Hyatt is taking some fascinating initiatives to cater to a modern, high-tech audience—most notably, setting up eight properties as "lab hotels" throughout the world. Four of the hotels are in the U.S. and the rest are in cities like Dehli, Hong Kong and London. And it as at these hotels where John Prusnick, director of IT innovation and strategy, leads major IT experiments and initiatives,ComputerWorld recently reported.
At any time, there are seven to nine unique projects under way at the lab hotels, and IT spends no more than 90 days on any one idea. The projects that don't make the big time are chalked up to "return on experience" rather than ROI, Prusnick explains.
One of Hyatt's most successful ideas emerged from the business side and was put to the test in a lab hotel. Hyatt International's president announced that the company needed to change the way guests check in. The Rooms Operations team, together with IT, decided to get rid of the front desks and make every associate a "host." The IT team created a mobile tool to untether front desk staffers and allow them to move about the lobby and interact with guests in a more personal way. The iOS-based iPad application includes hardware for credit-card swiping and encoding room keycards. The lab trial was so successful that the company decided to expand the mobile solution even further.
Jonathan Frolich, the general manager at the Andaz 5th Avenue in New York, spoke out about the check-in initiatives in an interview for The Australian: "We reimagined the whole arrival and departure experience. Why do we need a front desk? We don't; we live in a wireless world and can do it on a tablet. We created the role of an Andaz host, combining the roles of doorman, concierge, front office and bell attendant. They greet you at the door, carry your bags, welcome you in, offer you a wine or coffee, or take you straight to your room if you are in a hurry. Guests love the one-to-one contact." Frolich has high praise for the lab hotel initiative: "We test ideas in real-life settings. It allows us to understand different cultures. We want it to be an intrinsic part of how we operate."
At the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago, meanwhile, mobile hosts are now stationed at the airport shuttle center, where they greet guests, check them in and issue room keys, which Prusnick says has been a "huge win" for customers and the hotel staff alike: Guests feel like VIPs, and the staff saves time by eschewing lines.
As the keeper of Hyatt's major innovation projects, Prusnick's biggest challenge is making sure everybody realizes that they're all on the same team, especially when other departments come up with innovative projects on their own and Prusnick has to intervene to make corrections or stop the project until the innovation team determines if it's really needed. "We're trying to introduce this culture of innovation," he adds. "That's everybody's job." The chain also works with third-party IT partners that "sometimes have brilliant ideas and wish to try them out," Prusnick says. "We give them a venue and opportunity to [try out new ideas], and they help to fund some of that effort."
And beyond these internal initiatives, some of the classic ways of getting guest feedback are still the best. "TripAdvisor is very powerful," Frolich says. "I have fully embraced it, along with other social media sites such as Twitter, Yelp...flyertalk.com, milepoint.com for frequent travelers. We encourage guests to write on TripAdvisor, we are on it every day and we don't shirk it. We reply to comments both good and bad so we can make it a conversation. The word respect is very important here…In research, we spoke to about 5,000 people around the world and what was overwhelming was customers said 'we are sick of going to a hotel of no personality and sick of being nickel-and-dimed with the minibar and WiFi.'"