What’s the impact of COVID-19 on the North American hospitality industry and how are hotels planning to recover?
What’s top of mind right now is being able to provide touchless technology to ensure customers feel comfortable, while still providing the same quality of customer experience. Mobile apps are a huge trend—they’re touchless and safe for guests, and can help hotels maintain or even exceed the customer experience. Hotels now need to integrate their backend communication systems to enable this, but each integration requires customization and is specific to each property.
COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of having extensions twinned to external numbers or cell numbers, so staff working from home can still answer calls. Ideally a hotel should have access to a SIP portal to easily forward and cancel forwarding for individual direct inward dialling numbers to a central reservations centre, the general manager and various staff.
What are some of the unique challenges faced by the hospitality industry?
Hospitality customers need reliable solutions and confidence that their suppliers have experience to ensure the guest service never suffers and reservation calls are never missed. Plus, with the importance of 911, losing phone connectivity isn’t an option. In some jurisdictions, legislation is coming on board that requires panic buttons, so hotels want a phone solution that’s flexible and future-proof.
What should new hotels take into consideration?
Franchised hotels have certain requirements that need to be met. Allstream, as a Mitel partner, has some of the most respected solutions in the hospitality sector and can help determine the right version of phone system and voicemail, guestroom phones, cabling infrastructure design and call accounting to ensure brand acceptance.
Whenever possible you want to look at the whole picture. If you can take advantage of SIP phones in guestrooms instead of traditional analog phones, you could significantly reduce cabling costs—because the phone system often costs less than the cabling.
One CAT6 cable to the room could support a SIP phone, Internet access and TV, so that’s one cable versus four, which is a huge savings if you can plan correctly ahead of time. It’s also important to make sure cabling is designed correctly—otherwise you can waste thousands of dollars, which for a new hotel could be quite costly.
What about multiple buildings or brands?
Another trend in hospitality is to have more than one hotel or brand on the same piece of land, where you might have two hotel brands with the same general manager, sales staff and managers for housekeeping and maintenance. For internal and guest calls, you want to make sure you have the ability to call between those sites.
Allstream’s Hospitality Cloud Voice, for example, allows you to do this with either an all-cloud solution for scalable communication or a hybrid option to enhance existing infrastructure. You also need to take into account 911 addressing for each site.
How do 911 services fit in?
You need to make sure you have 911 notification for each individual property. In a large campus or resort setting, it could also be beneficial to have 911 addressing information for different areas, such as the hotel, versus the spa, versus the golf course. With timeshare units, there’s no point in emergency personnel showing up at the front desk when the guests are located one kilometre away. Hotels that have international travellers should also try and offer translation services for 911 calls.
In some parts of the U.S. like New Jersey, Washington and parts of California, laws have come into effect that require hotels to provide portable panic buttons to hospitality staff, and more cities have pending initiatives. I imagine that hotels will eventually have panic button systems tied into the phone system, so you want to make sure your solution will be flexible enough to accommodate that if possible.
What about a retrofit of an existing property?
Usually a retrofit means continuing to provide analog phones in guestrooms. Aside from upgrading those phones with USB ports, charging cables and Bluetooth connections, another consideration would be SIP trunks—which is part and parcel of a hosted cloud solution.
Even without buying a new phone system, hotels could potentially save money through the use of SIP trunking. One major concern that hotels have with SIP is its availability in the event of an Internet outage, so support for SIP over cellular has become an expected capability for most hotels.
Should hotels consider SIP phones that work over Wi-Fi?
Hotels today have great Wi-Fi coverage in their guestrooms, and there are SIP phones that can work over the Wi-Fi and don’t require a CAT5 or CAT6 connection. That’s huge, since you don’t have to worry about running a secondary cable or even main voice cable in the room, which can be costly to do after the fact.
With SIP phones, support can be more cumbersome than analog phones because it’s much more technical, so it’s strongly recommended the hotel have a maintenance agreement in place and access to 24×7 technicians.
How does hosted hospitality work?
Hosted hospitality provides scalable telephony functions, such as voicemail, as a monthly service. There are different variations of the solution, depending on the amount of equipment installed onsite. Solutions can be tailored to meet the customer’s and brand requirements. Allstream’s hosted hospitality solution, for example, uses industry-leading Mitel technology that consolidates and simplified communication solutions across multiple properties.
What are some up-and-coming trends in hospitality communications?
As mentioned earlier, cutting costs with SIP trunking is important, but call quality and reliability can’t suffer for the savings. SIP trunks should whenever possible be supported with multiple Internet accesses and/or LTE backup.
Another trend is to offer texting capability as a guest service. Instead of calling the front desk for help, guests can send a text. But there are other options that can be less expensive such as setting up a chat capability from the hotel’s splash page so guests can chat with guest services.
Another trend we’re seeing is hotels providing mobile phones for hotel admin staff. For this, you need to consider the size of the property and the coverage required—we can offer long-range 900 MHz phones that have great coverage for most buildings, as well as mobile apps for smartphone users.
What else should hotels be considering?
Hotels operate 24×7, so they need to work with a partner they can trust and can respond 24×7. In a perfect world, the system would be monitored so problems could be fixed before they even receive a guest complaint or miss a reservation. There are a lot of nuances to an installation for a hotel, so you want to go with a company that has expertise in hospitality.
Find out more about Allstream’s cloud and hybrid hospitality solutions.