Stay Connected: How IT Infrastructure and Digital Services Can Make the Difference
By Floor Bleeker, Chief Information Officer at Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts
Every study seems to produce the same results, whether it's a large scientifically conducted survey by one of the industry's well known research firms or an informal focus group with hotel customers: having 'access' is the single most important hotel amenity for today's travelers.
Core to any digital service is the infrastructure inside the property and the connectivity to it. Without the right connectivity, cabling, wireless and cellular networks, no services will reach your guests. When Jumeirah's flagship hotel Burj Al Arab was designed and built 12 years ago, we were very lucky to have visionary designers who provided an excess of structured cabling and even wireless devices just in case we would need them in the future. This has allowed us to keep the World's Most Luxurious Hotel up to date with technology without interfering in its beautiful interiors. Nevertheless, we are not always this fortunate. In hotel conversions of buildings that are sometimes a 100 years or older and that are protected by heritage regulations, installing so much as a wireless access point can be quite a challenging and expensive exercise. Furthermore, hotels require more than a simple wireless network: the multitude of network connections required to operate phones, mini bars, in-room control systems, energy management, cellular phones, IPTV, video on demand and internet can be expensive to install or upgrade.
To connect your hotel to the rest of the world, high speed internet and other global connectivity services are essential, if not created equal. We want to provide our guests with a consistent experience, which can be challenging. Our hotels in the United States and Europe have access to inexpensive, fast and reliable internet access while other parts of the world have unreliable internet at up to ten times the cost. In the UAE, our home base, we overcame this challenge by establishing a true strategic partnership with one of our local service providers. They have now gained a better understanding of our specific needs and we appreciate the restrictions that they deal with a lot more. The result is that we are now jointly providing services around the world.
With investments made in the infrastructure and by partnering with reliable service providers, we can now provide access to our guests, but what do we do with it next?
At base level we should give the guest the opportunity to connect to his or her personal digital services in the simplest way. The wireless network should not have a complicated log-on process and the auxiliary panel should be truly 'plug and play' so that the guests can access their company's VPN, their email or social network or plug in their music player so they can enjoy their library through the hotel's sound system.
However, as hoteliers we like to surprise and delight our guests with something more than what they are used to; we want to exceed their expectations. Remember the time that guests stayed in a hotel just for the video on demand system (running on a battery of VHS tape drives out of the basement)? We have had to play catch up since. Development of digital on demand entertainment, room management and digital services has been a lot faster in corporate and residential environments than in hotels in recent years; fortunately there is hope.
With the introduction of cloud computing, new mobile platforms and faster bandwidth, we might just have an opportunity to turn this around again. Jumeirah Group is currently working on a few exciting guest-facing projects to support our Stay Different™ brand promise and leverage the network access that we put in place for our guests.
Through the before mentioned service provider partnership we are currently implementing Telepresence in a number of our hotels worldwide. Telepresence is a very advanced version of a traditional video conference. It gives the users around the world the sense of being in the same room by copying wall paper and furniture on each sides and by using high definition ultra wide screens and surround sound. After using it for a few minutes guests forget that they are not in the same room anymore, even if they are actually on different continents. This innovation will help companies save on travel and time of their employees. Our first public Telepresence rooms will go live later this year. It will be a while before guests have a Telepresence of this size in their houses or even in their offices so we hope that this is one of those technologies that guests return for.
Another initiative is our Stay Different™ app. This is a platform independent application that allows our guests to access information and hotel services from any device they like to use. The app will be available in the common app stores for download to their own smart phones and it will also be made available on hotel devices such as in-room tablets, surface based kiosks, touch screens and the TV and guest internet landing page. The app will allow our guests to order room service, housekeeping concierge services and other guest services. They will also be able to connect to their loyalty account, book a restaurant or a spa treatment or look up other guest information.
Part of the Stay Different™ promise is to connect our guests to the local culture of the city that they are in. The recently opened Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel in Shanghai is the first hotel to have 'Jumeirah Places', an in-house developed service that will help our guests to explore Jumeirah curated local experiences straight from the Stay Different™ app. The full app is going live in a number of Jumeirah hotels and resorts later this year. The app will add a value to our guests' stay by making it more convenient to access the services they need and by surprising them from time to time with suggestions they would otherwise not receive. Hopefully this is another reason to return to Jumeirah.
In order for initiatives like these to work, it is imperative that hoteliers and vendors work together and develop open interface standards that allow different systems to connect easily and seamlessly. Doing this will allow for a better guest experience and increased profit. HTNG (hotel technology next generation) is a non-profit trade organization facilitating this and they have been very successful. It's important that hoteliers and vendors continue to support those initiatives.
Now that we have some beautiful value-added services running on our network, the question is 'do we charge for them or not'? This is one of the most debated topics in hotel technology over the last few years and unfortunately I do not have the answer. I do, however, think that we should learn from the mistakes we have made in the past. When cell phones became a commodity it took times for hoteliers to readjust and instead many have continued to raise call rates even to the extent that a few minutes on the hotel phone could exceed the room rate. The result was declining telephone revenues and unhappy guests. Let's not make the same mistake again. Let's be thoughtful and generous and continue to find creative ways to add value to guests as well as the hotel's bottom line.
With access being the single most important guest amenity, it might just be the reason why a guest is staying in your hotel, or not.
Vice President Business Solutions
About Jumeirah Group:
Jumeirah Group, the global luxury hotel company and a member of Dubai Holding, operates a world-class portfolio of hotels and resorts. Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts includes Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi; Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray and Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai; Jumeirah Messilah Beach Hotel & Spa in Kuwait; Jumeirah Dhevanafushi and Jumeirah Vittaveli in the Maldives; Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel in Shanghai; Jumeirah Frankfurt in Germany; Jumeirah Grand Hotel via Veneto in Rome; Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa in Mallorca, Spain; Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah in Istanbul; as well as Jumeirah Carlton Tower and Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel in London. Jumeirah Group also runs the luxury serviced residences brand Jumeirah LivingTM; the spa brand Talise; Jumeirah Restaurants; Wild Wadi WaterparkTM; The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management; and SiriusTM, its global loyalty programme.