“Tech-ing” up the place

While technology has long been a key component of the hospitality sector, it has now specifically entered the domain of serviced residences specifically. HRM shares how some accommodation providers are tapping on the latest tech offerings to increase efficiency and improve the overall guest experience.

Andrew Yee, General Manager, Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Orchard Singapore, says that part of the organisation’s technological service offerings for its guests includes the Avaya IP phone that offers convenience with its one-touch service.

“This makes it easy for our guests to navigate and to get their necessary items with ease. We also have a complimentary Press Reader offering through our Wi-Fi network that allows the downloading of magazines and newspapers from all over the world in different languages – all free of charge for our residents,” says Yee.

“Our back-of-house works order support system allows us to track jobs done, and expected response times for preventive maintenance works.”

Meanwhile, Tonya Khong, Area General Manger, Southeast Asia, Frasers Hospitality, reveals that in addition to high-speed Wi-Fi, Frasers offers an e-concierge service to provide travellers with updated information on the property and on the city. This service comes in place of the conventional in-room compendiums, which often contain out-dated information.

“Available online as well as on location, e-concierge aids residents with pre-arrival research and useful insights on the transportation system, security, places of worship, embassies and consulates, international schools, local attractions, public holidays, airline information, celebration and festivals, food and entertainment options and event highlights,” Khong elaborates.

According to Khong, technology has been a crucial enabler at Frasers.

She says it helps its residents settle in as quickly as possible, and the organisation’s focus has always been on closing the gap between residents’ experiences at home and at Frasers’ residences.

The intensive utilisation of technology by serviced apartments providers should not come as a surprise.

According to a new report from hotel consultancy firm HVS London, serviced apartments are poised to make better use of technology, and also offer smaller units.

HVS director and report author Arlett Oehmichen cited that the next generation of serviced apartments will be likely to channel its energies on the better utilisation of technology.

The technological boom

Henrietta Chong, General Manager, Great World Serviced Apartments, says technology has impacted the lives of everyone, including those working in the hospitality industry.

“It is able to take over the routine work, which was handled by human beings, in a more efficient manner,” Chong states.

However, she says one drawback of technology comes in the form of a “sharing economy” that has also placed a lot of pressure on the hospitality industry.

“Apps such as Airbnb have been able to spot the ‘gap’ and this may have taken a big chunk of the business from the hospitality industry,” explains Chong.

Nevertheless, she acknowledges that the world is now an interconnected one, and that this inter-connectivity is facilitated by technology.

“Most guests, especially people travelling on business, seek connectivity for their business requirements. Hence, it’s a necessity for properties which are after this business to be updated in their technology servings.”

Her counterpart Khong stresses that there is no denying the impact technology has had on the hospitality industry.

“It has influenced communication, mobility, how bookings are made, the efficiency of back-end processes, customer interaction, feedback and the sharing of experiences,” she says.

Tellingly, Khong says that as the world evolves to become increasingly technology-dependent, residents’ expectations become more digitally inclined.

“Gadgets and conveniences such as iPod docking systems, multi-unit charging stations, high-speed seamless internet connectivity and the ability to research, make bookings, changes and special requests via mobile are what residents have come to expect,” she surmises.

Khong adds that the advantages of technology do not only stop with residents.

“Technology has also enabled us to track trends in behaviour and expectations of our residents through our Fraser World guest recognition programme, which gives us the ability to not only interact and reward our loyal residents, but to also acquire data that gives us the competitive edge to better understand their needs,” elaborates Khong.

“For us, technology and innovation will continue to be key factors in our growth as we continuously look to further enhance our residents’ experience and improve operational efficiencies.”

Khong says that just as technology has become a basic need that helps people lead more efficient lives in general, business travellers seek technology to help them travel smarter, be more time efficient, reduce unnecessary hassle, and increase productivity.

“In other words, they are looking to seamlessly recreate the technology experience they have at home and at their work place while on overseas assignments,” she adds.

Yee also says technology is everywhere in today’s society and that it is necessary for every organisation to embrace it.

“You can see how the hospitality scene has changed with technology with the reservation modes available today. We now have many faceless transactions through online booking platforms which also allow instant confirmation,” he explains.

“This ultimately increases the speed at which transactions are now made. Hence, it’s inherently important for the information on our website to always be accurate, clear, and up to date.”

In fact, Yee says some guests prefer to give feedback electronically.

“Guests prefer the touch of a button and getting instant confirmation rather than making calls. Speed is now of the essence in our fast-paced society,” he adds.

More than just Wi-Fi

If serviced apartment providers think that being technologically savvy simply encompasses the provision of Wi-Fi only, they are seriously mistaken.

Khong stresses that in today’s context, it is no longer just about providing Wi-Fi, but also a fast, free and seamless connection throughout the entire property.

