ITs all about Service



Walk into any Ginger Hotel, one of Indias leading budget
hotel chains, and you will be greeted by a self check-in kiosk, wherein simply
by entering in your reservation details, a card will be issued, which will act
as your room key. While room key cards is not exactly a new concept, self
check-in without a front office is something that this hotel chain claims to be
a first in India. Not to forget, self check-in kiosks are still in their nascent
stage in the far more technologically advanced aviation sector.

The fact that a budget chain has pioneered the application of a
customer-facing technology shows in what direction technology application in
this industry is headed. On the first look, the replacement of a front office
with a check-in by an automated kiosk looks like a desperate cost-cutting
technology. But looking at it from a realistic customer experience point of
view, especially in a budget hotel, the biggest problem in these hotelsspread
in many places in Indiais to find, train and then retain good front-office
staff. As a result, the customer experience varies significantly from time to
time, and from hotel to hotel, even if they are from the same chain. Kiosks,
though a little cold initially, is a much better way to efficiently achieve what
takes between fifteen to thirty minutes in small hotels.

Tech is not New, Apps are
Traditionally, the hospitality sector focused on IT deployments simply for
accounting systems and back office software for improving operations and
processes. With competition and new demands, it has graduated to become a key
tool for fortifying customer relationship and enhancing loyalty.
“Automation with IT has reduced monetary losses through pilferage, and IT
investments today show a very fast RoI,” says Khushru D Siganporia,
director, IT, Indian Hotels Company, Taj Group of Hotels.

The mainstay applications such as the Property Management System
(PMS), POS, and back office (BO) have been used by hotel chains for some time
now and it is by the usage of these systems that the hotels can service their
guests better. But today some of the best hotel chains also use advanced CRM
systems to enable check in system on each floor depending on the guests
profile. The PMS system primarily used for check-in and checkout, also allows
the guest profiles to be viewed from an integrated database.

One of the primary requirements in the hospitality industry is
seamless and uninterrupted connectivity. Hence, a robust network is a primary
requirement and networking technology is rapidly revolutionizing the value added
services offered to guests by hotels. Wi-Fi services, the buzzword in the
hospitality sector is not just restricted to big players, many 3-4 star hotels
are also deploying Wi-Fi services. The Hyderabad-based Hotel Golkonda, a
three-star hotel, has deployed full-fledged wireless LAN, powered by Cisco
Aironet 1100 series access points across five floors. The hotel offers seamless
wireless Internet connectivity to its guests. Similarly, Hotel Green Park, a
four-star hotel in Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam, and Chennai has implemented a Wi-Fi
Internet system across its properties, and provides broadband connections to
business travelers.

“Hotels are investing in the latest networking technology
that further improves operational efficiency, and offers solutions for managing
their network thereby allowing hotels to focus on their core business of serving
customers. Network management tools help automate, simplify and integrate the
network across an enterprise to reduce operational costs and improve
productivity,” says Anil Bhasin, vice president, Enterprise Cisco India and
SAARC.

“The more widespread
acceptance of emerging and existing security standards, and technologies
such as encryption and online payment processing, will encourage the use
of technology”

Vishnu Murali Konduru,
founder-CEO, Saastra Software

In order to cater to the business class travelers, hotels now
offer instant Internet connectivity, widely used by business travelers. From
offering Wi-Fi to select areas in the hotel like the business center, and
conference rooms, most hotels have migrated to wireless Internet services
throughout the hotel, on the payment of a small amount, of course. Advanced
technologies such as wireless LAN, Wi-Fi, and IP telephony have become critical
components of the hospitality industry. And the availability of wireless
services in hotels is beginning to be looked upon as an expected feature by
guests.

The Delhi-based Janpath hotel was beginning to lose its guests
as there was no Internet connectivity. The management has recently introduced
hotspots in select areas of the hotel. Another case in point is the Taj Exotica
in South Goa, which not only provides its guests with Wi-Fi broadband access for
surfing the Internet and checking email, but has gone a step ahead by allowing
guests to send print jobs wirelessly to the hotels business center.

