Look To The Future And Survive

“The future belongs to accommodation brands that develop competitive advantages using technology to drive operational efficiency, time-to-market speed and higher guest satisfaction,” said Vic Pynn, executive vice president of Amadeus Americas.

Online consumers have many more options and are much more demanding today than they were in the recent past. How does the hospitality accommodation industry prepare to future-proof their technology systems?

“Guests are offered very little in the way of multimedia or modern functionality and all of this is about to change,” said David Meadow, product manager of LG Ericsson at Aria Technologies. “The big buzz word in telephony over the last few years has been IP-internet protocol. That can be scary for some people because they think all phone calls travel over the Internet.”

“That is not the case. What it means is that it is a new signalling method that telephone systems use IP technology as opposed to digital technology. Hospitality providers need to look at a telecommunication system that will future proof their business. Technology required for that is IP technology.”

The trend in business and hospitality is now towards IP, offering hotel operators some enhanced functionality, for example, networking—if there are multiple sites on multiple hotels—it allows networking between sites, which means they call between the various hotels in the group and the call becomes an internal call rather than an external call.

“When a whole group of hotels or motels is operating one phone system through numerous branches, effectively they each have their own phone system and they all network together as opposed to individual phone systems,” said Mr Meadow.

“We are starting to see IP phones making their way into hotel rooms as opposed to the standard analogue telephone which is still the most prevalent type of phone in hotel rooms today. These have been designed specifically with customised software to service the requirements of the hotel/motel industry,” said Mr Meadow.

Richard Fisk, national sales and marketing manager for Nitel Hospitality Solutions & Services said, “There are three businesses we have that come together and deal with the hospitality side, such as Hybrex and other telecommunication systems for the hospitality business,”
“We also operate—in the communications side—an after-hours reception business that Hybrex, Nec and Aria utilise and match up with us.

“Nitel does after hours bookings for any accommodation provider, big or small. Rather than a website doing the bookings we have Australian based live operators from 4pm through to 9am. Depending on the expected workload we can have 16-20 operators in a call centre specifically designed for the accommodation industry as that’s all we handle,” said Mr Fisk.

Many accommodation operators don’t have the facility to employ 24 hour staff and sometimes, out of sheer sleep deprivation, turn on the no vacancy sign even if there are empty rooms, not knowing there are services out there that can save them from losing revenue as well as get a good night’s sleep.

“At least half of our current clients are management rights users because they want to close their doors at 5 or 6pm,” said Mr Fisk. “Arguably we could do a better job at answering the phone at 3am than a tired manager would.”

“Any calls we receive are as if we were at the front desk. Nitel has the knowledge base of each of their client’s accommodation website and facilities enabling exact information to be given to guests, such as, informing them where housekeeping leaves the remote control,” said Mr Fisk.

The phone is not just about making and receiving calls and charging those calls back to the customer. They also offer the hotel operator a lot of enhanced functionality such as check-in check-out, room service, accounting and much more.

“In addition to having a software accounting package,” said Adrian De La Motte, national product support engineer – Aria Technologies. ‘The Fidelio package, which integrates with the IPEC system, is of the most popular hospitality packages globally. There are many others. It has a multitude of applicable functions.”

Mr Meadow noted three key points in the accommodation telephone systems:

  1. Productivity gain and efficiency that is provided to the operators of the hotels.
  2. Positive customer experience.
  3. Potential new revenue streams with the new technology.

“This is where the industry is heading. We are already seeing this technology being used in most offices and we are now going to see UC – Unified Communications – take hold in the hospitality industry,” Mr Meadow said.

Some of the components of UC are in house mobility; wi-fi handsets and cordless telephones that operate over wireless hotspots.

Jim Keegan, Hybrex Australia national dealer manager, oversees a team of trained and experienced telecommunications technicians who are regularly called on to give direction and assistance to accommodation providers in developing their communication solutions.

“We understand that every accommodation complex is different in its own operation and that the communications systems need to be fully flexible to match their individuality,” said Mr Keegan.

Wireless handsets are finding their way into the hospitality environment. These devices will be completely ineffective outside of the environment they are intended for.

“In the short term future we are going to see tablet phones, such as the I-pad, being used in business and in hospitality,” said Mr Meadow.

Voice over Internet protocol allows guests and staff to make telephone calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of an analogue phone line. Some VoIP services allow calls using the same service, while others allow calls to anyone who has a telephone number—local, long distance, mobile and international.

“We deal with a proven supplier—3000 calls come into our call centre per day through the VoIP service provider so we have no problem referring this provider to our clients,” said Mr Fisk.

“Telecommunications is moving towards a single device and single infrastructure whether that be making phone calls, managing the internal resources of a hotel, networking various hotel sites or providing internet browsing facilities for the customer,” said Mr Meadow
The phone is going to be a screen, offering touch functionality to make voice calls, video calls and to act as a remote control device to use in the hotel room with the ability to control all of the electronic devices, such as television, curtains, videos on demand and much more.

The ever familiar vinyl folder will be replaced with touch screen and colour display video technology on telephones when guests check in. They will be able to access their phone/tablet computer and touch select items, such as the gymnasium, bars, or laundry—all of the facilities.

Mr Meadow said that to keep things focused on the future;

  1. Customers are going to expect the same technology and facilities they have at home and maybe even better facilities than they have at home.
  2. It is going to mean new revenue streams for operators. Mobile phones have in some ways reduced the amount of revenue operators may have gained from phone calls. All of this new technology will not only bring back that lost revenue, but will enhance the revenue opportunities.

This technology will provide guests with instant access to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. It will be very easy to use all of those social network sites guests use at home or on their mobile with one touch at your accommodation complex.

Social media is another medium that can generate bookings.

“Social media gives our hotel freedom to do creative things online we cannot do on our website,” said Rich Newman, general manager of the Gainey Suites Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Our link to YouTube videos on our booking engine drives business because guests can see rich media hotel presentations and book rooms immediately. Our social media strategy generates hundreds of room nights and adds to our food and beverage business.”

Touch technology is embraced by the older population and those with disabilities because it is much easier to dial out using the touch screen as the telephone keypad. The benefit of using a computer type screen is that guests can magnify just about any configurations.

In today’s technological world, accommodation guests expect state-of-the-art technology on hand. Advanced technology provides that competitive edge. To survive, accommodation providers have to look to the future.

According to the 2010 ITB World Travel Trends Report technological advances are expected to produce some far-reaching changes in the hotel trade over the next ten years where ‘Smart rooms’ will adjust their ambience to meet the individual profiles of their guests and Social networks will create ‘hotel families’.

Technological advances will be among the most important forces driving the accommodation and hospitality industry leading to major changes in the future.

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