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Service without a smile

HOSPA CEO Carl Weldon puts the case that good service can mean no service at all

I recently met with a senior executive running parts of a major technology business turning over circa £5 billion in the UK and we chatted about technology and service in the hospitality and hotel business.

This gentleman travelled a fair amount around the world and is a member of a number of loyalty programmes, with all his 'preferences' well noted. But for all of this he has recently 'cut loose' from some of his usual hotels due to "too much attention". His comments to me ranged as follows:

1. Too much fuss up ton check in - do I really want to be highlighted at front-desk? And then do I want to wait while the manager is called to say hello to me? Sometimes you just want to get in and get straight to your room.

2. Quick access to plain TV news channels works for me

3. I don't always want an upgrade

4.Despite the attention, specific requests can still be ignored

5. The Wi-Fi should 'just work'

6. As a business traveller, in-room facilities such as the desk and lamp are important to me

7. I need easy access charging points and plugs

8. Room service can be expensive and slow and if (say) the football is on - allow for the increase in demand on room service.

9. However - if i travel and arrive with the family and at a weekend - all this changes.

This from a modern, technology-aware traveller, who was capable of moving hotels to get what he wanted.

It stuck me again on how important two key facilities are - the Wi-Fi and the TV - price but also quality.

Quality, in particular quality of service, is now seeing a shift, with more hotels, particularly in the branded sector, putting the power in the hands of the guests in the form of apps. These allow the guest (commonly the loyalty programme member) to check in, obtain a room number and enter their room, all without ever dealing with the front desk or touching a key-card. This has been stepped up a gear with the Apple Watch, allowing the guest to glide past front desk with nothing more than a knowing nod of the head. If that.

There is a case that the new wearable tech such as watches and bands - being separate from the actual Smartphone - will probably create a sea-change for the check-in process much more than the Smartphones themselves. There are indeed many guest apps available to independent hotels and chains providing control via their own apps such as Premier Hub. Wearable connected tech will reduce in price taken up by younger travellers who will demand facilities and access to services for them.

The debate is starting across the world and in the UK - I will be chairing a debate at the Independent Hotel Show in October (where we will have a HOSPA Hub for those members visiting) where the topic is "The threshold of minimal tech" where we will explore today's tech essentials, how technology can help provide more meaningful experiences as well as debating when tech is too tech.

Sometimes in the industry we can be too extreme- going either over-the-top both with our service and attention and with technology which does not work properly or adds a layer of complexity.

There will always be room for low or no tech - but probably more likely in a more leisure and relaxed product or market. But not for the regular business traveller. Room guests are again different to dining-guests - primarily due to the amount of time in the facility so I do believe that restaurants have a different challenge to hotels where those extra facilities and hardware need to work and work well.

So - let's get with the programme, as they say in the US. Don't lose your guests as a result of too much fuss - give them what they actually want - which sometimes may be a degree of anonymity.


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