Hotels looking to improve hospitality may want to start with upgrading their app features before training their staff.

Hilton Worldwide, Virgin Hotels and Marriott International Inc. are three hotel brands that are investing in mobile to better cater to guests.

Virgin Hotels, which opened its first location in Chicago in January, launched its Lucy app about a week before the hotel opened. Instead of using the Virgin brand for the app, it decided to attach the name and personality “Lucy” to the app, says Doug Carillo, vice president of sales and marketing at Virgin Hotels.

“We just love the name Lucy,” Carillo says. “It has great connotations. It’s sassy, it’s smart, it’s illuminating.”

The app has been downloaded 3,580 times, and 40% of hotel guests have used it. About 30% of guests use the app while in the hotel, Virgin says.

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The app allows guests to check in, control the thermostat, order room service and request additional items, such as extra towels. Guests can also use the app as a TV remote control to change the channel or order movies. Ordering room service and temperature adjustment are the most popular features in the app, Carillo says.

Requests made in the app are routed to the appropriate department, such as the kitchen for room service or housekeeping for towels. General requests go to a central command center  and are then routed to the proper department.

Since the app launched, Virgin has made some changes based on customer feedback, such as eliminating steps when ordering room service and offering options for how a guest wants his eggs cooked.

Since guests can also book a room in the app, Virgin made sure the design of the app was consistent with its website. Virgin created its website using responsive design, which adapts the look of a website to the device the traveler is using. Virgin invested just less than $1 million to build the app, Carillo says.

Guests can check in to the hotel in three ways. The first is the traditional way at the front desk, which takes about two minutes when there is no line. Carillo says. The second, mobile check-in, takes less than 30 seconds, he says. Before a guest arrives at the hotel she receives an email and she can tap it to check in. She is then given a QR code. At the hotel she  scans her QR code at a kiosk in the lobby area, confirms who she is and the kiosk dispenses room keys. Guests can also request additional room keys at the kiosk. The third option allows a guest to check in at the lobby kiosk without a QR code. In that case the kiosk prompts the guest with questions, such as who she is and the method of payment, before dispensing room keys.  8% of guests check in with mobile devices, Carillo says.

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Virgin is encouraging guests to download the Lucy app on its website, via email and through signs in the rooms. Employees also let guests know about it, Carillo says.

“From Apple Watch to the iPhone, consumers command a lot of their life decisions through their devices and we are able to offer that up,” Carillo says.

In the future, Virgin hopes to integrate voice command into the app so travelers can ask Lucy for service requests, much like iPhone users ask Siri questions, Carillo says. Virgin is also hoping to give Lucy a voice to speak back to travelers, imbuing her with more personality.

Another hotel company, Hilton Worldwide, is using digital check-inthat enables guests to reserve the exact room they want to stay in. To use this feature, guests have to be in Hilton’s loyalty program, Hilton HHonors. At 6 a.m. before the day of a booked stay, a traveler can sign in and choose his preferred room from a listing of floor plan maps and pictures. This feature is available at 4,000 Hilton properties, which includes brands such as Double Tree, Embassy Suites, and Conrad Hotel and resorts.

Marriott also recently launched what it calls Mobile Request for its 50 million Marriot Rewards members. The feature lets travelers request a car to pick them up at the airport or send extra towels up to the room via its mobile app. During a testing period, 80% of the 10,000 Mobile Requests made by guests were for the two-way chat option called “Anything Else?” that lets guests chat with Marriot staff who can fulfill and confirm other items. The program launched at 46 hotels and will be available at all 500 Marriott properties by the summer.

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Marriott’s desktop, mobile and app offerings ranked No. 14 with a score of 78.6% on eDigitalResearch’s eTravel Multichannel Benchmark survey released in April. Score were out of 100%. EDigitalResearch, a research and digital technology company, surveyed 1,080 U.K. consumers who booked on the travel sites. Hilton ranked No. 17 with a score of 75.6%. Booking.com and Hotels.com ranked Nos. 1, with 83.0%, and 2, with 82.6%, respectively. A mix of 18 hotels, airlines and online travel agencies were polled.

 

Follow mobile business journalist April Dahlquist, associate editor, mobile, at Mobile Strategies 360, @Mobile360April

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