Brendon Granger, Hotel Technology Expert

The Innovative Hotelier Podcast – Leveraging Technology to Enhance Guest Experience & Increase ROI

Brendon Granger, Hotel Technology Expert and Founder of Technology 4 Hotels, chats with The Innovative Hotelier Podcast Host Robin Trimingham about the increased use of new technology, robots and the Internet of Things (IOT) throughout the hospitality industry.

In as much as the global health crisis of the past two years has brought hardship to the hospitality industry, it has also encouraged the development of technological innovations that can drive cost savings, increase RevPAR, and most importantly enhance guest experiences. Listen now to learn more about mobile check-in, sophisticated guest room management systems with in-room occupancy sensors, and web app QR codes that are transforming the guest experience and providing hoteliers with new sources of data to further customize the services and incentives that they offer to travelers.

Go to this link and click the play button to listen to our conversation with Brendon.

Brendon Granger, Hotel Technology Expert and Founder of Technology 4 Hotels, chats with The Innovative Hotelier Podcast Host Robin Trimingham about the increased use of new technology, robots and the Internet of Things (IOT) throughout the hospitality industry.

Robin: Welcome to “The Innovative Hotelier Podcast” by “HOTELS” magazine with weekly thought-provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators.

Welcome to “The Innovative Hotelier Podcast” brought to you by “HOTELS” magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham, and my guest today is Brendon Granger, a hotel technology expert and founder of Technology for Hotels from Sydney, Australia. Today we’re chatting about leveraging contactless technology in the hotel sector to enhance guest experience and increase ROI.

Welcome, Brendon, or should I say good day, mate?

Brendon: Thank you, Robin. Love the accent. We don’t say good day as much anymore in Australia as we used to. Unfortunately, I think we’ve lost that colloquialism. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Robin: That doesn’t surprise me because so much else about the world has changed. Thank you so much for finding time to chat with me today. I have to say, I really enjoyed researching this topic myself in preparation for our discussion. So I’m really looking forward to hearing what you’ve got to say. I think when you mentioned contactless tech and hotels in the same sentence, everyone immediately thinks key cards. But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s available now. So, to start us off here, can you give everybody a quick overview of the range of products and services that are now available?

Brendon: Totally, Robin. Yeah, you’re right. Everybody thinks about key cards, first and foremost, but they’re probably one of the least used forms of contactless technology. And we may pick up on that later. But right now, pre-arrival check-in is quite a big one on mobile check-in as it’s often called. We’ve been doing with the airlines for years. Seventy-three per cent of people check in before they get to the airport. And hotels have been lagging behind. But that’s now something that’s readily available to guests. A lot of the property management systems have that feature built into them. And if they don’t, there are a number of third-party products. The guest doesn’t have to download an app. It can be web-based, so it’s simple. The other thing that we’re seeing a lot of is QR code-based digital compendiums and ordering solutions.

One of the, I suppose, positive things to come out of the pandemic is that people now know what a QR code is and know how to use one. So you can offer a QR code-based compendium, and people appreciate what it is. These solutions are what we call progressive web apps. So they look and behave like an application but you don’t need to download them to your phone, you just access them via a QR code. And I think guests really appreciate that, particularly if they’re staying for a short period of time, or it’s just to communicate with a hotel laundry room service. You really don’t want to add another app to your phone.

They’re the main ones we’re seeing. We’re obviously seeing things like kiosks as well, self-checking kiosk. They’re not completely contactless, you are still touching something. But as I said, pre-arrival check-in is a big one. There’s lots of benefits that can be delivered by implementing that from a hotel’s point of view and QR code-based digital ordering and Compendium as the next one.

Robin: It’s interesting to consider how something like a pandemic can actually be good for the advancement of technology. Going back to those keyless entry systems, and maybe it’s regional. In some parts of the world, they’re more heavily used than others. And I think travelers and hoteliers kind of love them and hate them at the same time. To what extent would you say that we’re at a crossroads where we’re better at designing and introducing new tech than we are at helping guests to really take advantage of it?

Brendon: Yeah, that’s a great question. Mobile key is really interesting topic. I think it’s one of those things that looks really great on paper. But when you start putting into practice, how big is the problem that’s actually solving? We get it that there are regular business travelers that want to bypass the front desk, but it might be 20%, 30% at max. Really, when you look at mobile key, the biggest benefit is the ability to eliminate plastic key. So it’s an environmental benefit that will come if anything. Globally, and it’s the same in Australia where we’ve got it deployed, somewhere between 5% and 8% of guests are actually taking advantage of mobile key. There’s still a lot of hotels get to deploy the technology as well. And there are actually some technical issues that still need to be resolved in some businesses use.

So there are lots of hotels that have what we call magstripe locks. So you know that they’ve got them. They’re the ones that when you put the key card in your pocket next to your mobile phone and then you go on open your door, it doesn’t work. There are still lots of hotels will those.

