Hotel Online Special Report

Technology and the
Human Touch
This article is from the upcoming Hospitality Upgrade Spring 2002 issue. For more technology articles please visit our Web site. To receive the upcoming issue of Hospitality Upgrade magazine register on the Web site or e-mail . 
 Spring 2002
By Dan Phillips

Ten years ago, my mother’s mother began suffering from Alzheimer’s and had to be put in a nursing home.  My mother and her sister both would travel up to New London, Conn., to visit and to keep her personal effects in order.  On their first trip, after my grandmother’s house had been sold, I helped them get a hotel room.  They visited for a long weekend about every two months or so and got to know the woman that worked the front desk at the hotel.  It got to the point that all that my mother would have to do was to call this woman and tell her she and my aunt was coming.  This woman would then put a block on their room (room number 225) and hold it for them.  She got to know that they woke up early each morning, without a wake up call, that they liked the local newspaper to be delivered, that they went to the nursing home all day and all that needed to be refreshed in the room was their towels, that they had a glass of wine at 5 p.m., went out for dinner each night, and, needed it quiet by 9 p.m. when they watched ESPN on television before going to sleep.

It was several years before my grandmother passed away.  During that entire time, though many newer hotels were built in the area, my mother and aunt would only stay at this one hotel.  Talk about the effect of CRM!  It was even more beneficial that the woman’s name behind the front desk was the same as my mothers, and, that she continued to work there all of those years.

There are many new and great sounding technologies being developed for the hospitality industry.  Hospitality Upgrade does a great job in covering these technologies both in articles and in advertisements.  You will read about CRM and GDS, POS and PMS, PBX and IP telephony, and more.  

Some day soon, the benefits of these technologies will enhance guest recognition and guest loyalty programs.  From a computer terminal, the hotel will know the preferred room type and location for their incoming guests.  They will know what newspaper to put at the door, what snack to put on the desk, and what type of beverage to include in the mini-bar.  They will put the guest’s home phone number on a speed dial button on the guestroom phone and provide VPN access back to the guest’s corporate office.

Loyalty programs will track the member’s usage, not only in room nights booked but also in food ordered, movies watched, and phone calls made.  All of this will add up to free nights or upgrades in room accommodations or discounted services.

When personal computers first came out, one of the selling points was that they would replace the number of staff required to make a business run.  Where it used to take a secretary half a day to type a three-page memo on a typewriter, using White Out of course, a word processor would now enable that administrative assistant to do the same task in a fraction of the time.  I don’t know how much staff was actually reduced.  What I found happened is that we made the staff more productive.  More productive meant that instead of typing three or four memos in a day, now 15 or 20 are coming out.  Instead of reviewing the night auditor’s chicken scrawl on yesterday’s financial performance, we are now reviewing yesterday’s finances, occupancy, market mix, competition, profit margin by department against the same day last year, same day last month and projecting what it will be tomorrow.

Technology is a tool that has made humans more productive.  Technology really doesn’t replace people, it changes their responsibilities, their coverage, and, it probably adds people, just in different places.  A decade ago a new PMS could have cut down staff at the front desk but added an information and systems manager.  Today, a good CRM system will cut down on the number of reservationists the chain may employ but may add staff at the property level to fulfill the now known requests of guests.

This decade’s challenge to a hotelier to be successful will be to provide a satisfying and unique visit each time that guest stays in that brand’s hotels.  The newest technology may tell us the fiber count a particular guest wants on his or her pillow cover, but it will be the people, using the technology, that will make the difference.  Soon, your staff may be walking around the hotel with a wireless earpiece telling them the name of each guest as they approach.  Will your employee greet him with, “YO, Mr. Phillips, howsit hangin’, man?”  Or, will it be, “Good evening Mr. Phillips.  Did you see that article in the Wall Street Journal this morning?”

Hospitality has a human factor.  It is a service industry.  In the law of supply and demand, the consumer demands to stay at a hotel where the service outshines that of its competitors.

All of this new technology coming out is great.  But don’t think that it will decrease your staffing while increasing occupancy.  Instead it will generate a need for staffing in areas you never previously considered.  In order to make CRM work most effectively, for example, you will need to have staff query your guests.  These employees will need to be “people oriented,” able to speak and listen well, able to work with consumers that may be too busy to respond or unable to determine what the options are and which ones are the best for them.  Then, employees will be needed to load the data, manage the systems, and train the individual hotels and so on.  More employees may be required to fulfill the demands of the guests at the hotel level, such as evening and night shift housekeepers and technology butlers.

Service must be greatly enhanced by technology.  The technology driving the improvement to service must be transparent to the consumer.  To do this, people must be involved.  Good people.  All of this new technology is a good thing.  It gives us another reason to communicate with our guests, to provide them with a product that they find value in.  To be successful, it forces us to touch our customers, one human to another.

Dan Phillips is COO of ITS, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in technology and the hospitality industry for over 10 years.  For comment or question, he may be reached at

Geneva Rinehart
Associate Editor
Hospitality Upgrade magazine 
and the Hospitality website

Also See: Wireless Technology:  Where We Have Been, Where Are we Going? / Geneva Rinehart / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Spring 2002
Effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Implementations / John Schweisberger and Amitava Chatterjee, CHTP / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2001 
What's Up With Call Accounting Systems (CAS) / Dan Phillips / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2001 
Technology Dilemmas: What have IT investments done for you lately? / Elizabeth Lauer / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Summer 2001 
Full Circle from Centralized to ASP - The Resurrection of Old Themes and a Payment Solution / Gary Eng / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Summer 2001 
A High Roller in the Game of System Integration / Elizabeth Lauer / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Spring 2001 
CAVEAT EMPTOR! Simple Steps to Selecting an E-procurement Solution / Mark Haley / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Spring 2001 
Your Bartender is Jessie James and He Needs to Pay for College / Beverly McCay / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2000 
Choosing a Reservation Representation Company / John Burns / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Spring 2001 
Understanding and Maximizing a Hotel’s Electronic Distribution Options / by John Burns / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Fall 2000 
The Future of Electronic Payments - From Paper to Plastic and Beyond / J. David Oder /  Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Summer 2000
Timeshare Technology Steps Up / by Elizabeth Lauer / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / July 2000 
Biometric Payment: The New Age of Currency / by Geneva Rinehart / Hospitality Upgrade Magazine / Mar 2000 

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