Is the omnipresent digital “smart” phone about to relegate the concierge desk to the ever-increasing scrap heap of “the way we used to do things?” Probably not completely but rather than talking directly with a concierge, many tech savvy guests now access a computer program housed on their mobile phones as a way of communicating with a concierge or the front desk.
by Michael Moore.
Many hostelries, ranging from budget places to five-star establishments, currently have mobile applications that allow guests to do basic things like make reservations and check-in and check-out. But as the world becomes more comfortable with smart phones, innovative establishments have developed applications that vastly increase the scope of what can be done using a mobile application.
For budget places, it is a win-win situation. Customers can get additional services and the hostelry can provide them without adding staff and costly infrastructure. Aaron Stenhoff, vice president of marketing and digital at Red Roof Inn, recently put it this way, “Technology allows us to distribute our content, while enhancing guest services.”
For luxury establishments, the competition to jump on the high-tech bandwagon is more intense and what is offered by digital applications is far wider. According to Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, digital concierge services allow hotels “to differentiate themselves, to add a service that usually ranks among the highest for guest satisfaction and to achieve higher rates.”
Conrad was the first major branding to jump into the digital fray, and it did so in a big way. Harald Feurstein, formerly GM at the Conrad Bangkok and now GM in Manila, is enthusiastic about the Conrad mobile app that can be downloaded onto smartphone or tablets. “It completely changes the way people experience a hotel,” he says. “In addition to being able to reserve a room, you can do an amazing number of things to personalize your stay. Basically, it provides a way for you to customize the details of your stay before and during your visit. You can, for example, use it to arrange for your favorite beer to be in the refrigerator before you arrive at the hotel. You can also make reservations in dining rooms, at our spas or arrange for airport transportation.”
“We can even geotag you once you make a reservation through the concierge,” he continues. “This will let us know when you have arrived at the airport, enabling us to check you in so that you can go directly to your room when you arrive at the hotel Once you are at the hotel, you can use the program to do things like arrange for your breakfast to arrive in your room when you finish your morning run or reserve a table at one of the hotel’s restaurants for a last minute business meeting.”
Mobile Request is Marriott Hotels’ latest venture into the digital concierge arena. The app is available to the 50 million members of Marriott Rewards, the company’s loyalty program. A highlight of the program is the “Anything Else?” feature that provides guests with a chat functionality that permits them to talk in real time with staff at the hotel about their specific needs.
Most other major hotels have some sort of digital concierge program, including Hyatt, Intercontinental, Wynddham, Aloft, and many independent hotels. The functionality has become so popular that several companies have created digital apps that can be purchased by hotels; a sure sign the digital concierge is here to stay.
A potential problem with allowing guests to request hotel services through their mobile phones is execution. Henry Harteveld of Forrester Research points to numerous complaints about services not being updated or actually available. There must be coordination and overall planning between what is digitally advertised and what the hotel is actually capable of doing.
Okay, so the digital concierge has arrived. Does this mean that helpful individual behind the concierge desk is going to disappear? Harteveld says emphatically not, “Nothing will ever replace a face-to-face concierge. A guest visiting a city for the first time will have a lot of questions and will need to have interaction with a concierge.”
This view is enthusiastically seconded by Feurstein. “Although computers and the Internet have changed the way we do business,” he says, “we still need personal contact.”