Hotels enable text requests

By Danny King

Loews Hotels and Resorts and Four Seasons are companies whose hotels are trying out a service in which guests can text requests for room services, housekeeping and other services instead of picking up the phone.

Zingle, a 5-year-old firm based in San Diego, is looking to expand its so-called text-to-order functionality within the hospitality industry with what it calls a mobile concierge service. While Zingle's text-to-valet function for car retrieval is used by about 400 hotels, including Marriott, Hilton and Starwood's W brand, it started mobile concierge trial programs with the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando, and the Four Seasons Philadelphia a few months ago.

From the hotel's standpoint, guests' texts are routed to a Web page that's overseen by a central dispatcher, who then makes sure the request is addressed. Zingle has a so-called "escalation" system, where requests that aren't responded to within a certain amount of time get routed to the on-duty manager.

Both Zingle and the hotels are looking to capitalize on the near ubiquity of smartphone use among travelers and the growing propensity to communicate via text as a way to boost revenue while improving service.

Tony Phillips, general manager at the Loews in Nashville, said the most common text requests are for housekeeping, extra pillows and blankets and do-not-disturb orders. Phillips added that hotel management can also use the service to send text messages to guests for information such as airport delays or incoming weather changes.

Zingle CEO Ford Blakely added that concierge-type requests, such as asking for a particular table at the hotel's restaurant or looking for tickets to local attractions, are also becoming more common at hotels using the pilot program. He added that as many as 30% of the guests at the Four Seasons Philadelphia use the mobile concierge service.

"Texting is typically much faster than a phone call as it allows both parties to be more direct, but still in a friendly and personal way," Blakely said. "Our research has shown that it makes a concierge up to 25% more efficient."

Granted, receiving service requests via text does add an additional stream of communication to monitor on the part of the hoteliers. That said, both Blakely and Phillips said the efficiencies outweigh the effort. Written requests have less of a chance of being misunderstood, Blakely said; Phillips said that the dispatcher can multitask by fielding both phone calls and texts.

"It's not necessarily additional work for our staff, as these are guests that would be calling or stopping by the concierge anyway for their request," added Four Seasons Philadelphia manager Michael Nenner. "This just allows them to make their request in a more tech-savvy way that works best for them."

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. 

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