Tempt Them and They Will Stay

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor | June 01, 2007

A guest hungry for a quick bite approaches a kiosk in the guest kitchen, touches through a series of screens, swipes his room key or credit card and a cross-trained staffer quickly prepares a fresh, high quality entrée. Such convenience and the promise of a well-priced, easy meal are adding revenue and winning fans at Hyatt Place, a secondary-market brand being converted from AmeriSuites. "Guests are wowed by the concept," which was co-developed with MSI ( www.msisolutions.com), says Michael Koffler, VP corporate operations at Hyatt Place.

Keeping guests on property adds incremental dollars to a hotel's revenue stream. But accomplishing it can be tough, especially when the property is located amongst competing services and attractions. Savvy operators are turning to technology to boost guest awareness and make it most appealing for guests to consume services right where they stay.

Starting before arrival
Increasingly, promotion starts before the stay. Properties including KSL Resorts and Sycuan Resort have begun soliciting amenity reservations such as tee times, spa appointments or dinner reservations at booking or shortly before arrival.

At Sycuan Resort and Casino, San Diego, reservationists are not only empowered to book on-site activities via the resort's Springer-Miller (www.springermiller.com) platform even a year in advance of the stay, but also give future guests priority over walk-in traffic -- a capability that will soon also be available via Web, says Rick Tibbitts, director of sales and marketing.

Even more value comes from personalizing such services by referencing past visits or enabling a Web site or agent to sell and upsell: "Last year you had a half-hour massage with Karen. Would you like to book with her again, or try a one-hour appointment this time?"

The Peninsula Beverly Hills prides itself on premium services such as monogramming pillowcases, reserving a pool cabana or prearranging hair appointments, and attracts high repeat business. "Each time they're willing to try more," says James Little, chef concierge. The hotel's GoConcierge ( www.goconcierge.net) application automatically creates task lists from guest emails expressing needs. "If we can send that information back by e-mail and pre-populate fields, that's huge for us," says Little. "Right now there is a lot of time spent putting things in systems."

E-mailed itineraries summarize guest appointments and ensure they follow through. An application from Digital Alchemy (www.data2gold.com) repeatedly polls Sycuan's Springer-Miller application to look for new appointments and reservation changes, then e-mails an integrated confirmation to the guest before arrival.

Package deals
Packaging visits with on-site offers goes a long way toward encouraging on-site spending. "Guests are looking for more added value," says Jason Levesque, front office manager for ChÃ.teau Cartier Relais Resort in Aylmer, Quebec. "They perceive it as added value when you add extras." A $10 dinner voucher can be just enough to draw guests to the on-site restaurant, for example, where they will likely spend more. The strategy has boosted occupancy, and "each outlet -- spa, restaurant, golf --has seen increases," says Levesque, whose backend Maestro ( www.maestropms.com) application enables allocation of package fees as well as insights into which deals work best.

On-site promotion
On site, hotels increasingly supplement printed materials and word of mouth with electronic venues such as continuous loop TV ads or pre-recorded phone messages. At the National Conference Center, Lansdowne, Va., Cisco ( www.cisco.com) IP phones are personalized via a Percipia (www.percipia.com) application to welcome guests by name and then promote on-site services on-screen during idle times. Other properties use IP phones for targeted promotions, advertising and directory listings. "Now we have a platform to even consider these things," says Ken Sullivan, director of technology.

Six-property KSL Resorts has begun permission-based on-site promotion via guest PDAs. Guests traveling as part of a group get e-mail offers on-site such as spa appointments available during downtime in the group's schedule, as listed in the property's Delphi ( www.newmarketinc.com) database. "Our ultimate goal is to try to keep them on property as much as possible," says Michael Erickson, VP sales.

Digital Alchemy has debuted Claire, a similar opt-in alert system which delivers messages to any cell phone or other mobile device. The service starts with a pre-stay invitation and continues with offers or reminders about prescheduled events, including step-by-step directions to the venue if the device has GPS. After the prompt, guests are routed back through the Digital Alchemy-hosted system to a link that delivers the message, menu, available tee times, etcetera, while the application builds a knowledge base about the guest.

One of the toughest challenges is to find the balance between a gentle nudge and a hit over the head in promoting on-site amenities. Guests at Miraval Resort, an Arizona wellness resort favored by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, already receive one daily service built into their packages. "We want people to take a least one to two more services," says Michael Randle, corporate director of IS. It's best if those come organically through contact with staff and other guests, but Miraval seeks to supplement that with messaging that exposes guests to unfamiliar services. Randle is investigating TV and customer history databases that will integrate with its Springer-Miller platform. "You can't club people over the head with technology," says Randle.

Making it easy
Charging to the room is a long-used strategy, as are billing statements that help the guest fill out expense forms. Equally important when promoting activities is the ability to track and analyze use, from knowing how to allocate revenue to automating message delivery and helping hoteliers understand what's working.

Integrated applications are also essential to executing many of these strategies; links among PMS, concierge, spa, golf, reservations, sales, and catering, for example, ensure services are properly booked and accounted for. At Peninsula Beverly Hills, staff can drill down into line items to show the guest transaction detail.

"We spent a lot of time focusing on that," says KSL's Erickson. "We wanted to make sure our PMS was linked to our reservation system and all tee time and spa packages."

Keeping guests on property requires two basic ingredients: awareness and ease. Technology can be a significant enabler of both, satisfying the guest while boosting incremental revenue for the hotel.

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