At Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur, technology is ubiquitous. It is invisible to the numerous guests that throng in and out one of the busiest hotels in Malaysia.
The 720-room hotel, which opened in April 1985, enjoys an average occupancy rate of 75% all year round in addition to hosting numerous conventions, breakfast meetings and exhibitions at its function rooms, as well as catering to banquets held by the royal palaces of Perak, Perlis and Selangor.
According to its General Manager David Wilson, the Shangri-La relies on user-friendly technology to provide the best solution. “In fact, simpler technology is able to solve our service-related problems better,” he added.
Wilson pointed out that hoteliers are deluged by new technology and often there is an immediate tendency to rush and embrace them all. The golden rule of thumb for Wilson is choosing technology that is useful.
The Shangri-La uses technology primarily in offering guest services and as an extension of its marketing efforts. With IT tools, hoteliers such as Wilson have been able to up the ante on collecting specific customer information to create new products.
“Today, some of the technology we are putting in place will enable us to get very detailed profile on our guests,” he said, adding that the compilation process is not limited to stay-in guests but also customers using other facilities offered by the hotel.
“Some of the tools we are introducing now will give us the ability to find out how people spend on food. For instance, for our restaurants, we will be able to track food and beverage consumption of our guests, by each individual, down to the preferred type of food and wine. With that information, we can build up quite a useful database.”
Getting personal is an essential part of Shangri-La’s charter as the hotel tries to understand guests’ demands without compromising privacy. Managing a relationship with each and every guest is indeed a Herculean task for a business entity that runs around the clock.
Service management technology was introduced in the area of guest services. Together with systems integrator—Jurudata Services, the hotel had a system tailor-made to match its needs.
The joint development resulted in the Winpac communication centre system that is designed to resolve operational problems and weaknesses such as inconsistent service, decentralised communications, lack of service tracking, high staff turnover and inefficient service guarantee that plague the hospitality business.
The system acts as a guest relationship building tool to the hotel and keeps track of all guest requests. Every request is logged and monitored from the time the guest made a request to the time the request is fulfilled.
“For instance, if a guest needs a new blanket or pillow to be sent to the room, he will call our service centre—the hub for all requisitions—to make his request. The call is recorded and relayed through a rotation system to a pager carried by the valet or chambermaid in charge at that time. Once the valet gets the job number via the pager, he has to deliver the blanket within an allocated time,” Wilson said, adding that standards set for jobs done include the process and time taken to complete a task.
After the job is done, the valet has to punch his code in via the pager to notify the call centre that the job is completed. The hotel management is able to track the status of every request in real time from a desktop PC.
The track-and-fulfil system also offers the hotel invaluable customer data, allowing it to generate management reports to indicate the frequency and type of requests. These reports allow the hotel to plan, improve and organise services and manpower resources effectively.
“At the end of the week, all the data is compiled and report generated, and that gives us an indication of how successful we were in delivering services within the specified time frame,” said Wilson.
The hotel has seen improvements in guest services since the system was introduced in October last year. A healthy 43% of its visitors comprising largely corporate customers are return guests; holiday-makers are also among its frequent guestlist.
Having improved the back-end business, the hotel is now underway with the US$26.3 million renovation works that began last month. The six-month upgrade will see new rooms, restaurants, clubs and a bigger lobby.
Come February next year, guests are set to enjoy more privileges such as wireless connectivity. New rooms will be equipped with remote keyboards and Category 5 cabling, offering high-speed Internet access. The hotel’s butler service will also be fully computerised through its e-concierge program.
“Other technology that will be introduced include allowing hotel staff to find out if a room is occupied by merely scanning a card on the door panel. Such ‘invisible’ technology is effective as it is discreet and allows us to offer seamless and unobstructive service,” said Wilson.
In the pipeline are plans to set up an in-house cybercafe and cheaper Internet access.
“For starters, we are negotiating with telecommunications providers such as Maxis to put a base station here, so that our guests are able to retrieve phone signals from the penthouse right down to the basement car park .”
On the marketing front, Wilson acknowledged that the Internet has allowed the hotel to communicate directly with its clients. Promotions, special offers and announcements are among the information that is sent to its customers via e-mail all over the world.
To date, 15% of the room reservations are done online from almost nothing five years ago. “Guests who book directly online will also be able to access our e-concierge via e-mail to plan their holiday itinerary.”
The ability to nurture relationship is fast becoming an asset at Shangri-La, as the management team discovers ways to tap into the wealth stored within its huge customer database. Marrying the Internet with databases has also yielded a profitable, interactive and personalised direct relationship with each and every hotel guest.
By matching the information with the specific needs of each individual, Wilson added that guests are reciprocating as they will also take the initiative to inform the hotel of any shortcoming or introduce new ideas that will be of benefit to one and all.
“This networked relationship has value. It offers great capital to us. There will be more interaction between the market and the hotel because of the Internet, and it will come a time where the customers own the ground and will be telling us more of what they want rather than us telling them what we have.”
Anita Devasahayam can be reached at email@example.com
More on the hospitality industry: intelligentasia.com/hospitality