows to create one unified, mobile presence. Integrating, versus adding, mobility is what enables hoteliers to create a ubiquitous communications experience.

  4. Get secure (really secure)
    Among hotel execs, 55% cite back-end information security as their top security issue—and that’s a problem for employees. The more secure backend (server, application, database) information is, the more confidently employees can use that information to internally engage and reimagine guest experiences.


    Back-end security enables hotels to capitalize on seemingly endless revenue and guest experience opportunities, with employees playing an important role in this growth. Get inspired by the real-life use cases that Avaya presented at HITEC 2017. As cloud, social, mobile, and digital solutions proliferate within the hospitality industry, brands will need to advance their security strategies accordingly.

Want to put your hotel on Fortune’s next list of best companies to work for? Then it’s time to review your internal communications and your hotel’s employee experience.