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Hotels' mobile apps act as concierge, butler for guests

Jul. 6, 2013 - 04:18PM   |  
By NANCY TREJOS   |   Comments

MINNEAPOLIS — Want to make sure your room is just the right temperature when you check into a hotel?

Want your mobile phone to double as your TV remote control?

Want to pre-order your dinner at the hotel restaurant?

All of that and more could be possible with new apps that hotels are starting to adopt for guests’ smartphones and tablets. A number of companies — including Handheld Hospitality, iRiS Software Systems and Cardola — have developed apps that facilitate constant interaction between hotels and their guests before, during and after their stays.

The apps can be customized for each hotel. But they typically work like this: When guests book their rooms, hotels send them e-mails letting them know about the app. They can then download the app and start planning their trips. The apps act as virtual concierges with information about local restaurants and attractions.

For guests who want to spend time inside the hotel, they can use the apps to order room service, book spa appointments and golf tee times, and learn about in-house events or happy hour specials.

In other words, the apps eliminate the need for an in-room directory or a concierge.

“Apps, like 16 different types of pillow, are seen as a must-have for hotels, particularly at the top end of the market,” says Katherine Doggrell, editor of Hotel Analyst Distribution & Technology.

But, she says, hotels run the risk of overloading the apps with too much information and too many functions.

“What the customer often wants is the chance to cut down the time spent in queues trying to check in and out and pay, and that’s what apps can help do,” she says. “Apps should be functional, first and foremost.”

Some examples of apps that were on display at the recent HITEC hotel technology conference:

■Chevy Chase, Md.-based HandHeld Hospitality introduced At Your Service, which has an A-to-Z directory, a daily “Things to Do” section, and a daily custom welcome letter. Guests can order room service, book a spa treatment, find nearby restaurants and make reservations, use the GPS tool to get around town, then share their activities on their social-media accounts.

HandHeld Hospitality founder Elmer Coppoolse says At Your Service, which is in use at the Resort at Glade Springs in Daniels, W.Va., and Wintergreen Resort in Wintergreen, Va., will help hotels generate more revenue by delivering push notifications and special offers.

■IRiS’s Guest Valet lets guests order room service, shop for products inside and outside the hotel, and book spa treatments. Guest can also use the app to control the room’s temperature, lighting and curtains. It also turns your phone into the TV remote control. A music section lets the hotel create a play list for their guests.

The app comes in several languages, so you can make your room service order in your own language, and employees can read it in their language, if it’s different. Recently, iRiS introduced the Brand App, which lets customers gain access to information about all hotels in a particular brand.

“It’s very smart and only goes as far as the hotel wants it to go,” says Darren Panto, business development director for the London-based company, which counts as clients Mandarin Orientals, Hiltons and Westins, among other large chains.

■VirtualHotel by Cardola lets guests order room service and specify with just a few taps exactly how they’d like to, say, have their steaks cooked. Guests can also reserve a table at a hotel restaurant, book a round of golf or spa treatments, check the weather and request wake-up calls. The London-based company counts the May Fair Hotel in London as one of its clients.

Hank Thiess, general manager of Wintergreen Resort, which uses At Your Service, says the app helps the hotel engage with guests even more.

“Our guests will have all of the information they could possibly want about the resort and the surrounding area at their fingertips, and we can be instantaneously in touch with all app users offering information about both activities and even emergency notifications,” he says.

Nancy Trejos reports for USA Today.

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