Catering to Guest Demands
by Andy Holtmann
Catering to Guest Demands
As upscale guestrooms and suites become more common, technology and attention to detail and comfort are playing larger roles
Square footage…unique and inspiring floor plans…breathtaking views…updated technology and innovation—at first read, these might seem like a checklist for a prospective home buyer. Yet, as the hospitality industry has evolved over recent years, the aforementioned elements have become what many hotel guests have come to demand from their stays.
Many of today’s hotel rooms have become much more than just a place to flop after a long road trip or full day’s worth of activities. They’ve graduated into amenities in and of themselves—state-of-the-art facilities that mix upscale offerings with all the comforts of home. And perhaps nowhere has this trend been more prevalent than in the gaming industry, where the hotel facilities of casino-resorts are now getting regular makeovers to keep abreast of customers’ desires.
At the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino’s Skylofts in Las Vegas, prices for a night’s stay range from $800 for a one-bedroom, 1,400-square-foot suite to between $5,000 and $10,000 for the three-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot suite. Not long ago, suites like these would have been reserved only for the very upper echelon of guests—likely high rollers in the property’s casino. But the Skylofts were created to take advantage of the literally tens of thousands of customers who in today’s marketplace will gladly shell out for the experience of the rooms alone.
“We wanted to create what we like to call ‘urban chic.’ It’s minimalist meets comfort,” said James Hogg, director of the Skylofts. “It is clean lines, comfortable furniture, beautiful art for the eyes. We wanted to give you something to excite you but also to give you calming surroundings.”
The suites are literally like another home away from home. And while that might have presented a problem 10 years ago when casinos aimed to keep guests out of their rooms and on the gaming floor, today amenities make up over half of revenues for casino-resorts, meaning that properties can make just as much—or more—by selling the rooms, dining, shopping, entertainment and relaxation.
But to keep these new breed of hotel rooms and suites generating a profit, operators need to make sure they continue to appeal to the discerning traveler. Oftentimes that means adding bells and whistles and the latest technology. But to maintain a long-lasting impression, those extras need to mix well with the design of the rooms and suites, and cannot be substituted for comfort, which is still the most sought-after characteristic of any hotel room.
The comfort factor
Nick Hart, president and CEO of Decca Hospitality said the current trend for upscale hotel rooms has been to go more modern and contemporary with design. His company is a leading manufacturer of high-end hospitality furniture—everything from bed frames and nightstands to elaborate cabinets and tables.
“What has separated our company from other high-end companies is impeccable finishes, beautiful construction, just the over all quality,” Hart said. “Everything we do is custom, from start to finish. We create a completed model room so the client can really customize and make further changes before the work is done. A lot goes into the process. Everything we make is new and we’ll never make it again.”
Decca Hospitality focuses on the luxury hotel market. Four Seasons is its largest client, and the company has been doing an increasing amount of work with casino-resorts, including furnishing a 1,000-room expansion at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, and it is getting ready to do a major project at Station Casinos’ Red Rock Resort Casino.
The goal of the company’s furniture designs is to create guestroom environments that would rival what one might see in upscale homes. Designing what goes in the room should aim to tie elements together to create a true setting—not just four walls and a bed. To successfully appeal to hotel guests, properties need to have rooms and suites in which the furniture is both comfortable and functional, he said.
“The majority of the hotels will take the flat screen TV and put it on a stand or an entertainment center, but we did a dresser with a hutch top and we bolted it to the wall and put what we call a jack pack along the side so you can hook up your laptop or [other technologies],” Hart cited as an example. “We sit down and develop ways to integrate the technology into the custom furniture.”
And Decca Hospitality can turn projects around quickly.
“Let’s say it is a 400-room hotel. Once everything is approved we typically will start shipping rooms in 10 weeks. The project would be finished in 14-16 weeks,” Hart said. “One of the things we offer is to ship complete rooms to help the client minimize his warehousing storage. We’ll ship to your schedule. But if the factory is running at normal capacity, which is six days a week and two shifts, we can start shipping in 10 weeks.”
When the Beau Rivage Resort Casino in Biloxi, Miss. refurbished its hotel in the months following Hurricane Katrina, one of the key focuses was on improving the comfort level of the furnishings, said Nik Rytterstrom, the property’s vice president of hotel operations.
“We did do a new room remodel and really what we focused on was following the trend of the last few years to go trendy and contemporary,” Rytterstrom said. “We really went contemporary, but with a Southern flair.”
What some hotel properties have done, Rytterstrom said, is focus too much on becoming modern, hip and contemporary that they forget the basic elements of comfort. At the Beau, careful steps were taken to maintain the appeal and charm the guestrooms previously had, while upgrading areas that guests came in contact with most during their room stays. New Serta mattresses were provided for all beds and new custom-made furniture—custom designed by the MGM Mirage Design Group—was added.
In the Beau Rivage’s spacious bathrooms, new frameless showers were installed as well. “It’s custom, but I’ve seen it at multiple places and it’s working its way into homes too,” Rytterstrom said.
At Skylofts, comfort is the essence of the luxury experience. The suites’ comfortable beds are appointed with the highest-quality fabrics and the property even has a unique “pillow menu,” where guests can choose between 14 different types of pillows. Butlers that tend to Skylofts’ guests even have extensive pillow experience to aid guests in selections.
In the Skylofts’ bathrooms are Champagne Infinity bathtubs by Kohler that generate millions of tiny, invigorating bubbles, allowing water to spill over the edges into a retaining area while guests soak in relaxation.
Technology has become an integral part of patrons’ guestroom demands. Yet while things like high-speed and wireless Internet and plasma and high-definition televisions top most people’s minds, recent examples have shown there is virtually no limit to what hotels can provide.
