The Ultra Experience

Recently, stories abound in the press about the latest in-room technology offerings from hotels. One hotel I heard about updated its sound system every six months, while another offered guests iPods--with one catch--it was bolted down to the night stand. Technology, it seemed finally was at play in the world on amenity creep.

Still, one story recently caught my eye. One high-end hotel company was offering guests GPS (global positioning system) units for navigating the city around the hotel. I was struck by the simplicity of the concept and its recognition of the range of the guest experience. Having spent more than my share of time deciphering tiny maps of major metropolitan areas, I know all too well how frustrating a trip can become. Offering guests a GPS unit seemed either a blind stroke of luck, or a logical extension for a hotel company obsessed with providing the ultimate guest experience. I had to know which.

Charting a path
At first blush, Rosewood Hotels is not the first hotel company that you would suspect to offer a high-tech offering to its guests. As Bob Boulogne, RosewoodÃ.‚¬™s chief operating officer recently told me, some of its resort properties do not even have TVs in the rooms. At a time when many hotel companies--especially in the luxury market--are competing over the number and size of flatscreen TVs, Rosewood seems to be charting its own path.

The impulse, Boulogne explains, is to ensure that each property has a sense of place and is distinctive. ThatÃ.‚¬™s hard to do when you are a major chain spread out in every major and minor market worldwide. But for a company like Rosewood, with 14 properties in areas as diverse as New York City, Los Cabos, Mexico, Santa Fe and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that sense of place is far easier to maintain.

"We donÃ.‚¬™t want guests to feel like they are just at any hotel in the world," Boulogne explains. "We want them to know that when they are at a property in Mexico that they are in Mexico. We want them to have exceptional service, experience extraordinary attention to detail, and make sure it isnÃ.‚¬™t something they have already experienced elsewhere."

Creating an identity
Of course the difficulty of creating unique experiences at every property is building brand loyalty and a brand identity. Until recently, most Rosewood properties have not carried the company name. To help cement the perceived relationship between Rosewood and its older properties, the company recently began adding the tag line, "a Rosewood Hotel" after each name.

"We are trying to get guests at The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, to become keenly aware that we have other properties around the world," adds Boulogne. "We know what they like at The Carlyle and the high-quality service, and incredible attention to detail--and, of course, we provide that experience at our other properties."

One of the challenges for high-end hotel companies is creating that point of differentiation from competitors. To be sure, signature hotel properties like RosewoodÃ.‚¬™s Carlyle Hotel in New York will always have a certain cache. Maintaining that level at newly built or less well established properties is entirely different.

Luxury creeps
"We are very concerned by amenity creep," insists Boulogne. "If you look at other hotel chains, everybody has the double sinks in the bathroom and the marble bath--it has almost become expected that you will have that."

It is hardly a surprise, that amenity creep is becoming an issue for high-end hotel companies, like Rosewood Hotels. According to a recent analysis from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the luxury hotel market segment saw the greatest growth and profitability in 2004 and 2005. While industry RevPAR as a whole grew at the healthy rate of 8.1 percent in 2005, luxury hotels grew at the even more impressive rate of 12.6 percent. In fact, many analysts expect that the luxury and resort segments will continue to show the strongest growth in 2006 and beyond.

As luxury, boutique and other resort properties multiply, the need to differentiate has become even more pronounced in the high-end hotel segment. "I question whether we want to be mixed in with the term luxury," Boulogne argues. As more and more hotels gravitate to the luxury label, Rosewood has become focused on "staying ahead of the curve for our guests."

Staying ahead of the curve
Innovative thinking is essential for staying ahead of the curve. Putting the focus on guests and making a Rosewood stay memorable, the company recently introduced its Hot Type program. Through the program, Rosewood has developed an exclusive relationship with a number of major publishing houses to receive select high-demand books three to six months before they are commercially available in bookstores.
Guest facing technologies, naturally also can play an important role in differentiating. "We look for opportunities to use technology to enhance the guest experience and allow guests to experience something they canÃ.‚¬™t at other hotels: locationFree wireless TVs and pre-loaded iPods are offered by the pool at Las Ventanas al Paraiso, A Rosewood Resort, and Garmin GPS geo-caching devices are offered at Caneel Bay to explore the national park," says Boulogne.

The Rosewood approach, however, is not to try every new technology and see what sticks. When approaching technology, Boulogne argues Rosewood is focused on ensuring that the technology is simple enough to use and reliable. "We donÃ.‚¬™t want to do everything all at once," he adds. "We want to do a couple of things and then execute them well. I was at a non-Rosewood resort the other day where I literally couldnÃ.‚¬™t figure out how to turn on the TV--and I am pretty good at this stuff. It had surround sound and everything, but I had to call the front desk to figure out how to turn it on. I donÃ.‚¬™t want to offer guests things that are that complicated."

Rosewood is also very judicious about where it implements new technologies. GPS units may make sense in Dallas, New York and a few other spots, but donÃ.‚¬™t really work in most resort settings. "We really want to be much more cutting-edge on the technology in a location like The Carlyle, versus a resort, where we want guests to enjoy the environment and beach," Boulogne insists. Rosewood now offers Garmin GPS devices at its two hotels in Dallas, The Carlyle in New York, Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, and RosewoodÃ.‚¬™s resort on St. John, Caneel Bay, offers guests Garmin GPS devices for geo-caching.

Ultimately, the decisions revolve around the guest impact. The impetus for offering guests GPS units emerged at the Hotel Crescent Court, A Rosewood Hotel in Dallas. As guests asked for directions, the concierges realized that much of the work could be done better and more easily with GPS technology. "We pre-loaded the devices with the respective hotel address so that if at any point during the day the guest gets lost, they can press the Ã.‚¬ËœhomeÃ.‚¬™ button and the device will lead them right back to the hotel," Boulogne explains. "We thought that was a wonderful modern amenity to be able to offer Rosewood guests."

Rosewood Hotels is clearly keeping its focus on providing guests with an ultra unique experience. In 2006, Boulogne notes, Rosewood plans to offer guests the complimentary use of a digital camera while they are staying at its properties. Images would be saved onto a disk that they can take home with them when they depart. Now thatÃ.‚¬™s a novel idea for providing guests a memorable experience.

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