Technology's Role at Best-Reviewed Hotels

By Pamela Weber-Leaf, Contributing Editor | August 18, 2014

In 2014, it’s nearly impossible for a first-tier hotel to function without certain basic technology. Among hotel guests’ top-rated venues, whether social media and other technology are as prominent as the front desk or more discreetly used for key functions behind the scenes depends on the hotel’s target clientele.
 
That’s the message imparted by this year’s Expedia.com Insiders’ Select List of the world’s best-reviewed hotels. The annual crowd-sourced roster, now in its eighth year, recognizes the top-ranked hotels from among 290,000 bookable properties available worldwide on Expedia.com. Based on a proprietary formula comprised of scaled rankings of 1 to 5 in four categories – room cleanliness, service and staff, room comfort and hotel condition -- the top 10 represent a diverse array of hotels in the United States and across the globe, notes Expedia.com spokeswoman Dayna Sason. Each of these, it seems, has a unique take on personal service interfaced with technology to deliver the superlative in hospitality.
 
Not surprisingly, those hotels among the top 10 that are specifically oriented toward business travelers are the most tech-forward. Take the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign, Illinois. Set near a major research university and Midwest commerce hub, the hotel utilizes a host of technologies to attract guests and improve operations for its 126 luxurious hotel rooms as well as its 38,000-square-foot conference center. The facility uses Micros Opera for its property management system, enabling staff to log and track needed repairs and other maintenance, says Hope Hardin, Marketing and Special Projects Coordinator.
 
The I’s guest-facing systems are equally up-to-date, with Travelclick iHotelier as an online booking engine and central reservation system across the facility. The I’s complimentary WiFi uses recently upgraded hardware and a fiber connection via the hotel’s recent partnership with a local ISP, as well as a wired jack in every room. In-room entertainment is equally top-drawer, with Apple TV and Roku options; a pre-arrival email welcomes guests and allows them to tailor these and a wide range of non-tech requests.
 
The I is marketed via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, TripAdvisor and Yelp, with close attention to SEO and real-time analytics: “We have built our marketing strategies accounting for continued growth with pay-per-click, display remarketing, business listings and proper content development for the omni-channel users, while providing a continued focus on customer experience across all channels as our number one goal,” says Hardin. Actively integrating agile technology, including cloud-based services like Delphi.fdc for our sales staff, helps drive revenue and increase the I’s operational efficiency, Hardin adds.
 
Entertainment & Environment Top Tech Concerns
Across the globe, in rapidly changing Dubai, hospitality is similarly tech-governed at the Dar Al Masyaf Madinat Jumeirah. Guests have extensive control of environmental management via an in-room display panel that controls lighting; thermostat; scenarios including welcome scene and night light; and do not disturb/make up room communication. Presence/absence sensors promote energy efficiency; all of these functions are integrated into Micros Opera’s property management system (PMS).
 
On the entertainment side, hi-def LED TVs and WiFi in all rooms and common areas including a large beach keeps global travelers connected, explains Jerome Sumagui, Resort Director of IT at the 283-room grand boutique hotel, the final phase of a resort that opened in 2003. (which also integrates the hotel’s reservations). TVs are equipped with complete interactivity and a fast graphic interface for a broad range of content, as well as a BYOD feature that allows customers to share content to the in-room screen. This system is also integrated into Opera’s PMS. Food and beverage orders are also handled through Micros software.
 
Social media integration is robust, says the Madinat Jumeirah’s Digital Marketing Manager, Christophe Hobeika. The hotel has seen a 5 percent increase in its Facebook fan base in the past month, and a 4 percent increase in the region. New digital strategic initiatives include the Revinate system (which Hobeika points out significantly increased the hotel’s ratings on TripAdvisor and other influential sites), and the purchase of individual Twitter trends for 24-hour cycles, leading to a 2 percent increase in just a month.
 
Personal Touches Enhance PMS
Of course, digital channels can be leveraged in novel ways to promote hotels’ truly unique qualities. That’s certainly been the case with the top-Expedia-rated Fairmount Pittsburgh. At just four years old the newest property across three linked hotel brands, the hotel boasts just about all the bells and whistles of the hotels cited above: a tightly integrated Opera PMS docks seamlessly into a central reservation system by the same software manufacturer, says Vineet Gupta, Senior Vice President of Technology for the Toronto-based luxury chain.
 