Over the last couple of years, the lock industry, we’ve been looking at what we call Bluetooth low energy as the means to deliver mobile key. And we did that because Apple wasn’t fully on board with what we call NFC or near-field communication. But in 2019, I think with the release of iOS 13, Apple supported it. And right now, Apple and Hyatt are doing a trial with Apple Wallet. And that’s really a step in the right direction. Because it will mean that if you have the key in your Apple Wallet, you don’t need to have the HID app, or the Marriott app, or the Hilton app. You can have key stored in Apple Wallet.

So that’s a great step. It only caters to 50% of the population or there about because the other half of us use Android. And it was full bleak of the CIO of a core at a conference that I was at the other day that raised the question, you know, “What is the business model going to be? And what is Apple going to charge us hoteliers every time somebody uses their Apple phone or Apple Wallet to open a door? Will it be $1 per door opening? If it is, that’s really not going to fly.” So there’s a few things to be sorted out when it comes to mobile key. So as I said, I think it looks really good on paper but technically was stood a little way to go.

Robin: Actually you’ve given me quite a bit to think about because there’s some points there it hadn’t really occurred to me. Let’s move on to something else that I don’t know a whole lot about, the Internet of Things. I think you better start by telling everybody what exactly is the Internet of Things, and how do introducing IoT applications drive cost savings and increase RevPAR, and most importantly, enhance guest experience?

Brendon: Great question. So the Internet of Things, in its simplest form, is a device with an on/off switch that’s connected to the internet. So believe it or not, hospitality has the reputation of lagging behind when it comes to technology. But when it comes to IoT, we actually have more devices connected in a lot of other industries. And that is because we have in-room occupancy sensors in a lot of hotel guest rooms, which are connected to the internet. So that’s probably one of the first things we’ve seen. Hotels have implemented what we call guest room management systems. Normally, it’s a combination of energy management and lighting control.

So the benefit there from the guest point of view is when they open the door, the lights go on, the curtains can open. It is great from a guest-experiencing point of view. They don’t need to reach inside the door in the dark and fumble for the key slot and put the key in and then the lights go on.

But from our hotelier point of view, there’s energy savings to be involved. Those occupancy sensors determine when there’s a guest in the room. And once the guest has left, then they can do one of two things. They can actually turn the heating and cooling off completely and the power, or they can put it into a setback and have a band of temperature range which they’re operating, particularly in hot climates. You don’t want the room to get extremely hot. You want it to be relatively comfortable when a guest comes back. So that’s the first thing.

We’re obviously seeing intelligent minibars which are connected to the internet. We’ve got some hotels that have gone a bit further now. There’s a hotel I’m aware of in Singapore that actually have light bulbs not only connected to the internet, but when the light bulb fails, it’s able to put a report into the hotel’s maintenance system, so that the engineer knows automatically that they need to go to that room and replace the light globe.

Robin: Goodness.

Brendon: Yeah, you can do things, too, obviously, with the locks that we were just talking about. A lot of them have batteries. So when the battery gets to a certain level, they can actually raise a ticket in the maintenance system themselves. But what’s going to happen in Hilton and Marriott are playing with their versions of the connected room. In the future, sensors in the room will actually record discreetly your likes and dislikes, what temperature do you like the HeatTrak set up the heating and cooling? What temperature do you like to shower at? What pressure do you like? It will then record those things, that can be stored against your record in the Property Management System, and then be sent back to the room. The next time you stay at that property or any property across the chain that has the same technology.

Robin: So the room will always seem comfortable to me when I walk through the door?

Brendon: Correct. I think Chris Nassetta from Hilton said you will know your room and your room will know you. Truly that’s the level of personalization that we’re looking to go towards in the hotel industry.

Robin: I was reading also that they’re at least experimenting with using IoT to provide guests with incentives or calls to action that are customized to what the guests would appreciate. How does that work?

Brendon: That’s a good point. A lot of hotels, particularly premium hotels have tablets in their room now. So, let’s just say it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, the spa on property has a couple of slots available. With a combination of AI and IoT, the system could actually determine that Mrs. Brown in rooms such and such has, you know, a profile that she attends the spa or likes the spa. So it could send a push notification to the tablet in her room saying, “We’ve got a special at the moment. There’s a slot immediately available for a spa treatment. And we’re going to give you 20% off.” That’s one way

Robin: I see. So, in other words, it could also be offering a coupon for happy hour, for example.

Brendon: Exactly right. And there is a casino in Las Vegas that apparently they noticed after Celine Dion shows, everybody would turn their mobile phone on. And they would watch these traffic literally go out to the car park and they’re thinking, “What can we do to basically bring those guests back in, you know, have a drink in the bar, have something in the restaurant?” So they actually started doing push notification based on the location of the guest, as they’re starting to head towards the door, they suddenly get a message on their phone, “Oh, look, free drink in the bar.” It’s like, “Oh, let’s just have a quick drink.” And obviously one drink leads to two and then that may lead to dinner. So that sort of location-based tracking, it will also play a significant part in how we deliver personalized service to guests in the future.

