TALK: How to integrate iPads into your hotel operation

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The benefits of introducing iPads or tablets into guest rooms go beyond bribing tech-hungry guests into your hotel, research shows the initiative brings unique branding and revenue-boosting opportunities — as well as enhancing the guest experience.

That’s why GM Ian Richardson decided Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel would be one of the country’s first boutique hotels to embrace tablet technology, transforming staff roles and the typical guest stay. One year on, the initiative is almost complete and — lucky for us — he’s keen to share his findings with other hoteliers considering following in his footsteps.

Step 1: Consideration and costs
Consideration is indeed the first step: “Do a needs analysis and identify whether it is appropriate to your market,” says Richardson.

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For Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel, the objective was to respond to the high demand for tablets among its guest base; to engage guests with information; communicate the brand basics, and to provide a personalised service.

“On the iPads, we will provide a local directory — almost an index of activities, services and opportunities to explore the location. Our colleagues and team are all fully briefed on what’s on the iPad so if a guest looks at something on an iPad and wants to explore it with a person, they can come downstairs and the concierge knows exactly what they’re talking about,” he explains.

Other services will be offered via the iPads: “On the platform we’re running, you can order your room service, housekeeping requests, an engineering request, so if you have any issues you can use the iPad to resolve it,” says Richardson.

The next question: “Is it cost effective? And are there the suppliers out there who can give us what we want?”

To find the answers, Richardson looked to other hotels — mostly abroad — already using iPads. Cost-wise, he found the “hard cash” would be spent on the iPads, but there is potential for ROI.

“We bought 100 of them at $350-$360 each; we’ve got the ongoing operational costs of service and technical support so we’re talking about $15 a month per room which gives you the operational backup,” he explains, adding that on top of that is the supplier contract sum.

As the initiative is still quite a new one in the UK hotel industry, calculating ROI can be challenging and the way Richardson sees it, keeping up with the latest developments and meeting guest demands are necessary costs — on par with renovating and offering free wifi.

However, anecdotal evidence from the States shows that introducing iPads can lead to an increase in room-service revenue of up to 25%.

“Retrospectively, we’ll be able to assess room service revenue generated via the iPad and the telephone,” he says.

“It’s also about communication and engaging the clients with your brand. There’s a lot more information in a much more attractive, engaging format than you can ever put in a printed rooms directory,” he says.

Step 2: Partners and plans
Richardson went through the usual tender process to find the right technology supplier, Intelity.

“Something like this is about an ongoing relationship, so there will be software developments, upgrades and so on. Finding a company you feel you can confidently partner with is the important thing — taking for granted the fact that what they’re providing will do the job.

“Is there anything cutting edge that marks one supplier out from another? Not really — a lot of the systems are very similar and that’s where it’s important for you to be clear and identify what you want the system to do because you can be sold a system that does lots of things you’re not going to use,” he continues.

The next step — as with any technological installation — is to identify a project plan. This involves looking at the integration of systems and understanding “what needs to talk to what to make it work and the operational impact”, and subsequently building your findings into the design of the platform.

“The most important element of the installation programme is working out the integration with the PMS to make sure the information ends up in the right place. You have to manage your partners carefully.

“The software supplier we’re using needs to meet with Micros which runs our PMS and we have fairly detailed information-flow workshops with all departments to ensure that if someone orders eggs and bacon, the order comes out with room service and not engineering,” says Richardson.

“Requirements are different in a boutique hotel, we don’t have a switchboard so we have to deploy iPods to key players in housekeeping, room service and front desk so the information comes straight to them on their iPod,” he reveals.

Step 3: the roll out
Training staff on the technology is crucial, but it can mostly be left to the roll out. “I wouldn’t put training before roll because the wide variety of things the system can do makes it very difficult to train outside the operational environment,” says Richardson.

“Intelity spends a lot of time with the project manager to work out what’s best where front-line colleagues have input, which is vital as they’re the people who know how things happen. So we will put iPads into 11 or 12 rooms to start with and learn from it before rolling out the iPads floor by floor over a period of three to six weeks,” he explains.

Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel hopes to have the system fully operational by the end of the year — as simple as that.

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