Business Hotel Chains Use Tech To Cut Costs, Keep Customers

Rohit Arora, regional director of leisure sales for the Apeejay Surrendra Group’s The Park Hotels chain, says he can’t even imagine how his business operated a decade go.

“Everything used to be on paper,” says Arora of the six-hotel chain. “Everything used to be on registers. If one register was missing, the hotel used to be on fire. Everything about the guest was on that register.”

Checking out of the The Park hotel in New Delhi would take seven or eight minutes back then. Now, with investments in technology in the crores over the past decade in the company’s hotels, it’s usually down to about two minutes.

Thanks to investments in technology, The Park hotels keep an updated profile on computer network on each guest with their preferences for rooms, food and beverages, not just at one hotel but across the chain’s network.

“Whenever the customer makes any comment it’s attached to a profile,” said Arora.

Technology is playing an increasingly important role in Indian hotels catering to the modern business traveller, such as The Park hotels, which have 80% of their traffic coming from that segment of consumers.

Whether in accounting, marketing, pricing or other facets of hotel operations, hotel chains that have collectively pledged billions to set up properties in India to cater to business travellers, are placing a high emphasis on technology. That’s helping them reduce costs, cut down on manpower needs, make life easier for their licensees, and market themselves in India and overseas.

Sanjay Sethi, CEO and managing director of Berggruen Hotels Pvt. Ltd, agrees: “We’re trying to spend that little bit extra” for “error free and seamless interaction” in the company’s upcoming budget and midmarket chain, Keys Hotels. Keys hopes to have at least 38 hotels operational in India by early 2012 at a cost of Rs1,100 crore.

Sethi says that despite having to make big investments, technology can help cut costs, especially by reducing manpower requirements; and cater to a new breed of customers that “are happy to avoid…human contact in select (settings).”

For example, he said, by installing a “self check-in kiosk” in each of its hotels, Keys Hotels can “reduce pressure on the front desk, maybe reducing one person in every hotel in every shift.” The result, he added, is that the company is able to hire 100 less people, cutting down on employee costs and the need to find skilled workers during a manpower crunch for the entire industry.

Each Keys Hotel will have to spend “Rs25-30 lakh” on hardware in a one time fixed cost and about Rs10 lakh per year for operating licences, said Sethi.

Arora too says that across The Park hotel chain, they have been able to cut labour needs by up to 25% per hotel through the use of technology from 10 years ago. Between the manpower cuts, the reduction in use of paper, the switchover from faxes to email, and other steps enabled by greater use of technology, The Park New Delhi has been able to cut costs at least 40% from a decade back, he said.

“Technology allows our customers to cruise through their entire ‘stay’ experience, both prior to arrival at and while in the hotel, with minimal human intervention,” said Prabhat Pani, CEO of Roots Corp Ltd, the subsidiary of The Indian Hotels Co Ltd that is setting up the budget chain Ginger hotels, in an email.

Arora, however, says that in some ways, it’s only the ways in which the business traveller’s needs are met that has changed. Some 10 years ago, he said, a business traveller needing to send a letter to the government would want someone to take down a letter, type it up, and send it off. Now, he says, the traveller would print it out from his laptop—but the hotel must still provide the way to get it done.

“The needs are no different—but they are being (serviced) differently,” he said.

Perry Patel, who is assisting Best Western International Inc.’s India master licensee, Cabana Hotel Management Pvt Ltd., with technology solutions, says hotels are using technology to manage revenues by matching demand and supply and setting room rates in advance. This helps them maximize profits.

Raman Mohan, senior vice-president of sales & marketing of Dawnay, Day Hotels India Pvt Ltd, currently setting up a business traveller-focused chain in India, agrees with Arora and other hoteliers that “it is important to be up-to-date with globally accepted te-chnology needs and solutions, (but the)… hospitality business is still all about people.”