Living in the Lap

By George Koroneos, Contributing Editor | May 01, 2007

Operating a resort has always been about service, but increasingly it is also about technology. Making life easier for guests now means implementing new systems at the spa, on the links and in the room --not to mention the host of other services and high-tech amenities throughout the property. From RFID, to Internet concierge services, to remote guest check-in kiosks, resort owners are opting for high-end tech to jazz up their facilities, making for a fun and safe customer experience.

The iConcierge
One way to make guests feel at home is by offering a top-notch concierge service, however, concierge staff can't answer every question -- or can they? In an effort to provide the perfect itinerary for guests and to relieve some of that stress off the concierge's back, Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa turned to a digital concierge for the perfect vacation.

Using the Go Concierge program (www.goconcierge.net/home), Loews' staff can access a password-protected Web site and put a customer's entire stay together online, including restaurant reservations, transportation and excursions.

Go Concierge connects local hotels and resorts that are subscribed to the site, building a network of properties that can rate and leave notes about local restaurants and places of interest. Loews, however, takes Go Concierge one step further with the implementation of Kids Concierge, a full-service guest service area just for kids' activities, such as a marshmallow roast, trips, or kid-centric shows and events.

To access the program there is an initial set-up cost and a monthly fee. "Whatever the fee is, it's so worth it because it's made our job a lot easier," says Arron Reynolds, guest service manager at Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa. "Go Concierge just makes everything go faster because it merges all activities together into one program and then prints out the entire itinerary and all corresponding tickets." The itinerary also lists directions, hours, and destination information.

Getting electrical
Go Concierge might sound great for properties that have Internet access, but older resorts are still experiencing growing pains while upgrading to high speed. What might seem like a simple commodity actually requires massive renovations that some times include demolition. For resorts on a budget or with historical edifices, there is now another option. Telkonet, Inc. (www.telkonet.com) offers an unobtrusive Internet solution that provides high-speed Internet through a resort's existing electrical system. A small device plugs into any electrical outlet, which pipes high-speed Internet directly into guest rooms at the speed rate of 14 Mbps.

"This is great in a lot of the older resorts that are trying to redeem their luster," explains Jeff Henschel, assistant vice president of technology at Destination Hotels and Resorts, owner of 34 different properties. "Those buildings are very difficult and very expensive to cable for Internet."
Henschel isn't just looking at Internet; this future-forward tech guru is considering using radio frequency identification technology [RFID] as a cashless payment option for ski lifts and keyless entry in guest rooms. "It's all about the ease for the guest," Henschel says. "They can just carry a badge or bracelet with an RFID label on it and they can go any where on our resort property and charge directly to their folio without carrying cash."
RFID also can be used to track guests. For example, if a large group is scattered throughout a sprawling property, guests can visit an RFID kiosk and view where their friends are, much like a homing beacon used by the military.

Henschel is also looking at biometric scanners as a keycard replacement. However, he is getting resistance from operations and employees who confuse the technology for fingerprint scanning. "It's actually a finger picture that measures the depth of the valley of the fingerprint," Henschel insists. "It's not fingerprint storage. Maybe this is too 2010-ish, too big brotherish," he suggests.

Vivek Shaiva of Luxury Hotels & Resorts agrees. The resort company has taken a hard look at RFID for identification and cashless payment, however there is concern that RFID might cheapen the luxury feel of the resorts. "At luxury resorts, people are very hesitant to deploy an unproven technology that might cause the guests to have a less-than-perfect experience," Shaiva says. "There are mixed feelings about new technology between the marketing people and hotel managers. Their thinking is that guests at a luxury resort don't expect to flash a cashless RFID bracelet at a bar -- they are expecting a waiter to come to them."
Safety first
With great size comes great responsibility -- especially when you have hundreds of rooms and thousands of guests on a property. That's why some resorts are using leading-edge technology to keep track of guests and make sure there aren't any party crashers in the hotel.

The Sandcastle Oceanfront Resort has installed a module on its property management system that gives front desk clerks the ability to scan customers' driver's licenses or military ID at check-in. The system, NiteVision by Remco Software (www.remcosoft ware.com), offers the option to tether a business-card size scanner to the PMS system using a basic USB cable. Employees push the license through the scanner and in seconds all the guest information --and their picture -- is propagated into a folio page. This tactic eliminates data entry errors, and speeds up check-in from minutes to seconds.

This approach allows guest services to quickly issue lost keycards, deliver mail or faxes, and verify payment without having to check ID. Clerks glance at the guest's photo on the screen and verify that they are who they say they are. The photos also give property owners additional evidence to turn over to police if a guest gets out of hand, though general manager Varshid Vachhani says that the situation rarely arises.
Guests who are wary of having their identification stored on the system can chose to go the traditional route and have their information manually entered. "We don't retain information, and we can set up how long we store the ID," says Vachhani. "If a guest is concerned, they can watch us delete the scan. We are not trying to hide anything."

The Sandcastle presently has three units installed at each of its workstations and installation took less than five minutes. "Security is very important to us," notes Vachhani says. "It gives our guests peace of mind, especially after 9/11. When they see technology like our ID scanner, they know that not just anyone can come in and walk around the resort."

Another guest tracking tool being used by high-end resorts is HotSOS from MTech (www.m-tech.com), a program that records individual guest preferences. "Everything is tracked through a database, and the customer's identity is preserved," explains Shaiva, who has the software installed at two Luxury Hotels properties. The program makes it easy for a resort to give repeat customers a custom-tailored experience. From fluffed pillows to how they like their coffee, HotSOS recognizes what guests need and informs guest services.

On demand
One Willow Bridge Road resort in Colorado has taken customization one step further by installing an automatic system that records guest preferences and adjusts everything from temperature to favorite television channels with the touch of a button. The resort, which maintains traditional rentals, fractionals, and timeshare properties, wanted its customers to feel at home, even though they move from unit to unit every time they visit.

"In order to provide guests with a higher level of customer service and commonality, their preferences are saved and transferred to whatever unit they are staying in," explains Tony Chesery, technology manger at One Willow Bridge Road. All data is saved on the property management system using the Percipia (www.percipia.com) PMS suite. "We've basically taken a standard Cisco (www.cisco.com) application phone software and extended it to provide personalized DID assignment, which is the phone number that follows a resident no matter what condo they stay in." When the guest checks in and their phone is activated, all their preferences are downloaded into their condo's environmental and audio/visual system, provided by Crestron (www.crestron.com).

The Crestron package is essentially the nervous system of each of the condos on the resort. It controls lighting, humidity, television, stereo -- basically the entire environment in the home. The guest can control everything from a touch panel on the wall or a remote control unit. "We make this all available in a way that isn't scary and to enhance the experience at the resort," Chesery says.

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