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Mobile "App"titude: Hospitality's New Normal

Hotel and restaurant operators are finding new ways to interact and communicate with customers thanks to the ever- changing mobile app space.

From checking into a hotel and ordering room service to online ordering and payment for a restaurant, mobile apps are creating more seamless and convenient experiences. For many hospitality operators, mobile apps are able to provide useful data, upsell opportunities, plus the ability to meet ever-increasing customer expectations and demands for personalized service. Feature-rich mobile apps are even influencing guests’ selection of restaurants (57%) and hotels (48%), according to Hospitality Technology’s 2016 Customer Engagement Technology Study.  “People expect mobile technology now in their travel experience, whether calling Uber or checking into a flight with a mobile boarding pass, and they want that seamless experience to continue when checking into a hotel,” says Brian De Lowe, president and co-founder of Proper Hospitality, based in Los Angeles with two properties, an extended stay residential property and four more under development. 

The millennial customer in particular is an avid mobile user. Nearly four in 10 millennials (39%) said they interacted more with their smartphones than with significant others, parents, friends, children or co-workers, according to a survey of 1,000 people released by Bank of America in June 2016. Any restaurant or hotel chain catering to these guests would thus be wise to focus on developing mobile apps.  “We are marketing to millennials, and they are attached to their smartphones,” said Zach Weprin, CEO of Fusian, a restaurant chain based in Columbus, Ohio with 10 locations and several in development. 

Smart Stays Start with Smartphones
Many hotels view their mobile apps as an extension of their services and online brands, allowing guests to book a hotel stay, meeting space, spa appointments, dinner reservations and more. Some are even extending this lineup to include ordering room service, making special housekeeping requests and loyalty programs. “Whether on property or off, guests can request and schedule housekeeping, order in-room dining, access all of our amenities, and receive push notifications from us in answer to their requests. We can also send notifications to one individual, a group or the entire hotel,” De Lowe noted. 

He explained that the hotel might want to notify everyone about a fire alarm or an elevator outage while also having the ability to send a personalized message to a single guest upon check-in.  “At Hollywood Proper, guests also have a rewards program they can access through the app to get discounts and special promotions,” De Lowe added. The app, created by KEYPR, is accessible via the guest’s personal device or via an in-room tablet provided by the hotel. Customers can complete in-room dining purchases with the app.

The charges are then added directly to their hotel bill. In fact, the app is used most often to get a car from valet and to order in-room dining, De Lowe explains. The app also includes a survey function where guests can leave feedback about their experience, and if something went wrong, the property can react quickly before a review is posted online or on social media.  “If we can catch an issue during their stay, we can do whatever is necessary to turn it around and make sure they have a great experience at the property. It also helps us understand how our teams are performing at each of the properties,” De Lowe says.

“Close to 90 percent of our guests are using the app or tablet in some form.” Additionally, the app allows for upselling and promotions, which is helpful when it comes to a return on investment. For example, if a guest checks-in on the app, he or she might get a notification to upgrade to a penthouse unit or prompted to book a restaurant reservation or spa appointment. 

Proper Hospitality is currently working with KEYPR to add keyless entry via mobile phone for their hotel rooms. The system comes with a digital marquee for the wall, and offers another opportunity to advertise promotions and can also function as a mini back office system. “The backend side we are really excited about using for efficiency, tracking and monitoring,” De Lowe says. “Housekeeping can punch in and out of the room this way and can view other service requests on the same floor that need to be filled.” At Myrtle Beach Seaside Resorts, Myrtle Beach, S.C., the chain offers guests at one of its six properties mobile check-in and mobile keys through an app by OpenKey. It is currently working on integrating it with its property management system and is also working on hotel specific apps that will incorporate the OpenKey functionality, says Kevin Duncan, director of technology at the company. “Guests can put in their arrival information, and we will get a notification at the front desk. We can check them in through OpenKey, and they get the room information and a digital key to download for the room,” he explains.

“They just open the app, hold it against the lock and gain entry.” The properties already offer online booking, but are working on incorporating this into the apps for their major properties, and integrating the loyalty program in the future.  “The app reduces the congestion at the front desk, which on weekends can get really hectic, and that make the staff more efficient and less stressed, while offering a better experience for the guests,” Duncan notes.

Mobile Ordering & Payment: Delivering  Data through Apps
Fusian launched its app in December 2016 with LevelUp for mobile payment and OLO for online ordering. The goal was to create one app that seamlessly offered online ordering, mobile payment and loyalty programs to the customer. “Customers are able to order sushi in a couple of clicks through the app and can pay with LevelUp or pay when they walk into the store. They also earn rewards on their purchase,” says Weprin. “We are continually trying to improve and elevate the experience for our customers, and we can also learn who our customer is and understand them better because we collect data through the app.”
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