Ahead of speaking at The Caterer's Recovery Summit next week, the group services operations manager at Edwardian Hotels London speaks to Caroline Baldwin about technology innovation in the world of hospitality.
How has technology changed hospitality in recent years?
I firmly believe that the world has changed – we are spending much more time online and on our devices. Rather than disrupting the world of hospitality, technology has allowed hospitality to adapt to this new way of communicating, supporting us to interact with our guests in the way that they want. Chatting to someone live online to help you chose the room best for you, texting an information desk for the nearest car park, WhatsApping concierge for information on the latest restaurant to dine at – everything is now designed to be easy as possible, with everything at your fingertips.
Technology has allowed hospitality to adapt to this new way of communicating, supporting us to interact with our guests in the way that they want
In addition, our pre-arrival communication, data management and new methods of data acquisition have allowed us to be a lot smarter with our approach to guests. For example, before you arrive, we are able to find out how firm your like your pillows, what time you would like your room servicing, know that you need gluten-free bread for breakfast and what you might be doing during your stay. All of this allows for a more intuitive, non-invasive approach to servicing our guests, enabling an even greater level of personalisation in service.
Tell us a little bit about your foray into technology and your chatbot. Why did you decide to offer this as a service?
Our chatbot is designed to respond to those guests who may prefer not to interact with us directly. Edward is our virtual host and he is designed in a way that mimics a real-life interactive experience. You can ask him for extra towels to be sent to your room, ask him what the weather will be like tomorrow – you can even ask him to tell you a joke. The interaction is so seamless that we have some guests wanting to tip ‘Edward' as they believe he is a real person!
Do you worry that technology can, in some cases, replace that all-important human element of hospitality?
If used in the right way, I would say definitely not. Working in luxury hospitality, there is a huge expectation on service delivery and the technology is there to support that, not replace it. We have been able to automate many of our procedures and processes, alleviating a lot of the administrative tasks so that our focus is instead on delivering unique experiences to our guests.
We can now digitally track our guests' likes, dislikes and preferences, which previously would have been a manual activity. If you have stayed with us before and requested sparkling water instead of still water in your room, Edward will message the team in advance of your arrival, reminding us to place sparkling water in the room.
What are some of the cleverest innovations you've seen outside your immediate day-to-day?
I'm interested in the opportunity for having a ‘smart room', where guests can control every aspect of their room from their phone – from setting personal room preferences like what music you'd like playing, how high you'd like the heating or timing the blinds to open with your wake-up call. We have dipped our toe into this world, and I feel there is so much potential for more innovation. Imagine a moment in time where a guest could return to the comfort and luxury of their room to a freshly run bath that they'd ordered en route!
Join The Caterer's virtual Recovery Summit on 30 March to hear from Chiplin alongside Tommy Banks, chef-director of the Black Swan, Dishoom's managing director Brian Trollip and many more.
For the full agenda and to reserve your free place, click here.
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