One of the challenges to opening a new property is ensuring you get the right technology - and getting it wrong could cost your business dear, says Daniel Thomas.
While the UK hotel sector has been knocked sideways by the recession, the pipeline for new developments has remained healthy. Research from STR Global shows that the UK has more than 25,000 hotel bedrooms in the total active pipeline - more than any other country in Europe - with 12,519 rooms already under construction.
One of the major challenges around opening a new property is making sure you get the technology right. Having a blank slate to work on can make things easier, but getting it wrong can prove expensive when so many new systems are being implemented.
Recent years have seen a number of new hotel openings in London, with the area surrounding the Olympic Park in east London, inevitably, a particularly fertile ground for new developments. One such opening was the Days Hotel London Shoreditch, which opened its doors in 2008 just two miles away from the 2012 venue.
The property was the first hotel venture for developer Major Properties, which was acutely aware that it needed to hit the ground running, admits commercial director Baljeet Chima.
"Although this was our first hotel project, we were keenly aware from collaborating with Wyndham Hotel Group International [owner of the Days Hotel brand] that guest expectations would be high and that our accommodation and business services had to be of the highest calibre," he says.
"And, we were conscious that we needed to deliver welcoming, well-connected and well-situated accommodation for some of the millions of visitors expected in London in the run-up to and during the 2012 Olympics."
IT was at the centre of the company's planning for the Days hotel because, as Chima puts it, technology "is almost as important as hot water" for any hotel business, highlighting wireless broadband and property management systems (PMS) as key examples.
"No hotel of any decent standing operates without Wi-Fi, and providing this free of charge is almost an industry standard," he says. "A hotel PMS, meanwhile, can provide a number of advanced services for visitors, such as software to manage different types of room, car parking and conferencing inventories, as well as electronic point of sale in restaurants."
Communication systems are also vital, with the latest software offering capabilities such as web-based guest management, real-time housekeeping status updates and in-room self-service.
Days Hotel London Shoreditch uses a communication system from supplier Avaya, which provides call routing capabilities to minimise hold times, and print-and-click call management, allowing hotel staff to handle calls via their on-screen interface and simultaneously check room inventory, reservation details and other information. The system, which is linked to the hotel's voicemail system provided by DuVoice, also flags if the guest is a repeat customer, creating opportunities to increase sales.
"The communications system integrates with the hotel's property management system and call accounting software, ensuring that the hotel can maximise guest revenue in the area," says Chima. "The beauty of it is that everything links together so that we can provide quick and easy connections for guests and staff."
Having a blank slate does make things easier when planning the technology to use, Chima believes. "It means you can plan from day one exactly what technology can be installed from the wiring side," he explains. "The wiring of a building is very labour-intensive and can be very expensive to change once the installation has taken place, as the wires are normally hidden behind plasterboard and decoration. Even if you are lucky enough to have all of your wiring in labelled, open service ducts, the cost of changing it in the future is very high and it can be very disruptive to the guests' stay."
The trick for those opening a new property is to "get the right advice, at the right time, from the right people", according to Chima. "Make sure you get an expert to talk you through how you can cater for your current situation, in terms of what technology you're using now, but also for what you might want to use in the near and distant future," he adds.
Of course, technology needs updating once the hotel is up and running, and this is also something that needs to be handled carefully, warns Chima.
"In a hotel that has around 250-300 guests at least six days a week, if something is not quite right you tend to get to hear about it very quickly," he says.
"For example, we were carrying out a routine upgrade of our broadband service to increase the bandwidth to meet the high quality standards of our guests, and guests were right to voice concerns about the interruptions to internet access in their rooms.
"We had to be quick to offer alternative facilities, and this just goes to show that you have to be ahead of the game and continue to offer a seamless service. Technology is now a fully fledged part of our customer service. We see it as a utility rather than a ‘nice to have'."
The wiring of a building is labour-intensive and can be expensive to change once the installation has taken place
CASE STUDY: RETALLACK
Retallack is a family-owned resort in St Columb Major, Cornwall, five miles from foodies' paradise Padstow. The 52-acre site offers 50 holiday homes to buy or rent.
In order to meet the long list of set criteria to be awarded five-star status, Retallack needed to offer a comprehensive in-room entertainment system. The resort also wanted to be able to personalise content sent to each chalet.
Originally, Retallack planned to install a voice-over-IP telephone system using wireless technology over the site, with a mast and aerials for each property. However, a fibre backbone network promised greater flexibility, allowing Retallack to also provide TV and satellite channels.
The company opted for an IPTV telecoms system from supplier Exterity, partly because it could be installed in a matter of days, causing the minimum of disruption to guests. The system was rolled out by systems integrator Empire Telecom.
"Due to the aggressive timescales involved in building the new resort, the IPTV system was ideal, as it could be installed at the same time as other tradesmen were completing the first 50 chalets," says Amy Tucker-Brown, resort director at Retallack.
Retallack can now deliver video, Freeview, digital and analogue TV stations across its network to any end point, which includes bedrooms, living rooms and reception areas.
The system allows Retallack to easily personalise content sent to each chalet and so can display individual guest welcome messages.
It is also used to stream promotional videos to each chalet, enabling the resort to utilise the system as a selling medium to promote sister resorts and features of the Retallack site, such as the spa.
The video on demand (VoD) solution also offers the resort an additional revenue stream, as residents pay for each film.
VoD replaces traditional pay-per-view systems and is more popular with guests as it can offer a much more comprehensive library of content.
"An additional 40 chalets will be completed this winter and will be equipped with the same system," says Tucker-Brown.