One of the big hotel industry themes lately has been the transition from server-based property management systems (which are not designed for touch and tablet devices) to ones that are cloud-based, mobile-first, and include guest self-service or messaging capabilities.
One player tackling the problem is hotel IT startup StayNTouch, which has raised $9.5 million in an investment round led by the Concur Perfect Trip fund, overseen by the SAP-owned travel expense specialist.
The round included investment from Stanford University, Acceleprise, and Shiji (a Beijing-headquartered provider of IT and service tools for 10,000 hospitality businesses that is, in turn, backed by Alibaba).
The startup, based near Washington, DC, focuses on building a hotel property management system (PMS) that is fully mobile, from check in to check out.
But it is best known for its earlier product, Zest, a system that provides hotels with white-labeled, mobile-app-based check-in, check-out, upsells, and an optional mobile key.
StayNTouch has struck partnerships that it says enable a full-featured, mobile-first suite.
For example, it's integrating its Rover PMS into SiteMinder's channel manager for hotels, via an API. It has also partnered with Checkmate, a hotel messaging tool recently acquired by TrustYou. It has also integrated with TravelTripper, which offers a central reservation system and other marketing tools.
Aria Resort & Casino, a 4,000-room luxury property in Las Vegas owned by MGM Resorts, has been a prime customer. Given the success at Aria, MGM is rolling out StayNTouch's solutions to the rest of its Las Vegas properties by the end of autumn.
To learn more, Tnooz recently sat down with CEO Jos Schaap and one of his happy customers, Shannon MacCallum, executive director of hotel operations at Aria Las Vegas.
Prior to founding StayNTouch, Schaap worked for Micros systems, the best-selling property management system (PMS) suite (acquired by Oracle for $5.3 billion), for more than 17 years. Schaap was most recently as SVP in charge of global product development and strategy for the hotel and ecommerce divisions.
Tnooz: What’s the StayNTouch story?
Schaap: We started three years ago. Our goal is really to improve the guest engagement in hotels and connect it tightly with the back end via a mobile-first system. We provide mobile technology for staff, integrated into one solution, one platform. We extend it all the way into the PMS, into the back of the house, housekeeping, and so on.
Tnooz: I thought you were a mobile check in service?
Schaap: We started initially with doing mobile check-in and check-out for staff and guests connected to third-party PMS systems, predominately, Oracle. We wanted to get a revenue opportunity very quickly and to learn what customers truly needed quickly.
Imagine this: You fly for a trip. At the airport, you check in for your room at the hotel. When you arrive at your destination city, you get a message that your room is ready. You click on it, and then a message comes: Did you want us to make your phone the key?
Aria is one of our happy clients. They say they make more money a month in incremental revenue by using our tool than they pay us a month. For them, it's been a quick plus ...
Tnooz: Shannon, how does Aria know that it can really credit the growth to StayNTouch?
MacCallum: At Aria, we launched April 2015 with mobile check-in, with an invite to the guests that we had e-mail addresses on file.
On average we, have 1,250 arrivals a day. Over a period of months, we've been able to capture a 35-40% capture of those guests checking in through mobile.
Through the system, it will offer them not only an opportunity to check-in, it also collects data: Address, phone number, e-mail address, if we don't have it on file.
Then, we also have the opportunity to upgrade and they're offered an early check-in or a room upgrade. Those have a revenue component that's attached to it that we can track through the back end of the StayNTouch system.
We can track the revenue that comes in directly through that channel. We know we make more money a month in incremental revenue by using our tool than we pay StayNTouch in monthly fees.
Tnooz: I see. And you re-market to guests?
MacCallum: We do. For example, when it's time for them to check out, we send them a check-out e-mail offering them to check-out and to offer them options for a 1 p.m., a 3 p.m., and a half-day rate, if the would like to extend. That gives us a revenue option on the back-end of their stay.
Tnooz: Shannon, how does the StayNTouch tool integrate with your CRM, your PMS, or your other systems that you have to do?
MacCallum: Fortunately, Jos came from Micros; Opera is our property management system. We're very fortunate that he has a very intimate knowledge of that system to be able to integrate with it. It sits right on top of Opera, but makes it extremely user-friendly system for our employees.
Tnooz: But how long does it take staff to learn the new system?
MacCallum: For our front desk agents, we find it takes maybe takes them two or three times and they get into the new workflow, despite some of our front desks agents having been checking people in for 30 years.... StayNTouch conducts a webinar done remotely for new staff.
Tnooz: What else has improved?
MacCallum: The guest is doing so much of the work ahead of time, we don't have to collect their information when they arrive. We basically just get an ID and then we make their keys. Now that's just phase one.
The next StayNTouch tool we’ll adopt is the Rover PMS, which is an iPad where we can check a person.
Tnooz: You don't have the obstruction of the front desk?
MacCallum: No, I can be standing in the lobby. I can check you in, and I can make keys right on the back of the holder. We have RFID keys, so you just hold them on the back and make the keys and the guest is on their way.
Tnooz: They can change their method of payment on the fly?
