For years, luxury hotels have competed for guests enticing them with glamorous decor, rooms with a view and premium services. However, as technology becomes an increasingly important part of everyday life, it is imperative that hotel owners and operators adopt the right changes to provide for the needs of today's more technologically savvy and demanding guests.
From a swift and hassle-free check-in at the front desk to the sophisticated yet intuitive stereo system in the guest room, the wise and efficient use of technology is central in enhancing service excellence and promoting guest satisfaction. At Langham Hotels International, this responsibility falls on the shoulders of Perry Lai, vice president of the group's information technology department. "Customer relationship management is a priority in this industry. My mission is to deliver personalised services through the use of advanced technology to meet the expectations of our guests," says Mr Lai.
The importance of technology and the standard at which it is implemented varies from hotel to hotel, depending primarily on each individual property's market positioning and clientele. This is particularly important to the group's Langham Place brand and the hotel group prides itself on providing cutting-edge technology in its establishments. The next challenge is to ensure the ease of use stimulating stay for guests.
"The use of technology in a hotel should be a seamless and intuitive experience," Mr Lai stresses. "For example, it would be ideal if a guest could put an iPod into a dock and see the images on the wide screen without having to switch on another device in the comfort of his or her room. Our next step is to incorporate these high-tech elements into the hotel design and operation and make each area, from the guest room to the entertainment centre, a natural and integral part of our guests' experience."
In addition, Mr Lai is currently building a central database containing detailed guest information which will be available to all the hotels in the group's global network. By making use of the information in this database, the hotel will then be able to customise specific guest's experience from the kind of pillow they prefer to any allergies they may have.
Room for creativity
Currently a crucial part of Mr Lai's job is to design a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure to support the company's growth potential. This involves working with different departments within the hotel to explore ways in which they can introduce new technology into the hotel's amenities and services. "This gives me a lot of room for creativity," says Mr Lai, who was promoted to his current position in June this year.
Prior to joining Langham Hotels, Mr Lai was a system architect for a financial service provider in Australia. He joined the telecommunication industry as a management consultant upon his return to Hong Kong in 1994.
"We must filter our insights through a guest's perspective"
Throughout his career at Langham Hotels International, the greatest satisfaction comes from witnessing how he has made a difference to the hotel's operation. "Before I arrived, the group's customer relationship management system was still manually operated. Now it's fully automated," says Mr Lai. "Every morning, I see the staff access the information with ease and know that my work will grow together with the company."
He emphasises that the group values creativity in employees. Mr Lai says, "We're looking for young people who have a good attitude and who are eager to learn and achieve. They must also be able to think out of the box."
The group offers a management trainee programme to fresh graduates. During the two-year period, candidates work in various departments, which can include IT, finance and marketing, to explore their interests and develop their business mindset. For trainees who subsequently join the IT department, the bulk of their role will revolve around strategic planning and management. They will be assigned projects early on so as to develop leadership potential.
Mr Lai advises young candidates who wish to launch a career in the hospitality industry to sign up with a hotel that offers substantial training, particularly in project management as this will help them to gain an edge over their mainland counterparts. "These days, most programming assignments are outsourced to China," Mr Lai says. "Our competitive edge lies in our management skills, international exposure and business sense."
As for recent IT graduates, Mr Lai advises them to sharpen their communication and presentation skills. "You must also be able to present technology and ideas simply and in an appealing manner," Mr Lai concludes. "Our job is to add comfort and convenience to every guest's stay. Therefore, we must filter our insights through a guest's perspective."