While most of the hotels and fast food chains have been active
adopters of technology, there is still some apprehension. One needs to
understand that for a people-centric industry like hospitality, any slip in
serving guests could result in damaging consequences. Therefore, even while the
hotels are embracing new technologies, they are also wary of discarding the
time-tested systems. "For instance, even though the PMS package is
available through many vendors, each implementation is customized as per the
requirements of a particular hotel. And, therefore, hotels are cautious in
implementing any new application as it might result in diminished guest
satisfaction," says Siganporia.

On the other hand, using technology is increasingly playing an
active role in providing a feel-good experience to customers. While electronic
signage and check in kiosks add to the wow factor in a hotel lobby,
on-demand entertainment and Internet access is a must for any hotel today.

"Automation with IT has
reduced monetary losses through pilferage, and IT investments today show
very fast RoI"

Khushru D Siganporia,
director, IT, Indian Hotels Company, Taj Group of Hotels

The Trends
A growing number of hotels and fast food chains are embracing technology for
automating their existing manual processes, and are looking to automate as many
touch points with customers as possible using a multi-device access tacticPC,
mobile, voice (IVRS) or kiosks. "The more widespread acceptance of emerging
and existing security standards, and technologies such as encryption and online
payment processing, will encourage users to use technology," says Vishnu
Murali Konduru, founder-CEO, Saastra Software.

With the growth in technology, the hospitality industry is
trying its best to be at the forefront of adopting. But not always is a new
technology put into operation. Some trends include centralization of critical
systems and consolidation of business data. Centralized reservation systems,
CIS, CRM and DR strategies are also being adopted on a corporate level.

At the hotels, guest-facing systems are undergoing gradual
changes as the globetrotter demands much more than just a comfortable bed and
good dining. A lot of technology deployed is based on convergence of voice, data
and video. A new trend is towards a single point service, in which a hot
key on the guest telephone is used to call a service center through which the
guest can post any request pertaining to any of the hotel service center agent.
The agent, through the service center systems, informs the relevant department
of the guests requests. The system has necessary triggers to escalate
unattended calls and, therefore, the guest has to only call a single number for
all needs. Such a system results in higher efficiency and consistency in service
levels.

"Hotels are investing in
the latest networking technology that further improves operational
efficiency, and offers solutions for managing their network allowing
hotels to focus on their core business of serving customers"

Anil Bhasin, VP,
Enterprise Cisco India & SAARC

Even the in-room entertainment is now gradually morphing into a
full-fledged multimedia, interactive system. Stress relieving massage chairs in
the rooms allow relaxation to the corporate travelers, and fully automated check
in kiosks allows self-service for guests who have traveled far and have no
patience to wait at the reception desk.

Applications like access control systems, CCTVs, integrated fire
and burglary alarm systems, and smart rooms are actively being deployed in order
to improve the customer experience in a people-centric industry like
hospitality. The new trends within smart rooms include functions such as
key-less entry, rooms that can map customer preferences for room temperature,
preferred room lighting, food, and TV/video preferences.

Peeping into the Future
For chains like the Taj, centralizing of business applications and
consolidation of business data would be the business standards. Business
continuity and disaster recovery, although not in many hotels priority lists,
would emerge a strong contender. From the hotels point of view, emerging
technologies like IP telephony (with specific hotel applications), digital
entertainment, IPTV, pre-emptive guest recognition, and e-concierge would be the
guest facing systems.

"Technology is evolving and has the power to transform the
Indian hospitality being driven by aggressive competition, demanding customers
and thin profit margins. And the future use of technology will be focused on
generating customized and easy to use technology," says Bhasin. High
bandwidth services such as hi-definition video conferencing, corporate VPNs,
VoIP services will soon be a part of standard package for customers.

Stuti Das
stutid@cybermedia.co.in

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