At Your Service

By Mary Carlin Contributing Editor | January 08, 2005

At Caesars Lake Tahoe, owned by Caesars Entertainment, gaming is no longer the key reason to visit. Sightseeing is now number one, according to exit interviews and guest surveys. This sea change motivated director of hotel operations Yale Spina to develop Lake Tahoe Gateway, which he describes as "a concierge on steroids. We sell fun. How much do you want, and what color?" explains Spina. "We wanted to offer a quality outside experience, but to control itÃ.‚¬"to get them back for dinner, a show, etc. The philosophy used to be to keep them in the building at all times." The Gateway, which is trademarked, provides a packaged product for selling excursions and sightseeing tours, and is even being used by competitors' guests coming over to use the service, according to Spina. The resort hotel has merged the box office and business center, and charges a service fee on ticketing.

Dedicated staff are using Gold Key Solutions' Concierge Assistant (goldkeysolutions.com), which tracks all guests along with their needs, dining and other preferences, entertainment history, and other personal data to enable concierges to provide intuitive service. The system runs on Caesars' property network. It took five months to build the database of vendors, outfitters, and contacts, and they are now working on training other departments to use it, according to Spina.

"Our dream is to have it accessible throughout the property," Spina explains. "There needs to be a culture changeÃ.‚¬"where we can pull their name up and see when their dinner reservation is." Future plans include direct connections to the bus from Reno and the airport shuttle system, as well as to online booking engines.

With hindsight, Spina says he would have been more stringent with staff deadlines and put incentives to learn in place. "Employees must become thirsty for this. Technology is not going to go away. Guests' expectations are not going to go backwards. We need to do a better job at getting in front of problems and complaints."

Going enterprise-wide
Hershey Entertainment & Resorts uses Guestware (guestware.com) at its Hotel Hershey to identify repeat guests, guest preferences, specific requirements, and arrival times, according to director of IT Bill Sheaffer. A customer loyalty initiative is also being discussed over the next year, company-wide. The company uses Hotel Information Systems' Paragon for its property management (hotelinfosys.com).
To develop a centralized data warehouse of all major systems, including revenue reporting from the PMS, POS, and eventually from the labor-management system for all of its properties Hershey selected Aptech Execuvue (execuvue.com). Execuvue brings all revenue and stats information into the data warehouse to report, chart, graph and analyzeÃ.‚¬"both singly and combined.

"We're still getting through the implementationÃ.‚¬"nine months in now," explains Sheaffer. "We're just going live with the revenue and stats reporting, and will complete budgeting and forecasting later in the year. It is very time consuming, with all the different interfaces to connect to Execuvue. One common POS would've been better, to establish one connection. We had been of the best-of-breed track, but future systems will be enterprise, like this one."

For those considering similar implementations, Sheaffer recommends getting executive buy-in and authorization from the top down, and creating a team throughout the entire company that focuses on the project. He sees the future in using as much enterprise-wide software as possible, with one POS system across retail and food and beverageÃ.‚¬"covering both QSRs in the parks and fine dining in the hotels.

"In that way, customer loyalty, gift cards, and business intelligence would have a single source to link to," Sheaffer notes. He also sees wireless access to management information becoming widely available in the next three years. At the moment, his main concern is "staying with technologyÃ.‚¬"selecting the right solution. Labor management will be next."

Intuitive service
Guest service has always been the focal point for Ritz-Carlton resorts, and they developed their own CRM/guest-information system five to seven years ago with that goal in mind, according to Derek Flint, corporate senior director for rooms. Ritz resorts have a different profile for guests, being more leisure and group versus business, and they provide many more interactions and touchpoints in the spas, pools, lounge areas and with recreation staff.

"We need technology to communicate guests' spoken and unspoken preferences, for example, an allergy to feathers and down, to housekeeping and spa staff," explains Laurie Wooden, Ritz-Carlton's VP of operations strategy. "The system is centralized company-wide, with an enterprise-wide capability globally. We are now looking to ensure a global framework for our 58 resorts, because technology globally is developing at different paces." The system uses algorithms to match guests with their profiles. The PMS and database interfaces include prompts to access guest preferences.

"We're providing additional functionality to personalize their stay from arrival onwards," Flint explains. "We're looking to provide better and more effective serviceÃ.‚¬"the 'wow' factor and surprises, like offering tea to tea drinkers instead of coffee at breakfast."

"We benchmark the competition, but we may not know all," says Wooden. "Cost is a general concern: Should we invest in an enabling technology versus hiring additional people to serve our guests? What business processes are to be supported? The technology must be simple and easy to use, so that the focus is on delivering service." They will also be looking at wireless in the future.

Brian McGill, director of club operations at The Ritz-Carlton Club, Aspen Highlands, implemented GoConcierge (goconcierge.net), a Web-based task tracking and location database tool for concierges, over a year ago "to get rid of the manual logbook process and to move into real-time and multiple user access."

"We have Web-based access from any computer in the building, we don't have to add any software, and they maintain the database," McGill explains. He is somewhat concerned that there could be downtime because the server and database are not on the property, but it has only been down for an hour so far. "They have a back-up and have mirrored the server and database," he explains. "It's not unreasonable value for the service you get."

McGill sees the next move being to wireless and more mobility. "This will go from desktop to Blackberry and Palm Pilot. The concierge could be at the airport meeting and greeting, or in the street, making restaurant and hotel reservations."

All-inclusive technology
Western Newfoundland's Humber Valley Resort is truly a resort for all seasons, offering skiing, snowmobiling, canoeing, angling, hiking and golfing. This newly developed project features 321 privately owned vacation properties, consisting of three- to six-bedroom luxury chalets. Each chalet is strategically hidden in the forest either abutting the 18-hole championship golf course or cresting a magnificent view.

To prepare for the opening Humber Valley recently decided to go for an all-inclusive approach to technology, installing SMS Host (smsworld.com) property management system with front office, owner fulfillment, spa/ recreation scheduling, golf tee time scheduling, membership management, retail and restaurant point of sale and reservations.

"Partnering with PAR Springer-Miller Systems to supply our property management system was an easy fit," explains Allen Vansen, managing director with Humber Valley Resort. "Our commitment to providing guests with eminent service in all of their experiences at Humber Valley will be reinforced with PAR Springer-Miller's Host system."

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