Interview | Tahlia Edwards (NEXT Hotels)

Michael (TLF) caught up with Tahlia Edwards, the wonderful Guest Relations Executive at NEXT Hotels.  She gave us some insight into how technology and innovation are necessary in the hotel industry.NEXT-logoWhat challenges have the traditional hotel chains faced with technology and responding to a more globalised market?  How is NEXT Hotels addressing these challenges?Traditional hotels have actually thrived in globalised markets.  Take the Hilton Hotel for example - no matter where you travel in the world you know what to expect when you check-in to a Hilton.  It offers a familiarity and consistency in the globalised market.  It also means hotels can build strong contracts with global companies and provide accommodation to employees wherever they need to travel for work.Technology on the other hand definitely challenges traditional hotels.  Their brand structure, policies and procedures all tend to be rolled out on a global scale, so updating these is a big task and involves training a large number of staff.  Simple things like credit card technology and the collection of guest's details tend to still be done the 'traditional' way - this is why you find the big hotel chains still require guests to fill out physical registration forms at check-in and won't receive credit card details over phone or email.It's important to remember as well that technology is changing rapidly and it does become quite costly to keep up.  It's fine to upgrade your personal phone when the next iPhone is released but doing this in each of your 300 rooms hotels is not always practical.  If a hotel decides to be a 'tech hotel' then it needs to continually be at the forefront of innovation.  Here at NEXT we like to think of ourselves as always working in 'Beta mode'.  We continually update our in-room devices, our app and our procedures - it's a big investment on our part but it's how we position ourselves.  Some guests love the technology and others are a little more hesitant.Is Airbnb providing disruption to the corporate or leisure hotel industry?Definitely more so to the leisure market.  Our corporate guests tend to travel regularly and more often will stay in the one hotel due to company policy and compliance.  Corporate travellers prefer familiarity and consistency and it becomes almost a base for them and their colleagues.  Corporate clients also have expense claim policies and chargeback requests which Airbnb cannot meet (just yet!).  For leisure travellers, Airbnb definitely provides a 'local experience' rather than your normal corporate hotel stay.  We think there's definitely a market for both.  Some people love the traditional hotel stay and the stereotypes that come with it.What technology is being used by NEXT Hotels to increase efficiency and the general guest experience?Our check-ins are done by our NEXT Assistant staff member who roams the lobby with tablets - this sees them come out from behind the desk and offer a more personable experience rather thank a bank teller feel.  Our check-in process is actually quite seamless with no registration cards or address collection - this gives our staff more time to focus on the service aspects.  Once our guests are up in their room they will find a Samsung Phone which can be used to control all the lighting, TV, order in-room dining, express check-out etc.  It can also be taken out of the hotel and used as complimentary Wi-Fi hotspot as well as complimentary local calls, which is incredibly useful for our international guests.  The phone also allows guests to 'text' our switchboard staff so, if they need their dry cleaning picked up or if there is an issue with the room, they can easily just message us without having to wait on hold.  We also offer free wifi throughout the hotel without passwords or loyalty programs necessary.What is a 'crashpad' and how does it respond to the needs of the modern corporate professional?Our Crashpad Rooms are our smallest room type at 19sqm.  They're kind of the middle ground between our Standard Queen rooms and the Capsule Hotels in Japan.  It comes with a full bathroom, double murphy bed and all the normal inclusions (free wifi, 4 free minibar items, free movies, access to NEXT Lounge).  They are quite good for business travellers who are on a budget - they can get a slightly cheaper room but with all the facilities of a 4.5 star hotel.  They are also great for people who aren't spending a lot of time in their rooms and literally just need somewhere to crash.  We still get some people who walk in and don't realise that they've only booked 19sqm but we also have a lot of regular guests who love them and they tend to be the first to sell out!  These rooms also inter-connect to our Standard Rooms which is great for when families are travelling for leisure.You have a new hotel in Melbourne under construction that will offer everything from a sleeping pod to first class accommodation.  Why do you think this is important?It's important to understand that the corporate traveller isn't a one size fits all.  Some will fly in late at night and check-out the very next morning.  Others will stay with us 4-5 nights a week - week in week out.  Being able to cater to those who just need somewhere to sleep for 6 hours and for those who use us as a second home is really important.  You also need to think about the families of our travellers and offer a space if their family decides to come stay for a few nights - a well-rounded solution to cater to the new and emerging way of the corporate world.Do you believe corporate share accommodation (professionals have individual rooms with common areas) will become a new way to network in future?  Could an app be used to allow guests to choose their roommates or the industries they are involved in?Absolutely - we are already seeing some hotels in America offering private rooms with communal kitchen and living rooms.  At the end of the day, we are all humans who need to feel connected to others.  This is a great way to build a sense of community and of course offer a different type of networking platform.  An app could definitely be used to connect guests - but of course you still have some privacy and security issues that would need to be taken into account.Any thoughts on how the corporate or leisure hotel industry will be different in 10 years?For corporate hotels you will continue to see innovations for the 'independent and self-sufficient' corporate travellers.  For leisure hotels we definitely see more focus on 'experiences' to compete with Airbnb but also a bigger focus on the local community - lots more locally produced amenities and produce.  They will also have to become story tellers connecting guests with their locations. If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

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