“Having a good internet is more important than a good shower nowadays,” said Adrian Hardwick-Jones, VP of design & technical service at Centara Hotels & Resorts. “Good internet, good shower, and comfortable bed are the top three things hotel guests are looking for these days.”
Thailand’s hotel operator Centara Hotels & Resorts operates hotels, resorts, and residences throughout Thailand, as well as in other countries in Asia and the Middle East. It also runs hotels through management and joint venture agreements. Jones sat down with Computerworld Hong Kong to share the group’s digitalization and automation journey during the recent Aruba Atmosphere conference in Thailand.
Strengthening its core infrastructure including Wi-Fi connectivity, and the adoption of new technologies are part of Centara’s digitization and automation journey, according to Jones. The hotel group aims to eliminate laborious and time-consuming manual tasks, drive automation, and streamline processes, hence providing enhanced customer experiences.
Wireless network revamp
Hotel guests’ demands and expectations for connectivity have increased and changed rapidly. They now require Wi-Fi connectivity not only in rooms but also in the public areas in a hotel. In addition, the growth of video traffic on mobile devices in Thailand is on the rise. Jones said a Thai user watches more than four hours of video a day on average. A stable and wide range of connectivity is of utmost importance.
According to Jones, Centara had a challenge in the past—its old Wi-Fi infrastructure did not meet the needs and expectations of customers.
“Guests lost connectivity when they left their rooms and went to the public area such as going down to our swimming pool or to our landscape area,” he said. “We needed a strong network that has a complete coverage of our hotel area, is secured without interruptions, and cope with our guests’ needs in terms of usage and data quality.”
Centara decided to replace its network infrastructure across its 40 hotels in Thailand and overseas about three years ago. After a rigorous selection process, the hotel group chose Aruba. “We need performance, reliability, and security of our network,” he said. “Aruba is actually our business partner, which provides network hardware that is fit for our needs. The company is helpful in the whole process particularly on the network security front.”
The hotel group installed Aruba’s wireless network devices including Wi-Fi access points and routers in its own hotels in the first phase, then rolled out to its managed hotels. The whole deployment process took about 15 months for completion.
As a result, internet connectivity problem has gone down from the top one to the top 5 concerns for guests. “People still have issues about bandwidth speed but it’s nothing to do with infrastructure,” Jones said. “It’s a quite simple exercise now for us to increase that bandwidth at a very little cost.”
Personalized guest experiences
Aside from revamping its wireless network, Centara has also reengineered the processes throughout a guest experience journey including hotel booking, check-in and back office processes. In so doing, the group aims to bring a much personalized experience to every guest.
On the hotel booking front, the hotel group has started to accept WeChat Pay on its websites for online room reservations since this July. This allows Chinese customers to use their mobile phones and WeChat Pay to pay their hotels bills such as accommodation, restaurants, and spa treatments.
Centara is exploring the use of mobile check-in. A guest can do all the check-in on his mobile phone before he arrives at a hotel. “All you need to do is show your barcode at a self-service counter to have the room assigned to your booking,” he said.
“When you check in, all your details are already in our system,” he added. “Because we know who you are, your nationality, and your language, when you get to your room you can communicate with the TV in your language.”
Jones said the hotel group is discerning about the use of new technologies. He is more interested in the use of remote sensors than voice-activated assistants in hotel rooms. With remote sensors in place, room lights and air conditioning can be turned on or off automatically whenever a person opens or closes a door.
On the contrary, he sees more challenges in using voice-activated digital assistants in hotel rooms. He noted the issue of voice control is not just in languages and dialects but also in the right words to use. For example, the right word to turn on a light should be “switch on, illuminate or light up?” Every hotel room is different. “You just want the room light on or off. You don’t want to think what the right word is,” he said.
“Technology is just an enabler but it’s part of a business solution. If it doesn’t have a business objective and solution, we don’t do it just for the sake of using technologies,” he said.
Jones said the hotels group is planning to open 22 hotels in the coming three years, which are primarily located in Asia including China, Cambodia, Japan, Laos, Vietnam, as well as in the Middle East such as Dubai and Qatar.
He forecasts 15% growth in revenue over the next two years. “We’re in our fourth month of our whole infrastructure revolution in automation,” he said. “We see the sign and look to deliver it over a two-year growth period.”