MacCallum: Yeah. Think about a VIP arrival that comes in by limousine. Instead of stopping in the lobby, you can escort them up to their room, do a full room check-in, give them their keys, without them having to stop in a public space.
Tnooz: If a traveler is a VIP and they've stayed with Aria before, he or she would probably like to add some recognition. Is there anything in the tablet that enables the hotel staff person who is doing that interaction to say: 'Welcome back'?
MacCallum: Obviously, when they're making their reservation, it's up to us to match up their profile in our database. You can put into Opera a return guest code.
Schaap: Whatever is in the Opera Micros Opera system is what we take across. A hotel can put a customer’s picture into the PMS. When staff then checks the guest in or hosting the guest, they can see the picture via our mobile tool…
Tnooz: When and how is a picture of the guest taken?
Schaap: From their smartphone, via our app. We ask for permission.
MacCallum: At Aria, we’re currently not taking photos of guests. In the future, there is the opportunity for creating that photo ID verification, once we get to the mobile key portion.
Tnooz: How would that work?
MacCallum: During that ID verification, there could be a moment where we take a picture of the guest and then verify their ID to make sure it's the same person as what the ID says. For Aria, that’s a future stage we're looking to get to hopefully by the end of this year. We don't have a definite deadline.
Tnooz: Why partner with StayNTouch? There are other vendors.
MacCallum: Two years ago, I thought it would be cool to let guests check-in on their phone and be able to get a mobile key on their phone and never have to come to the lobby.
I'm in Las Vegas, I've got 4,004 rooms. My guests don’t want to stand in line at peak traffic times.
When I met Jos, there was no one else at the point that he was at with such a product.
Tnooz: You're getting good positive feedback from customers?
MacCallum: We actually have split up our surveys, so we can tell what guests traditionally checked in and who checked in on mobile. There's an 8-10 points variance positive for guests that do the mobile check in.
They come in and they get to go to a expedited line, they can pick up their key. They love it.
Tnooz: Jos, what progress has StayNTouch made on its PMS?
Schaap: On the PMS side, we have the first 20 hotels live now.
One hotel in Amsterdam is using everything we have. They're entirely cloud based. We do the mobile check-in. We have the integrated app that creates the mobile key, so guests can use their phone to get into the hotel room, skipping the front desk.
The hotels also use it for all their staff to manage housekeeping, engineering, operations management. It's all done from the tablet.
Tnooz: What’s next?
Schaap: After we build a very good mobile check in and out experience for guests, we're building a set of APIs that people can use to connect in other departments. Mobile messaging, it's the future of this.
Tnooz: If I was a hotel GM, I might care more about managing my reputation on TripAdvisor than about a tablet-based PMS, given that the PMS I have is probably going a good-enough job.
Schaap: If you, as a hotel, encourage usage of our solutions, you’ll probably get a better rating on TripAdvisor because guest surveys show they get a lot of satisfaction out of our check in and check out tools.
You get great results when you, as a company and as a hotel, promote our white-labeled tools a little bit. That's important, which they do very well at MGM.
Tnooz: A lot of hotel GMs say, "I want people to come to the front desk." That's where I can collect information about them and upsell them.
Schaap: We're all about choice. That helps quite a bit. We offer both the back-end and the mobile component in one solution; Whereas, everybody else only has mobile. They don't have the back end.
We can do the fulfillment. We either are connected to Opera, or we are doing the PMS work ourselves.
As an option, StayNTouch offers a self-service component in the lobby, replacing the old kiosk format with a tablet-based system. The key is not dispensed, but it's picked up.
We can also encourage guests standing in line to participate. People we don't have an email of, who are in the lobby, we can display a message on a screen: "Why wait in line? Text Aria, text 12345", or whatever the number is. If they text us, we can give them prompts to do the check in via mobile so that all they have to do then is pick up the key, shortening their wait.
MacCallum: It's all about changing guest behavior. We have these services, but a lot of times people come in, they see a line, they just blindly decide to get into it.
We've had to make marketing collaterals that say, "Why wait in line?", and it has the link on it. Most guests are standing in line and they're on their phone. They don't realize if the check themselves in, they could be at the front of the line.
MacCallum: It gives them the flexibility, and it also allows us to be able to speak to that person, even though we may not have had their email address ahead of time.
We've also incorporated on our website, under guest services, mobile check-in and mobile check-out. Again, if we don't have the guest email, they can self-check in, we have that process as well…. Then, we would collect their email address so we could contact them back.
Tnooz: Most hotel managers are scared of innovating. What steps did you take to make sure this was a success?
MacCallum: I would say that you need to make sure you're tracking your guest satisfaction, the revenue that you're making and then, also your conversion. How many people are opting in?
You need to have a full picture of what the application is doing and how it's positively contributing to your operation, when you are presenting it to your CFO and to your upper levels.
Earlier:ALICE, for example, is a hotel operations systems specialist that thinks hotels could learn from innovation in other industries. It has raised $9.5 million in an investment round led by Expedia.