California Wine Country luxury hotels go touchless amid coronavirus by deploying high tech
In an industry reliant on the human touch, it may seem counterintuitive for hotels to adopt contactless technology platforms. But if they want to stay in business, there’s little choice.
Before the coronavirus pandemic — and now for certain — hotels were partnering with mobile-solutions companies like OpenKey and Criton that offer keyless room entry, remote check-in, hotel-specific apps, and the ability to communicate with guests before, during and after their hotel stays.
The technology, while convenient, has become vital for hoteliers to keep and grow their customer base in a new world where less contact keeps everyone safer.
In studies Criton commissioned this year — one before the pandemic and another after — to gauge travelers’ interest in using an app to help manage their hotel experience, 80% of participants surveyed in July and August expressed interest, a 10% increase compared to February and March. More than 5,000 people participated in the first survey; and more than 2,500 in the second, according to Criton’s website.
Where service is ‘gr8’
Four Sisters Inns, which operates 16 boutique hotels in the state, including seven properties in the North Bay, announced this month it signed up with Whistle, a text-messaging platform for the hospitality industry that allows for real-time communication with guests, said Tamara Mims, president of Monterey-based Four Sisters Inns.
The company’s hotels in Sonoma County include Kenwood Inn & Spa, Gaige House + Ryokan, Inn at Sonoma and Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza. Four Sisters’ Napa properties include Maison Fleurie, Lavender and Milliken Creek Inn.
Mims said the Four Sisters team had been looking at Whistle pre-COVID-19 because its texting platform simplifies company processes and interactions with guests. Plus, she tried it herself while staying at a competitor’s hotel.
“It’s just so quick, you feel like you have this personal concierge waiting to respond to any questions,” Mims said. “When COVID happened and we shut down, we all sat down and looked at every single element of the entire guest stay and operations. … We said now is the time to do this.”
With the Whistle technology, hotel management can quickly see the interactions and operations taking place across all of its properties. Employees, however, can only view activity at the hotel where they work.
Whistle offers hotels a free one-month trial, and businesses can sign up on a month-to-month basis, Mims said. Four Sisters Inns pays roughly $200 a month per property, she said.
“I think we all intuitively knew that (Whistle) was going to be beneficial for everyone, but for me, I didn't realize what a difference it really can make,” Mims said. Feedback from staff has been positive, as have been guest reviews on travel websites, she said.
Rosé the room service bot
An entertaining 3-foot-tall robot has been roaming around Hotel TRIO since the property opened two years ago. But now, it has pivoted from a novelty attraction for families, to a contactless necessity at the Marriott franchise in Healdsburg.
“It’s kind of cute and fun, and you’d hear it going down the hallway,” said Scott Satterfield, general manager of Hotel TRIO. “But then come March, we said, ‘Wait a minute, this is a serious thing. People don't want us to make deliveries to their rooms. They just don't want to have the touch.”
Programmed by the people who did R2D2 from Star Wars, Rosé — a tribute to Wine Country and a nod to Rosie, the robot from The Jetsons cartoon — has been making the rounds more frequently, delivering to guests everything from towels and pillows, to snacks, pet treats and bottles of wine.
“When the robot arrives to a guest’s room, the phone rings and she says, ‘I’m here,’” Satterfield said. “When they open their door, that triggers the top of Rosé to open and you take your items out.”
Hotel TRIO also is adopting additional contactless technologies beyond the existing Marriott mobile app that gives guests keyless entry to their room.
On Sept. 15, the 122-suite hotel will introduce a higher level of Marriott’s proprietary software that will let guests go through the entire check-in process through the app, Satterfield said. Hotel Trio is a member of the Marriott Bonvoy Travel Program, the brand’s free loyalty-membership program.
“I think each brand is coming out with new technologies and figuring out exactly what needs to happen, and when and how,” Satterfield said.
Many of those decisions industry-wide revolve around heightened cleanliness standards.
Hotel TRIO at the end of the month will receive electrostatic sprayers and handheld UV lights that had been ordered a while ago, to provide even deeper sanitation, Satterfield said.