Competitive Technology - Choosing your Weapons.
By Chris Hartmann
Saturday, 23rd December 2006
Business hotels - high-end properties and resorts today face a brave new world of technology

Properties of every type lament the good old days - before the Internet - price transparency and seemingly endless discounting. That horse is well out of the barn and running though, and if it's any consolation, he's taken virtually every industry along for the ride. The challenge now is to use technology to provide a competitive advantage, or at least to remain competitive.

One such approach to technology worth considering is called Experience Design, which is described as: 

  • A different approach to design that has wider boundaries than traditional design and that strives for creating experiences beyond just products or services
  • The view of a product or service from the entire lifecycle with a customer, from before they perceive the need to when they discard it
  • Creating a relationship with individuals, not targeting a mass market
  • Concerned with invoking and creating an environment that connects on an emotional or value level to the customer
  • Built upon traditional design disciplines in the creation of products, services, as well as environments in a variety of disciplines. 
Experience Design can be applied to all areas of an organization, from physical design to the Internet. Those technology areas in which experience design can add value to a hotel or resort are:

Internet Marketing: Flat text with a few property shots, buttons that lead to button after boring button, an inability for prospective guests to quickly find what they're looking for, and a reservation link that takes them to an entirely new (and usually even more unpleasant) web site are all indications of poor communications and a lack of experience in design. At one eastern U.S. resort, conference business increased by more than 25% over the previous year and local leisure travel sales gained by almost 40% simply by redeploying its website using Experience Design principles. The payback period for this effort was an astonishing four months.

Intranets:  Intranets are simply standard Internet pages restricted to authorized users. A simple intranet can include basic policies and procedures and some company directories. More complex installations can include entire workflow and electronic routing systems. Whatever your goals, communicating seamlessly, reliably and instantly with employees, guests, suppliers and other organizations is now a business necessity. The Internet has overtaken the phone as the major source of information because it is both less expensive and allows communications to proceed at the pace determined by those utilizing it. Intranets however must also be secure, reliable and easy to navigate.

On-Property Communications:  Guests traveling for leisure or business have one thing in common – a lack of time and patience for scheduling, planning, and problems. Various technologies exist now and many new ones are being deployed to assist these efforts, including secure and reliable high-speed Internet access in rooms and common areas – both wired and wireless, video-on-demand with property specific content available, and interactive keyboard based communications between guests and property management.

Guest Service and Task Management: Guest service requests, maintenance and general task allocation, tracking and feedback can all be handled through an automated system. In addition to providing guidance as to common requests and "best practices", employee evaluation and guest satisfaction can also be handled in an objective and consistent fashion. For properties focused on guest service delivery, fully automated solutions from the moment of request (and in some cases, even before the request is made) through completion and guest evaluation provide immediate answers, consistent quality and let your guests know you are ready to serve them as effectively as possible.

Guest (past, future and potential) Communications: Many alternatives now exist for targeted e-mail. This e-mail is always permission-based (opt-in) and targeted to information the recipient has already indicated an interest in. Professional e-mail communications now include "individual" messages (where the communication dynamically builds based on the recipient's profile), complete tracking (who read what, which additional areas were viewed), and an ability to complete a transaction directly from the e-mail directed content. This focus on web-based communications allows for instant availability, real-time reactions to inventory or service availability and a far richer environment than print or even television advertising.

Traditional Marketing:  For high-end properties with a very selective potential guest market there are several ways in which an experiential approach can help. Primarily through lifestyle analysis, which goes beyond standard target marketing by geographical or viewer/readership habits, a much narrower audience can now be targeted. This tighter targeting allows for a more lavish sales pitch, but also permits that sales pitch to be "tuned" to the interest or profile of the recipient.

Process Improvement: Much of the guest experience depends on "process", or how things get done. At the core, each guest service is a process. Process Improvement can take many forms, from a simple "best practices" book to a process model, where a process (like taking a reservation or providing conference services) is modeled and tweaked on the computer without affecting actual guests, to a full "Six Sigma", organization-wide, quality improvement effort.

Throughout the ages, technological superiority has been the deciding factor in every battle fought. The "battle" for guests and business is no different.

Chris spent 18 years as Chief Technology Officer at Grey Advertising, a top 10, worldwide advertising agency based in Manhattan. At Grey, Chris oversaw the evolution of Grey from an EDP department of 8 serving one office, to an IT infrastructure of 100, serving over two dozen offices around the world. As in hospitality, the challenge was rarely purely technical, but as well finding solutions that worked within the operational, financial and organizational frameworks.
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