With the growing use of technology, how will customers' minimum expectations, such as Wi-Fi usage, affect my business?
Renato Fantoni, HPS Hotels
As a hotelier, you already know that success depends on giving consistently great service, and therefore anything - technology included - that adds to your service potential must be considered seriously.
Technology broadly affects your customer in three ways. The "headline" way - as alluded to in the question - is about communications. The other two are more about comfort and safety.
Facilities such as Wi-Fi hotspots are important to some business clients and, if this is a major market, you should try to offer it to keep up. Other technological items are more entertainment-orientated, such as iPod docks and PlayStations. They can have a marketing function if you welcome families, but be aware that they go out of vogue very quickly. I call these "headline" facilities because they look impressive when promoted on your website and brochures and are largely there to attract attention.
However, I am convinced that it is the more subtle use of technology that fulfils and exceeds expectations.
Furniture design is a good example. Many hotels are introducing ergonomic beds and a selection of pillow types intended to improve the quality of the client's sleep.
When I first stepped into an external glass lift I congratulated the manager-host on a lovely design feature. "It's not just for beauty," she told me, "it's so that sleeping guests are not disturbed by the noise of the elevator." Brilliant.
By all means embrace technology, but also invest in eco-friendly waste management, climate-controlled atmospheres, fireproofed doors that don't slam and kitchens that are easy to cook in and easy to clean.
Luke Mellors, Expotel
Hotel IT services often pale in comparison to what guests can get in their own home. This includes choice of TV stations and packages, time shifting or recording of selected programs, high-speed internet, music systems including mp3 players and many other gadget-driven devices. This is now leading to an increase in guest expectations.
Some hotels and hotel groups are trying to meet these needs, which is creating greater disparity between hotels that offer current technology and those that do not. Along with this, the connected world is converging - for example, there are now wireless hotspots at Starbucks and McDonald's.
Technology brings an opportunity to develop customer service opportunities such as storing guest preferences and offering the "connected room", that is, a room where a wake-up call can turn on the TV to the guest's favourite channel, web page or music track, or which stores the desired room temperature and sets it automatically on check-in.
Internet availability and business centre-style services are now key factors for business travellers, and a growing factor for leisure travellers, when selecting a hotel. You must evaluate your customers and assess how technology can best be applied to service their needs.
To ignore in-room and customer-driven technology initiatives, particularly where the internet is concerned, might exclude your hotel as an option for the new "connected" traveller and their expectations.
Victoria Russell, VR Management Consultancy
The growth of telecommunications, media and technology (TMT) and the increased reliance on it by the business traveller are already well documented. Travel scares abound, but there still remains a need for face-to-face meetings and presentations.
A recent report by Deloitte says that by the year 2010 people around the world will use a growing number of TMT products and services - more often, in more locations, and for more purposes.
This report also suggests there will be an increase in the role of teleworkers - and better technology and faster connectivity will certainly catalyse this trend. In terms of communication tools, consumers are expected to continue to rely on mobile phones, although voice over internet protocol (VOIP) will also make steady growth.
Reliability of connectivity is a key concern. Wi-Fi is preferred, but only if there is a strong connection. Malmaison has introduced a free "plug and play" answer to connectivity reliability and also has iPod speakers in all rooms. The Ku'Damm 101 hotel in Berlin offers high-speed internet access of up to 1,000Mbps, allowing for teleconferencing and transfer of video and large files.
Guests often work away from the office, and a relaxing leisure environment which also offers good technology is attractive to all business travellers and essential for some. Design can be a vital factor achieving a competitive advantage - even the sympathetic restoration of period properties should incorporate modern design and technology.
For the small UK operator, the availability of free wireless broadband will increasingly be seen as a minimum expectation.