Cyber-Front Desk Greets MainStay Suites' Guests

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PLANO, Texas -- There might not be a front desk at Choice Hotels' prototype MainStay Suites property here, but the computer in the hotel's entranceway is very friendly.

The computer, known as the Mariner AutoHost, "speaks" English, French or Spanish, and guests can navigate its system by touching its screen or keyboard.

Although it cannot replicate the smile and greeting of a real front desk clerk, the ATM-like contraption is awfully efficient.

A guest plugs in a credit card or types in a confirmation number from his or her reservation, and the computer spits out a key card along with a diagram of the hotel and directions to the guest's room.

Guests similarly type in a secured code number to check out and receive a copy of their bill.

In addition, the computer can, on request, provide and print out information on local attractions, transportation and restaurants as well as such services as dry cleaners, acting as an automated concierge.

For those who have questions about the system or wish to make future reservations, there is a phone next to the kiosk that connects to a person at Choice Hotels' reservations center in Phoenix.

Guests who require a friendly, nonautomated face can visit the office off the property's lobby area that is staffed during daytime hours; an on-site manager is available by cellular at night.

At the office, guests can get help with check-in and checkout and can take advantage of business services.

The futuristic Mariner is the trademark of the MainStay Suites chain, a midpriced, extended-stay product that Choice hopes to grow to 170 properties, all new constructions, by 2000.

The properties are being designed with low development costs and staffing as well as efficient use of space in mind.

Choice has committed to building 20 MainStays to help make the brand name a known commodity.

At the grand opening of the first MainStay here, Choice president Donald Landry said franchisees are signing up, and there already are 45 MainStays under development or in the pipeline.

The properties will offer 80 to 100 suites on two or three levels at an average daily rate of $55 to $65.

The target market for the properties is those needing accommodations for several nights, including travelers attending corporate training programs, doing outsourced projects for companies, relocating or receiving outpatient hospital services.

Customer acceptance has been good, with the MainStay here experiencing occupancy of just under 60% its first month, well above expectations, Landry said.

Choice used extensive consumer research in developing the product, which in addition to the automated check-in/checkout kiosk features such innovations as Donna's Guest Closet, a small, second-floor room full of extra toiletries, towels, linens, pillows and other supplies that is accessible around the clock to guests with keys.

Suites are offered in studio and one-bedroom units as well as some two-bedroom units.

Kitchens are equipped with refrigerator/freezers, microwaves, two-burner stoves, dishwashers and coffeemakers.

The suites also offer business amenities such as two-line speaker phones, with voice mail and data ports, and adjustable desk chairs.

Choice said it plans to target areas that are close to corporate facilities, office parks, hospitals and high-growth residential areas for MainStay's future development.

Ten MainStays are slated to open next summer, including properties in Brentwood, Tenn.; Cincinnati; Kansas City, Mo.; Miami; Providence, R.I., and Louisville, Ky.

To book, call (800) 660-MAIN.

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