Reinvent Your Economy Brand: 3 Tech Tips

By Dan Gilligan, Vice President, Energy & Environmental Services, Accor North America | July 29, 2008

Any leader in the economy lodging segment will agree that the goal of their organization is to not only offer travelers a room that is affordable, but to also give guests a clean, comfortable room. However, as guests increasingly expect more for their money, particularly in terms of technology, the economy lodging segment must reevaluate their use of technology in order to strengthen their brand.

One way to do so is through the development of a new brand prototype that incorporates the use of technology. When developing a new prototype or instituting new technological features into an economy lodging brand, it is helpful to first categorize priorities into two groups: technology that improves guest experience; and technology that improves the efficiency and overall life cycle cost of the building. By wisely choosing cost-saving technological features for this new prototype, a brand can remain competitive in the marketplace by meeting guest expectations while ensuring a good return on investment.

Improve guest experience
Today's guests expect more technological features in their lodging accommodations than in the past. Digital flat-screen TVs are rapidly becoming the norm across all sectors of society and serve as an example of the type of technology a hotel operator or owner should consider for guest satisfaction. In early March of this year, Motel 6 announced its first new prototype in 12 years, the Phoenix Prototype. And a primary new element that was incorporated into the prototype was a 32-inch flat-screen TV. While flat-screens are not necessities, as the penetration of flat-screen TVs increases, they will become an expectation. Many mid- to up-scale hotel operators have already switched to in-room flat-screen TVs. By putting them in place now, you will be ahead of the curve and impress guests with this addition to your rooms.

Improve efficiency and life cycle cost
Not only can the introduction of a new prototype improve guest satisfaction, but it can also lead to reduced costs as well as environmental benefits. Wi-Fi for example, is clearly a technology that is important to guests as it has become a necessity for today's traveler, but it also carries many added side benefits for company staff and operations. The additional telecommunications bandwidth required for guest Wi-Fi can be utilized by the property for a variety of on-line collaborations, be it e-learning, online meetings, or webcasts, that will make a tremendous impact on employee training. This type of training means fewer trips to and from corporate headquarters, which decreases company travel expenditures as well as your property's carbon footprint - an important advantage considering today's tight economy and soaring fuel prices.

Higher efficiency air conditioning/heating units, washers and dryers, and toilets are other technology features that should be considered when a hotel owner/operator wants to reduce operating costs and the overall life cycle cost.

Choosing a design firm and vendors
Although, many may question what room design has to do with technology, the two actually go hand in hand. When considering room design, tt is advantageous to choose a design firm that brings both innovation and a creative use of space to the design concept. The "less is more" approach to design is particularly fitting for the economy lodging segment, because it allows brands to spend less on overall materials so they can spend more on incorporating the technology components that guests expect or desire.

Upon determining which new technology features to incorporate into a branding or re-branding effort and after testing samples, it is advisable to select more than one provider in order to guarantee that construction or renovation schedules will be met. For example, Motel 6 is currently considering two to three equally acceptable vendors based on their ability to provide enough flat-screen TVs to fulfill the brand's vigorous multi-year prototype renovation schedule.

A new prototype development or re-branding process is the best time to incorporate new technology components. This will keep a brand competitive by offering guests more value for their money and help the brand reach new customers, attract new franchisees, and reinvigorate the brand.

Dan Gilligan is vice president of energy and environmental services for Accor North America, Inc., which oversees the operations of the company's hotels in North America under the brand names Sofitel, Novotel, Studio 6 and Motel 6. Prior to joining Accor North America, Gilligan spent three years with La Quinta Inn & Suites, serving as director of energy management.

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