We’re covering AI, mobile apps, InfoGlass, beacon technology and the future of the guest experience.
Interview with John Edwards
With more than 19 years of hospitality industry experience, John Edwards has led multi-functional and cross-departmental projects, beginning with forming an information systems group tasked with fully supporting the relationship between the technology group and each operating department leader. He joined RLHC in October 2015 as senior vice president and chief information officer.
Edwards has a breadth of experience in delivering a wide array of hospitality technology that is solely focused on enhancing and maximizing the guest experience in organizations such as Dolce Hotels Worldwide and Millennium. One of his most notable accomplishments is the industry’s first Opera9 Mobile software solution roll-out to 7,500 hotel locations in more than 100 countries.
Today’s Hotelier interviewed Edwards to get his take on the latest technologies, anticipated trends and how Red Lion Hotel Corporation is embracing it moving forward.
What are a few of your favorite technology investments RLHC has made over the last year to improve the guest experience?
Mobile technology – seeing the move from traditional desktop apps to mobile for guest service is really exciting. Having the ability for a guest tell us of needs while in transit, and then having the hotel assure them they will be taken care of, is a really great story of how technology is enhancing the guest experience.
What about for hotel employees?
In the same way we are servicing our guests with mobile technology, we are providing hotel employees with the mobile tools to make their job more efficient. Hotel teams really do want to improve a guest’s experience and make it memorable. Most teams really like the idea that they can interact with guests quickly using SMS or through our mobile app.
Are there any upcoming innovations that you are particularly excited about?
Artificial intelligence (AI)! I do believe it’s the next “big thing” for our industry. Allowing bots to interact with our guests virtually and provide more services faster is the obvious evolution. Then taking that data and harnessing that to empower our hotel teams to improve a guest’s stay even more gets really exciting.
What do guests expect their hotel technology to provide? How is RLHC exceeding those expectations?
Many guests still want the basics, but they expect them to work. Think about WiFi. Outside of that, we still have to figure out how to successfully provide a similar experience at our hotels to what they get at home. Our new HelloWiFi solution does this by allowing our loyalty members to only authenticate once for WiFi. The solution will then allow them to connect at any other hotel immediately upon getting on the network. We are also working on in-room entertainment solutions that will allow guests to connect their technology they bring.
What about the Hello Rewards app; since you launched the app, how are you seeing hotel guests engaging with it, and what features are you looking to add?
The Hello Rewards app usage has steadily increased month after month. Currently we are seeing a lot of interaction between our Hello Rewards members and the hotel teams for guest service requests and recommendations. Moving forward, we’ll be focusing on providing a complete in-app solution that not only allows for guest check-in with mobile keys, but also new mobile payment options, food and beverage ordering, interactive recommendations and more.
Do you plan to use beacon technology at any of your hotels? If so, what are you hoping to accomplish?
Yes, we are already beginning to test beacon technology. We are looking at leveraging it to not just provide the ability to interact directly with our guests through specific messaging, but also find ways that positioning data can enhance staffing management, cut down time to respond to service requests or help automate additional technologies available at the hotels.
What role do you think technology should play in the guest-welcoming experience?
Technology in the lobby should be a non-intrusive enhancement to the welcoming experience. We can’t ever replace the value of human interaction welcoming you to a hotel and answering specific questions, but the technology included in the hotel should enable self-service and enhance the information available to our guests. In the future, we’ll continue to look for ways we can provide more automate services through kiosks and via mobile technologies.
We see that RLHC is starting to use InfoGlass in some hotel lobbies, can you tell us more about that?
InfoGlass is a virtual concierge experience that allows the guest to find out information on the hotel or surrounding area. This allows a guest that need information on their meetings/events in the hotel to get up-to-date info, while also able to find dinner recommendations for that evening, all at their own convenience.
How do you think AI will play into the hotel experience?
AI could be one of the next significant technology advancements in the industry. Taking simple tasks, such as questions from a guest about amenities available at a hotel or check-out times, might allow the guest service or reservation teams to spend more time with guests who have unique needs or requirements. AI won’t just impact guest-facing solutions, but also back-of-house solutions such as tech support, meetings and events, housekeeping and more.
What do you think is the next big trend in the hospitality industry?
I think it’s AI/automated bots. Finding new ways for systems to automate tasks can allow hotel teams to continue enhancing customer service and providing memorable moments that define our brands. ■