Changes in technology and consumer behavior are forcing most industries to adapt, and hospitality is no exception. Hotel guests not only require Wi-Fi—they want fast and reliable connections with enough bandwidth to stream content on any mobile device. In short, they want to feel at home.
IT pros working in the space must provide that experience while developing the applications, tools, and processes to manage bookings and interact with online travel agencies. Ben Guanzon is doing exactly that for one of Canada’s leading hotel brands. Since joining Coast Hotels in 2012, the executive director of IT has led three important initiatives designed to improve technology for guests and employees alike.
Travelers who use a smartphone
Travelers who use a tablet while traveling
Travelers who prefer to access hotel guest services via mobile devices rather than through hotel staff
Of all travel reservations are made online
Source: EY Global Hospitality Insights, 2015
Foundation of Technology Platforms
When Guanzon arrived in 2012, the hotel brand had grown to include forty properties with no clear technology plan to support the growth objectives of the company. That started to change in 2013 as part of a full rebranding effort. Coast Hotels & Resorts became Coast Hotels as the company started to focus on its line of full-service hotels. The transformation included new logos, new colors, and a new website—and company leaders knew technology would play a big role in charting the organization’s future. “We had to introduce standards and start using technology in a more strategic way to take Coast Hotels forward,” Guanzon says.
His first step was to build a solid core infrastructure. He replaced outdated equipment (some call center computers still had just 256 MB of RAM) and overhauled the network architecture, moving from a patchwork of Novell, Microsoft, and GroupWise to a full Microsoft environment coupled with Office 365 to build flexibility over Coast’s portfolio of properties. Three years ago, IT associates spent 90 percent of their day helping users fix faulty equipment. Today, that time has dropped to 15 percent.
Maximizing the Value of Applications
With the tech platform firmly in place, Guanzon turned his attention to developing Coast’s application plan. Guanzon worked with vendors, pushing them to improve functionality and build a fast and reliable system to manage the company’s reservation system. “It was a huge deal for us, because that’s one of our biggest opportunities to add value and revenue to the organization,” he says.
Here’s why the process was so important: Coast has to set itself apart not only from competitors, but also from the large, online travel agencies. The brand still pulls in cash when a room is booked on a third-party site, but then winds up paying a commission. A better Coast Hotels booking application entices more customers to book directly with Coast Hotels instead of at a third-party site or with a competitor.
In the fall of 2014, Guanzon rolled out a new CRM platform designed to bring all components together. With the new CRM, he and his colleagues can gather and mine data around loyalty programs, guest surveys, on-site experience, and digital marketing.
After these and other developments, Coast Hotels announced that revenues and loyalty program participation were both up in 2015. Guanzon reports that web numbers for both traffic and bookings have increased—a fact he attributes to the applications and CRM initiatives working in tandem.
Improving the Guest Experience
In the hospitality world, perhaps nothing is more important than competing on guest experience, and Guanzon knew that he’d have to improve Coast Hotels’s Wi-Fi strategy if he wanted to improve overall client satisfaction. After all, the first question most front-desk employees encounter comes from a hotel guest wondering how to connect to the Internet. But the password isn’t the only thing modern hotel guests want—they want speed. “Good Wi-Fi isn’t just about access,” he says. “It’s about bandwidth and ensuring the whole network can deliver.”
Three years ago, only 10 percent of Coast’s properties had a fiber connection—the rest were using DSL for up to 200 guest rooms. Since then, Guanzon has set bandwidth standards and addressed network infrastructure at each building while reinvesting in adequate equipment across all properties. Additionally, upon discovering that most TVs in guest rooms had HD capabilities but lacked an HD signal, he’s developed a partnership with Shaw to get HD service on in-room televisions. In 2015, Coast’s tech team made plans to further improve guest experience and will take steps to introduce the tools necessary for guests to check in and request services via mobile phone or other wireless device. Guanzon says the efforts are paying off. Satisfaction scores have increased, with Wi-Fi scores improving from seventy-six to eighty-six over the last three years.
As technology marches forward, Guanzon is keeping pace. His team has improved Coast’s booking engine—online and on mobile—and is partnering with Vancouver-based Mobify to create responsive mobile versions of the company’s website. Further, they’re activating widgets that post user reviews and comments from TripAdvisor to Coast’s website in near-real time. Another tool on Coast’s guest survey prompts users to easily post a TripAdvisor comment without making a separate trip away from Coast’s website. With these projects underway, Guanzon is turning his attention to business intelligence and other areas.
“We’re researching how we can leverage technology to enhance what we do at every level,” he says. Soon, employees will use systems to monitor energy and maintenance programs, and guests will use mobile devices to order food or even enter their rooms. Coast Hotels has big plans of moving into the future, and Guanzon’s tech plan strives to get the company there.