Robin: I don’t know whether to be impressed or horrified, but I love that story. So, let’s talk about robots and AI for a minute here because there’s a lot of buzz in media right now about the idea of using robots within the hotel industry. Is there a sweet spot in your opinion between the cutting-edge cost-saving technology that enhances guest experience and basically freaking out or unnerving a guest who’s not ready for a humanoid to be delivering towels to their guest room?

Brendon: Yep. I think the first thing to point out is that I personally do not see robots replacing humans completely in hospitality. Certainly not in the distant future. Probably never. The Henna Hotel in Japan was a robot hotel. I think that opened in 2017? A hundred and forty rooms, 30 staff, 243 robots. The aim of the hotel was to get to basically running the hotel 90% with robots. And after a couple of years, they got down to from 30 staff to 7, and things were looking great. But it was actually early in 2019 that they had to set half of the robots and actually replaced them with humans. And that hotel showed us that there are certain limitations. Robots can do a lot of things, but there are some things that they cannot do. So the purpose of robots is really to help humans do their jobs better. And I think that’s really the role of technology as a whole. It’s not to replace humans, it’s to act as an aid.

Robin: Can you give me a bit of an example here, based on your personal experience or an example of where a robot would be a good addition to a hotel?

Brendon: Certainly. We’ve got robots now that are quite a number of deployed in the world that have vacuuming ballrooms, function rooms, vacuuming corridors. They can also vacuum guest rooms. There are also robots that are carting heavy trolleys with linen up to the floor for housekeeping, and bringing down the dirty linen, which is, you know, often wet and soiled and extremely heavy. So some of those robots can actually pull trolleys of up to 600 kilos.

Robin: Sort of a utility-based function then.

Brendon: It’s almost like we’re getting the robots to do the boring, the mundane, the repetitive, and the dangerous tasks. First and foremost, we will see robots, and we are now, we’re seeing robots operating behind the scenes. We are seeing robots in some hotels, and China’s probably the country that has the most prolific numbers. One manufacturer that I’ve been dealing with already has 13,000 robots deployed in China. These are delivery robots. So, if you request a toothbrush or a bottle of water, they’ll send a robot up to your room with that, in its little case. I’ve seen those robots also use to deliver room service.

So you have to think a little bit differently, and you put the room service almost into a takeout-type container rather than a traditional plate with a cloche. But those robots can basically take the pressure off staff. And that’s really what it’s all about, taking the pressure off, freeing up staff time, allowing staff to interact with guests.

Robin: To deliver more high quality guest experiences.

Brendon: Correct. The things like the emotional connection that robots cannot deliver.

Robin: I can see a world in which that could be a good thing. We’ve got a couple of minutes left here. And this is a little bit out of left field, but give me your thoughts on this. Disney is currently experimenting or offering, I guess I should say, a two-night galactic starcruiser, highly immersive interactive experience. And for our listeners who aren’t aware of this, you basically check into this experience. And it’s all indoors inside a building. And for the most part, you don’t actually leave the building for the better part of two days. Do you think this is a fad sort of like theme hotels of the 1980s that some of us might remember? Or is this a sign of what vacation travel will look like in the future?

Brendon: I think it’s a sign. I mentioned that to my wife with a $5,000 U.S. price tag for the two nights and she’s like, “I’m in.” Hotels, I hate to say it, but have become too generic generally. You could be in a branded big box hotel anywhere in the world. And once you’re in the lobby, and once you’re in the room, you lose track of what country you’re actually in. Most of the chains come up with a lifestyle brand. The purpose of those is to offer experiences.

And it reminds me of a friend, Patrick Griffin, a legendary hotel here in the Australian market. And he was a general manager with Orient-Express Hotels and Trains for 19 years. He used to say to students, “All right, imagine a room probably no bigger than a walk-in wardrobe. It’s got two bunk beds in it and a sink in the corner. No toilet, no shower, that’s down the corridor and you actually share it with someone else. How much do you think we could charge guests for this per night?” Everybody’s going, “Nothing. It’s not even a backpackers.” And he said, “Try $2000 U.S per head per night.” And that is what the Orient-Express was charging and that’s many years ago. It’s the experience you’re paying for. And I think that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for experiences. Particularly as we come out of COVID, we’re going to see more experienced-based hotels

Robin: I think there’s really something to this because during lock downs around the world, we all went into our little bubble, if you will. And now to get people to go out and it’s particularly travel long haul, it’s really got to be worth getting on the plane or going through all of it to get there. I agree. Experience is a big thing. Brendon, I want to thank you so much for your time today. I realized in Australia, it’s probably quite late in the evening when we’re recording this. So we appreciate your time.

You’ve been listening to “The Innovative Hotelier Podcast,” brought to you by “HOTELS” magazine. Join us again soon for more up-to-the-minute insights and information specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry.

Brendon: Thank you, Robin.

Robin: You’ve been listening to “The Innovative Hotelier Podcast” by “HOTELS” magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders.