How Tech Keeps Mint House Occupancy in the Black During COVID-19
“Our promise is to bring together the best of a hotel and of an Airbnb without the worst of either,” says Alex Herrity, chief product officer at Mint House. Since January 2017, Mint House has striven to provide business travelers with “the space of an Airbnb and the consistency of a name brand hotel.” To do this, the company enters into management agreements with the owners of luxury residential apartment buildings to operate either the entire building or select floors, and remodel the residences to meet the company’s high aesthetic standards. Currently, Mint House operates within 11 markets and has 600 units.
But Mint House doesn’t just remodel apartments and sell them as hotel rooms. It also installs a variety of high-tech amenities to meet both the company’s and guests’ needs. And it is the company’s forward-thinking implementation of high-tech touches that has allowed it to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic. While comparable hotels posted occupancies of 30% in June (source: STR), Mint House occupancy rates were 86%.
AHEAD OF THE TECH CURVE
Before the pandemic began, Mint House was already focused on creating a guest experience that was contactless due to the unique nature of its properties – there is no front desk, no concierge station, no housekeeping and no room service back office space built into the property. To make up for this, Mint House found a way to provide these services in a different way: via the guest’s smartphone.
“It’s nice when you end up ahead of the trend,” Herrity notes. “We were betting back in 2017 that people would like contactless, would want to use their phone and would prefer a digital means of communication with the concierge as opposed to having to make phone calls.”
Since the brand was already installing and heavily using this type of technology prior to the pandemic, switching to a completely contactless means of operations was fairly straightforward and simple for both the brand and its guests, resulting in little interruption in operations. Since Mint House didn’t need to focus on implementing on contactless technologies during the pandemic, it was free to focus on implementing technologies that elevated the guest experience instead.
For instance, it has been adding the lululemon MIRROR home fitness system so that guests can work out in-suite with live and on-demand classes and it offers guests the option to have their refrigerators fully stocked with their preferred foods, brands prior to their arrival. Guests can set the residence’s smart thermostat to be at their preferred temperature prior to arrival and can watch their favorite streaming apps using their own logins via an in-suite Smart TV, that automatically logs the guest out during check-out.
And since the in-person shopping experience has been severely curtailed due to the pandemic, Mint House partnered with the startup Minoan to allow guests the ability to purchase a copy of any of the in-suite items (kitchenware, art prints, books, furniture, etc.) through a dedicated guest portal that will then dropship the items to the guest’s home.
STAY IN TOUCH: DIGITALLY
With fewer face to face interactions between hotel staff and guests, Mint House highly emphasizes digital communication with guests that has a friendly and welcoming tone.
“We have a central tech stack – everything is run by the same team at corporate. That lets us make guest messaging changes much faster and more differently than other hotel brands,” Herrity explains. “I think about how we talk to our guests differently and how important emails, texts and push notifications become. We need to be really mindful of how we present information that we want guests to see, since we can’t tell them that in person.
“Additionally, we want guests to know that we are there for them – even if they can’t see us in person. I certainly don’t want guests to feel alone. I want them to know there is a bigger company making sure that their stay is going well,” Herrity adds.
For Mint House, this means texting and emailing with guests significantly more than a typical hotel does. For example, after the guest’s first night, Mint House will text its guests a one question survey asking how their experience is so far. If the response back is a “thumbs down,” that immediately triggers an alert for a follow up to see how the company can improve the experience.
Additionally, the brand tries to learn as much as it can about the guest: how many guests are staying, why are they staying, etc. It then stores this information in a centralized guest database which is then shared across all of its properties and with all of its concierge members. Doing so allows the concierge staff to make more personalized recommendations to the guest based on what they think the guest will like.
2021 AND BEYOND
Mint House, since its inception, has been focused on providing guests access to technologies within the guest suite that they don’t have at home – from smart locks to smart TVs and even fitness mirrors – with the hope that guests will find these technologies interesting. But in 2021, Mint House will be focusing even more on the guest itself.
“We’re rolling out a loyalty program that will turn our concierge into a much more proactive, intelligent service for our guests to use,” Herrity explains.
This is especially important because Mint House doesn’t offer on property the typical amenities that come with full service hotels such as a spa or room service. Instead they partner with local businesses – such as restaurants or even ghost kitchens – to provide these amenities. In order to access them, Mint House guests need to rely on Mint House’s 24/7 digital concierge, a live agent that can be called texted, emailed or chatted with at any time using the Mint House app.
A PIECE OF ADVICE: BE SCRAPPY
“I’ve worked for big companies, but most of my time has been spent with startups,” Herrity explains, “And one thing I’ve found is that we can pilot programs and be scrappier with new ideas that large brands just generally can’t or aren’t willing to do.”
Take for example the stocked fridge amenity that Mint House offers to guests. When the company first began to kick around this idea it realized it would take quite a while to create the ideal version of this technology – one that was heavily branded and integrated within its tech stack. So instead, the company found a way to stand up a quick site, separate from the tech stack, trigger text messages from a different service that would tell guests about it, and have the first guest trying it out all within 10 days from the initial meeting to discuss the idea.
“It was not the perfect version,” Herrity iterates. “From the guest perspective, it probably looked fine. But we were stitching it together the first month or two. However, it gave us a lot of valuable learnings that we could then build out for a more full-fledged product.”
Larger hotel brands can do something similar if they’re just willing to try, Herrity notes. Try guest services in a small scale in a scrappier way and find out what works and then build out the full experience.
“Almost every idea we’ve had, we tried at a single building first,” Herrity explains. “We try to pick an ideal building first and then move on to a harder one to see if the idea really works."