“This means having higher bandwidth capabilities to meet residents’ usage habits that now more frequently include the downloading of large files, video calls and video streaming across multiple devices,” she explains.

Khong reveals that having an online resource which residents can easily tap into anytime and anywhere helps Frasers’ residents familiarise with their new city of residence so that they feel comfortable and confident in their new environment and focus on their main task – their work assignment.

Chong says automation is a key benefit that guests appreciate.

“There are certain parts of our operations, which we feel, can be automated through technology,” says Chong.

These include services such as being able to make bookings via smart device friendly booking websites.

“Our compendium is also displayed on the guest’s smart television via a thumb-drive. The utility usage is tracked by Wi-Fi-enabled meters. Guests are also used to keyless access to their apartments and lifts,” she states.

“Our guests nowadays are tech-savvy and most of them feel more at ease in being able to get services themselves through technology rather than dialling up to the reception counter to wait for services. This gives them the flexibility and liberty, to attend to certain operations themselves.”

According to Yee, Wi-Fi nowadays is a given in any serviced suite complex.

“We also have fibre optics to support faster broadband speeds,” he says.

Yee says the Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Orchard Singapore’s tracking system helps to improve productivity at the back end, with less coordination and wastage of time and resources.

He says guests’ experiences no longer require anyone to be on standby just to answer phone calls; which paves the way to a more productive use of manpower.

“It also allows faceless feedback from guests and means we can quickly work with the guest to resolve any issues that may arise,” he remarks.

Yee says being able to read one’s own native newspaper or magazine on a handphone or tablet brings the guest a step closer to home.

Who needs the technology?

It should come as no surprise as to who are the tech-savvy niche target audience serviced apartment providers are looking to please.

“Millennial business travellers are generally the ones at the forefront of embracing new technology,” Khong discloses.

“They are always open to exploring alternative ways to doing things and are quick to adopt new technology habits that are in-trend.”

However, she says the demand for higher speed internet access, for example, is now a normal provision and a need that cuts across all of Frasers’ resident profiles and age groups.

“As serviced residences, we also cater to the technological needs of the entire family, where they need to remain connected with not only their friends and family while overseas, but also, to create new social media experiences in their new country of residence,” Khong explains.

Meanwhile, Chong says those travelling on business as well as the younger tech savvy customers are major advocates of technological features.

The slow death of TLC?

As serviced apartment providers pull out all the stops to be technologically friendly, is there a danger that this may dampen guest experience in terms of the old-fashioned but extremely important friendly touch?

Chong says technology does remove the human touch to a certain extent.

For example, the notion of checking in without having to approach the service desk can appear foreign at first.

“A machine is not able to serve with passion or courtesy. It is merely programmed to deliver,” explains Chong.

“Then, the customer’s feedback will be matched equally with coldness and apathy, since they leave their complaints on the voice mail, instead of being attended to.”

Chong stresses that staff at Great World are careful that technology does not usurp the “human touch” aspects of its business.

“Nothing can replace a warm-hearted greeting. We listen to our resident’s feedback with empathy,” she says.

Meanwhile, Yee discloses that many residents within Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Orchard Singapore premises prefer the traditional hardcopy method of feedback. He says it is important for his organisation to cater to both types of guests.

“Embracing the different channels of receiving feedback is the ultimate aim for us to be able to respond to guests’ feedback and to manage guests experience better,” he explains.

“Complementing technology with the human touch as a closure will be a great way to bring about some soft touches to guests’ experience.”

Khong also admits that while technology continues to contribute to increasing efficiency and productivity, the human touch is still what makes the difference between a “good” experience and a “great” one.

“At Frasers Hospitality, we believe in ‘high-tech for high-touch’,” she says. “Instead of replacing human interaction with automation, technology is used to enhance the human touch and provide residents with more options to choose from.”

“For example, with the e-concierge facility, guests can choose to access information independently, or still opt to approach any of our staff who are also excellent resources of information and who are able to provide recommendations.”

A smart living experience in Ascott

Smart home technologies look set to be a staple in Ascott’s serviced residences across over 20 countries globally from next year.

According to a press release by Ascott, the serviced residence provider will design a next-generation serviced residence that will afford guests a unified “smart living” experience.

The technology will allow guests to control and manage devices within the serviced residence through a single application which connects personal and home devices — from refrigerators and washing machines to smart TVs, smartphones and even wearable devices — all through a single integrated platform and server.

In order to realise this goal, Ascott has joined hands with Samsung Asia, to jointly craft “Internet of Things”-ready smart solutions customised for its serviced residences. It makes Ascott the first global serviced residence firm to embrace smart home technologies.

Ascott is planning to test the new technologies at selected Ascott serviced residences in the first half of 2016, with plans to roll out across all its properties in phases.

 

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