At this year’s HITEC (Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals) trade show in Orlando, the most talked about highlight was the Guestroom 2010 exhibit. A high-tech hotel room model created with technology from over 50 vendors, the room is a modern marvel—and something guests might expect to see straight out of a futuristic movie.
But many of these technology applications are finding their way into hotels rooms today. Among them: IBM’s Multilingual Automatic Speech-to-Speech Translator (MASTOR), that allows hotel staff to communicate with virtually anyone easily; Television Mirror by dëcorus Worldwide and Bath Solutions, a fully-functioning television with video and advertising capabilities embedded into mirrors so the guest can enjoy content while grooming; InfoGenesis’ eMenu, which allows guests to look at food options and order from a touchscreen enabled Cisco Internet Protocol phone; the ReadyMaid 3.5 guestroom management system by Axxess Industries, which includes a food tray detection system so wait staff can remove unsightly room service trays from hotel corridors quickly; and Westinghouse’s microwave oven with UPC barcode scanning wand, which is programmed to cook more than 4,000 types of packaged foods…all guests have to do is scan the barcode.
One of Guestroom 2010’s innovative technologies, the Digital Door Viewer from First View Security, is being utilized by MGM Grand’s Skylofts. With the Digital Door Viewer, guests can press a button and the peep hole view on the room’s door can be viewed on a three-inch by five-inch LCD panel.
“It’s a very unique system, and very handy for our guests,” Hogg said.
Skylofts were designed to utilize technology to create convenience for guests. Throughout the lofts, high-definition televisions, audio speakers from Bang & Olufsen, room lighting, even window curtains are all controlled from handheld units by Crestron Group. The Crestron technology allows for user-friendly control of nearly all the technologies available in Skylofts. With a push of a button on one of the Crestron interfaces, guests can change languages, tune in and set preferences on television stations and control music selection and levels throughout the rooms.
There are high-definition televisions in almost every room of Skylofts, including a four-panel multimedia center in the larger lofts’ pool table room. The lofts even include iPod docking stations. Forgot the iPod or laptop? Skylofts has guests covered as they can be provided with various forms of electronic equipment for the duration of their stay.
“What we wanted to do was create and environment where the technology wasn’t just cool, but functional and would enhance your stay by going along hand in hand with the services we provide,” Hogg said. “We don’t just have technology for technologies sake.”
While in-room technologies are catching the customer’s eye, there are many more behind-the-scenes efforts that are also improving operations and positively impacting patrons’ stay.
One of most basic, yet important, touch points hotels have with their guests is with reservations. Having a bad experience booking a room, or having to wait in line and give all your information repeated times can break the relationship-building process hotels strive to achieve with guests.
The Beau Rivage, as part of its upgrades after Katrina, switched to Micros’ Opera Reservation System (ORS) to streamline its reservation processes. ORS offers central reservations agents and global sales staffs the tools to maximize bookings and increase revenue in any size chain or multi-property environment. ORS easily handles all types of reservations—individual, group and party, company, travel agent, multi-legged, multi-rate and waitlisted. Agents making reservations with ORS can easily handle complex operations such as routing instructions and split charges, shared reservations, frequent flyer and loyalty program memberships, negotiated rates and rate discounts.
“It’s got a stable platform and a lot of capabilities. It’s got a platform for the future,” Rytterstrom said, adding that Micros provides a “tremendous amount of support” to meet the property’s personalized needs.
For large groups and blocks of hotel rooms there’s Quincy, Mass.-based Passkey, a Web-based collaborate environment for online reservations.
“Imagine Expedia, but you have a booking site for each individual group or meeting. The attendee can go to that particular Web site. They’re given the URL either by the hotel or the planner. As an attendee, you can make your hotel reservation in contract with the block,” said Sam Fahmy, Passkey’s vice president of products and marketing. “That means that on the back end the hotel can manage that contracted block as efficiently as they want.”
Planners can go into the system anytime they wish to add additional rooms, adjust customer information, etc. Passkey is linked directly to most hotels’ customer reservation or patron management systems. Once someone makes a reservation on a Passkey Web site—customized and branded for Passkey’s clients—that reservation flows in real time to the property management or central reservation system.
“That takes a lot of pressure of the reservation folks,” Fahmy said.
Some of Passkey’s Current Gaming Industry Clients Include Wynn las Vegas, the Venetian and the las Vegas Hilton.
“The biggest clients are our biggest users,” Fahmy said. “They are focused on service so it’s important for them to apply that in every area, including group reservations. It enables the hotel to cater to the group rate customers which is something they couldn’t do before.”
Once guests make it to their rooms, a large part of keeping them happy involves personal interaction. That’s why Skylofts utilize technology from Go Concierge to aid its butler staff.
“We can keep electronic profiles on our guests and what they like or dislike,” Hogg said. “We can plan ahead by knowing what their favorite alcoholic drink is, for instance. Then we can have it waiting in their suite when they arrive.”
At the Beau, Rytterstrom said a proprietary in-house system his staff calls CRM is utilized to aid hotel staff in attending to guests.
“It’s basically an itinerary system that we use for setting up limos, amenities, shows, etc. and communicating between housekeeping, engineering and the front desk,” he said.
These are only a small sampling of the literally hundreds of technologies and innovations being used in today’s upscale guestrooms and suites. Not that long ago, with “standard” rooms measuring an average of 250 square feet, there wasn’t a whole lot of options for dramatically improving guests’ stays. But today the average room in casino resorts measures 450 square feet or more, leaving plenty of room for new opportunities to impress.