But it’s the personal touches that Fairmount Pittsburgh directors are most proud of. The hotel mascot, a boxer-lab mix named Edie, greets guests in the lobby every day – and the public face of the hotel has her own Facebook page. “We tweet at least twice a day – whether it’s a beautiful plated dish from our restaurant or a big stack of fresh produce waiting to be prepared,” says Julie Abramovic, the hotel’s public relations manager. “Yet, tech aside, the reason we’ve been recognized with this accolade is a great product, with great service delivered consistently. Whether they come for the first time or they’re here every other week on business travel, our guests are truly special to us. We’re active on social media,” Abramovic adds, “but the end goal is always to further communicate and reinforce that message of specialness.”
 
At Bucharest, Romania’s top-10 ranked Epoque Hotel technology implementation is more basic, with Facebook postings a few times a week and a monthly newsletter sent to guests in the hotel’s database. Reservations are handled via Micros’ Opera system, says Marketing Coordinator Alexandra Slabu.
 
In Costa Rica, at the #6-ranked Cocomar Residences & Beachfront Hotel, both central reservations and property management are handled via AnandTech’s ASI FrontDesk software, according to General Manager Peter Goldhahn.
 
 
Integrating Rewards Programs Pays Off for Casino
In smaller hotels, in hotels with a decidedly more “getaway” gestalt and in one hotel with a unique – for this year’s Insiders’ Select top 10 – focus, other factors come into play on the tech landscape. At the Apache Casino Hotel in Lawton, Okla., the sole casino on the list, visits to the on-site gambling establishment are tracked to credit guests for their stay. This rewards incentive is managed by Agilysys’ Lodging Management System integrated with Bally Technologies’ Advanced Casino Systems Corporation software, notes Craig Levesque, Apache’s General Manager. This interface operates alongside the standard Avaya DuVoice in-room phone service and central reservation system in place at hotel since 2012. Guest rooms all have sensor-activated climate control, Levesque adds.
 
Subtle Tech but Robust WiFi Necessity for Rustic Operation
The most rustic of the Insiders’ Select top 10, the Homestead Cottages, sits near the south entrance to Yosemite National Park in Awahnee, Calif. As befits the park setting, what technology there is, has been kept purposely subtle, explains Cindy Brooks, who opened the six freestanding cottages in 1992 with her husband as “a little respite for people escaping the bustle of metro areas the world over.”
 
Reliable WiFi is a must, though, and is supplied by Ayrmesh, an ISPS designed for mountainous areas that Brooks contracted with five years ago. Online reservations are also essential for guests, and whether they’re via Expedia.com or another third-party portal – Priceline is their most popular – all booking is managed through Bedandbreakfast.com, Brooks said. For operator-facing functions such as reservation tracking and confirmations as well as varied property management issues, Brooks uses HomeAway’s RezOvation software.
 
But, at every step, the whir of connectivity takes a back seat to the sounds of nature, all offered up amid a culture of ultimate hospitality. Cottages are always ready when they’re supposed to be, and are equipped with a guest notebook for handwritten comments as well as a breakfast basket delivered fresh right before check-in and replenished during housekeeping so that guests can sleep in without a worry about jetlag, Brooks adds.  
 
Clear Communications Drive Business for Tech-Savvy Resort
Closer to civilization but also low-key, the Lakehouse Hotel and Resort north of San Diego earned the #1 spot atop the Insiders’ Select list culled from nearly 2 million verified guest reviews and in-house experts. A $12 million gut renovation of the 1960s-era luxury boutique created a paradise “close to downtown, but an escape from that bustle of southern California and all the technology it implies,” says general manager Erin Beadle. Remote and even online check-in are replaced here by serenity and personal interaction, Beadle notes, though the meeting spaces are fully wired and guest payments are made via a simple room Master system (by InnQuest).  
 
Four hundred miles north of the Lakehouse, Homestead Cottages’ Cindy Brooks echoes that personal approach, which can be applied to any well-run hotel regardless of how much technology is implemented, and how large its presence on social media.  
 
“Whether it’s on our website or just on the phone, the key we use is to always communicate clearly, and only promise what we can deliver on,” Brooks says. “We want every guest to leave completely satisfied, and wishing to return.”
 
 
 

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