Is the front office passe?
fnbworld bureau/Sadhana Gupta
The image that comes to mind when one thinks of a swanky hotel is that of a luxuriously decorated lobby with chandeliers, plush sofas and immaculate flower arrangements. On one side of the lobby is a reception desk manned by attractive, smiling front office staff busy checking in customers and handing them their keys.
There are several bellboys on hand at the concierge desk to assist the guest(s). Now visualize a hotel where there isn't a single employee at the front office. The customer enters the hotel by entering a code on the front door. The lobby has no front desk and no receptionists. The guest goes to his room, which has been assigned to him on the Internet when he has made his booking and enters his room using the same number code. Sounds like science fiction doesn't it? But such futuristic hotels have arrived in Finland and will in the not- so- distant future be found in many countries in the world as well.
These hotels are a reality today because there is greater connectivity due to the Internet and also because more people are increasingly using the net to make travel and hotel bookings. When you book and pay for your room online, you receive a booking confirmation, which includes your room number as well as your personal key code.
The door code is your key to the hotel's main entrance door as well as to your room during your entire stay. You can choose the door code yourself to make sure that you won't forget it. When you arrive at the hotel, you're probably tired. When you leave, you're most likely in a hurry. When you spend the night at these hotels, you can walk straight to your room - there's no need to queue at the reception in order to check in or out. Exclusive budget hotels like these provide value for most travellers except those who look for magnificence and luxurious special services.
These hotels may not offer the trappings of a fancy restaurant, health club and Spa or a beauty salon and other such services but they certainly can hold their own in comparison with expensive hotels as far as the room size and amenities are concerned. Hotels could save a great deal of money on manpower and this could mean competitive rates all through the year. Also as less space is needed prime real estate in the centre of town could be purchased and still offered at a lower price. The hotel guest would be happier with the central location and lower tariffs. In India as in the rest of the world, entrepreneurs and business executive are travelling all the time.
Also most people look forward to a short holiday away from home, whether for a weekend or for a longer duration. Newspapers are full of advertisements about 7 day getaways to Malaysia, Singapore, the Maldives etc. Cheaper air travel has meant that more people can afford to visit distant places, which would have earlier been dream destinations. In Europe, for example, there are several airlines like Ryan Air that offer air travel at a fraction of the cost of the major airlines. This is possible because they receive all there bookings on the net.
The savings in terms of salaries, processing costs, maintaining sales offices, offering meals on board flights et al has meant that they can offer inexpensive fares and yet make substantial profits. Currently there are two hotels run by the Omena Hotels in Finland that are functioning successfully with an automated Front Office. They offer rooms at 55 Euros and the room can comfortably accommodate upto four guests.
Finland is one of the most expensive places in Europe and to get accommodation at such a low cost per person is only possible because they save on employee salaries and commission to travel agencies. But alongside cheaper airfares, it is imperative that such hotels be made more affordable without compromising on the standards not just in the low season but all round the year.
The staggering Indian hospitality industry can only prosper if it exceeds the expectations of the customer in terms of quality of the room offered including, of course, room service at an affordable price. In India, Information technology support is easily available and hence it must be efficiently used to cut costs and provide value and satisfaction for money to the customer. The industry must wake up to world reality. The time is now!