Most companies that have successfully deployed technology at the workplace are more than pleased to talk of their feat. Yet players in the hospitality industry treat the integration of technology as a given. Hotels have been running businesses on a 24 x 7 schedule--a norm for them and yet a trendy practice for new economy companies today. But technology, more often than not, remains behind the scene as the chef’s latest dessert, guest loyalty programmes or holiday packages available, are priorities to be promoted and crowed about.
The Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel is no exception when it comes to nurturing the spirit to serve among its staff members.
When asked to speak on the impact of technology on the industry, general manager Robert Frager was quick to point out that consistently serving people well is the core of the business. Pampering patrons is the order of the day with the computing systems humming quietly in the background to keep the cogs moving.
“Though the industry was late to jump on the IT bandwagon, it was quick to realise that IT is something that it cannot do without. With computers at the workplace, we can channel the energies of our human resources to other areas,” he said.
The notebook-toting hotelier is diligent in merging technology and service factors to create a delightful experience for each and every hotel guest. The Austrian-born is no stranger to computers, having been exposed to technology 20 years ago. Groomed on a diet of DOS (desktop operating system) to the present day graphical generated interface, Frager began using a laptop computer in the late 1980s.
“At that time, I was using a laptop for data gathering and generating reports. When the ‘Net came along, the laptop became part of my travelling kit as I used it for e-mail communication,” he recalled.
Having tasted the power of technology, Frager knows how computers can be used to improve productivity. “We are in a heavy human resource-based industry and rely greatly on manpower to get the job done. However, finding and keeping people are not the simplest of activities and so we turn to technology for automation.”
The Renaissance, which opened its doors for business in June 1996, is part of the Marriott International Group that manages over 2000 properties in 13 brands worldwide. Located in the city centre of Kuala Lumpur, the hotel is branded as an upscale entity providing total service accommodation to business travellers and group meetings.
The hotel has a hi-tech infrastructure in place with many processes that are computerised. The local area network is also connected to the global network for external communications.
Despite encountering the currency crisis a year after starting business, the hotel has enjoyed a fairly good run with the majority of its business coming from repeat business.
High Touch, Low Cost
Among the computerised processes include the front-end systems such as check-in counters, food outlets that are connected to the heart of the system--accounting, telephone and human resource system. Each staff has a smart card that tracks the person’s identity, personal details and hours clocked on the job.
Hotel guests also get to enjoy their bit of technology with, among others, security cameras, electronic room key locks, room temperature sensors and high speed Internet connection in each room.
In the past, the daily reconciliation task at each outlet would include manually gathering sales chits, noting it down and counter balancing them against the cash register records.
“It was tedious work and needed cashiers, clerks and night auditors to complete one task. Automating the entire chain shortened the process to one that can be completed by one person,”
Another area where hoteliers have benefited from technology is at the front desk. Frager said that shifting part of the responsibility over to the machines eased the burden as a guest’s personal information, once keyed into the system, can be retrieved upon each visit.
“The amount of space needed to store customer information is now reduced from stacks of paper to a few kilobytes. The search mechanism used to pull out that information is faster because it is automated. We save time, and can now do it faster with less people.”
As the IT culture imbues the current generation of workers, the use of technology at the workplace has become a given, said Frager, adding that workers tend to associate technology with their jobs. “This allows us to convert productivity to benefit the customers.”
He pointed at the airlines industry as an example of a profitable business that has leveraged on technology to improve service efficiency and has achieved good returns on investment.
Yet another benefit of technology was the adoption of a global reservation system that links the hotel chain to travel agents and airlines, allowing hotel guests to place a booking from any part of the world and receive an immediate confirmation to their request.
Promotions also reach the clientele faster as flyers can be created instantaneously with tools available on the computer. In fact, the guest loyalty programme that is tied to airlines and credit card companies available at the hotel chain is reputed to be one of the best worldwide.
Through the parent company’s Web site, Marriott.com clients can see for themselves what is on and where. Other advantages include one-time registration profile on the Web site for reservations. Marriott.com also offers tailor made Web page content and e-mail to each guest that registers online. The information provided is secured and can be changed or terminated by the customer whenever he pleases.
Nearly three-quarters of the hotel chain’s total Internet bookings are generated online. The site receives over three million visits monthly. According to Frager, worldwide bookings from the ‘Net is doubling annually.
“The ‘Net will continue to become sophisticated. Who knows, one day, check-in counters will become smaller or completely disappear when our customers’ room keys are programmed into their credit cards instead.”
He added that express check-outs will adopt a new meaning when customers’ tab are automatically deducted from the credit card when electronic signatures become standard practice.
However, Frager is also quick to point out that technology has its downside, chiefly as a driving factor. “It forces you to be efficient even if it does help generate business better and faster.”
He added that despite the efficiency forced upon them, the 900-strong hotel staff do appreciate the benefits as paperwork is diminished to minimal. A bulk of the correspondence is reduced through e-mail communication. “We do see a positive effects on technology.”
Spirit to Serve
Given the high attrition rate associated to the long and often gruelling hours in the hospitality industry, creating fringe benefits are crucial to maintaining staff. “Here we offer our associates opportunities to advance by constantly teaching them new skills and providing training. They also get to work in a fancy building that is comfortable and they are exposed to guests from all over the world.”
By providing a warm and hospitable environment, Frager believes that the staff will do their jobs well. “If we take care of our employees, they will in turn, take care of our customers,” he said.
He added that it had been proven as the hotel chain has experienced a low turnover rate with staff members staying between 15 to 25 years with the company.
Frager also cautioned against getting caught up with technology as hotels may suffer and lose sight of their core business. “Automation is a good thing but power of human interaction is undeniable.”
Being in the business of creating a memorable experience through service, Frager emphasised the importance of the human element in negotiating a customer’s stay at the hotel. Over the years, hotels have evolved from clinical environments to homely presence. “This is what our customers want and as they become more sophisticated, they expect more of their homes in the hotel.”
Given that most of the mundane processes are automated, paying attention to details makes the difference at the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur.