Hotel Brands Turn to Text, Emojis to Keep Pace With Changing Needs

NATIONAL REPORT—Sometimes the newest technology isn’t always the best. While text messaging has been around for more than 20 years, many brands are turning to the SMS (short messaging service) concept to achieve simplicity in their interactions with guests.

“Technology will continue to play a huge role in our industry in the upcoming years. SMS technology, powered by humans, allows for more personalization and more surprise and delight moments. It just allows us as hotel operators to take all of the friction out of the travel experience,” said Niki Leondakis, CEO, Commune Hotels & Resorts.

Commune Hotels & Resorts, owner of the Thompson, Alila and Joie de Vivre brands, partnered with CheckMate to launch its personalized communication service, or, as we know it, texting. Guests using the service can check in, request a room upgrade, receive notifications when their room is ready, order a car service or ask for restaurant recommendations all via text messaging. No app download is required.

“SMS technology makes it so easy to connect to guests in a way they want to connect, and it will play a much bigger role in the future. We’re going to see a much greater interaction with our guest on SMS technology. There are other industries moving faster than we are, but we’ll see that it’s helping us connect and meet the individual needs of our guests better. Certainly, in the boutique and lifestyle segment, that’s critical,” said Leondakis.

While Commune’s move to texting is an effort to personalize the guest experience, Aloft aims to deliver new technology and services to its early adopter guests in the form of emojis—digital icons used to depict an object or an emotion, among other things.

“Our guests are hyper-connected, hyper-curious and hyper-communal—even when on the go. We already offer fast and free WiFi and keyless entry, which allows guests to open their guestroom with their smartphone, to more than 100 Alofts around the world. We even have robotic butlers. In fact, we have a team of dreamers at Aloft who spend their days and nights testing new gadgets and dreaming up concepts for us to pilot. Some ideas are inspired by pop culture, while others trend in consumer behavior, like emojis,” said Paige Francis, VP, global brand management, Aloft Hotels.

Using emojis to communicate with guests is just one way to inject fun into the hotel stay and make it memorable, according to the company. Aloft has curated emoji kits as a way to proactively service the needs of guests.

“Emojis are ubiquitous right now. Everyone I know uses them both in personal and professional communications, so why shouldn’t our guests be able to use them during their stay with us? Sometimes, after a long flight, you just want a candy bar but you don’t want to talk to another human being. So, you send us a text, and we will bring you a Snickers,” said Francis. “We chose the emoji kits based on what our guests ask for the most—like a phone charger—and we also wanted to made kits fun and applicable to the local area, such as the Sightseer, which includes a map of New York City, a MetroCard, etc.”

Coming down the pike, Aloft will expand the emoji menu at other properties throughout Europe and Asia, according to Francis. “Our guests are always connected, even while traveling. The emoji menu is just another way for us to interact with our guests in a way that they are used to communicating on a daily basis—through text message,” she said.

For hotel brands, continuous development and research will be key as technology is rapidly changing, and so are the interests and demands of guests. “We are constantly testing new ways to interact with our guests, whether via text or app, and are even coming up with new ways to integrate technology into our guest experience. We look at the latest tech trends and think ahead to develop not only what guests will want in their hotel stay, but what they will need,” said Francis.

Corris Little