Hilton Worldwide's room-selection initiative is vindication for fading startup Room77, which sought to get hotels to adapt the feature, but met resistance. Guests will want additional room intelligence, including images, ratings and amenity information.
In a first for the hospitality industry at scale, Hilton Worldwide said it plans to introduce the capability for Hilton HHonors members to be able to select their specific rooms after booking a reservation, starting a day before their stay.
The rollout is slated to happen on desktop and mobile for Hilton Worldwide’s Waldorf Astoria, Conrad Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites, and Home2 Suites by the end of the summer, and DoubleTree and Embassy Suites in the U.S. would join in the Fall.
The feature wouldn’t be limited to scattered properties here and there, but would reach 650,000 rooms at more than 4,000 properties at Hilton Worldwide brands globally by the end of 2014.
The only brand excluded in the immediate plans would be Hampton, with its more than 2,000 generally smaller properties.
“Everyone will be forced to play this way eventually,” says Jim Holthouser, executive vice president of global brands for Hilton Worldwide, referring to competitors regarding room selections and mobile check-ins. “It is just a question of how quickly you get there.”
Hilton Worldwide also announced that by the end of 2015 it intends to enable guests to enter their rooms with smartphones serving as room keys at U.S. hotels for four of its brands. The intent is to have this capability at a majority of its properties globally by the end of 2016.
The chain also stated that digital checkout, which is available at hotels in the U.S., would be extended globally by the end of 2016.
How it Works
After HHonors members book a room, beginning at 6 a.m. a day before the stay they would be able to use their HHonors apps on Android and iOS or sign into their program account on the desktop to view digital floor plans or lists to select specific rooms that might be closer or further away from the elevator or on a specific floor, for example.
And they’d be able to actually pick the specific room and also make requests for anything from extra pillows to beer or wine upon arrival.
In an online Hilton survey conducted by Edelman Berland July 7-11, 2014, 84% of business travelers indicated they would welcome the ability to select their own room.
In the beginning, Holthouser says, guests will still have to stop at the front desk for a key, but starting in 2015 the plan is that these guests would be able to bypass the desk and proceed right to the room, using their smartphones as the room key.
Holthouser says Hilton Worldwide has been working on the room-selection capabilities for about a year, and one of the hardest parts was gathering the floor plans and digitizing them.
Guests won’t be able to view photos of the individual room in what Holthouser refers to a version 1.0 of the feature, but will be able to see photography of all the room types.
Homewood Suites and Room77
In its early days, startup Room77 rolled out room-view technology, displaying a view toward the outside from specific rooms, and hoped to give consumers the ability to select individual rooms, but downplayed the feature after getting resistance from the hotel industry.
The rollout of selection of specific rooms across Hilton Worldwide’s brands follows the implementation of the feature at Homewood Suites for its loyalty program members several years ago.
In addition, with the exception of Waldorf Astoria and Conrad Hotels, most other Hilton Worldwide brands already enabled Gold and Diamond VIP members of Hilton HHonors to pick their specific rooms.
“We had a few years to test this and to scale it across the brand,” Holthouser says, referring to Homewood Suites.
He says that while Room77 may have sought to have individual properties or various brands adopt specific room selections, Hilton Worldwide could fairly rapidly and efficiently scale the feature across its myriad brands because they have a common technology platform. During the period in which Hilton was a private company, it spent $550 million in IT infrastructure.
A Differentiator for Now
Most other competitors don’t have that luxury, Holthouser says, adding that the selection of specific rooms prior to the stay will be a differentiator for Hilton Worldwide brands until competitors catch up.
Although it won’t be present in the beginning, Holthouser says the eventual plan is for hotels to be able to offer upgrades and special deals when guests are involved in the room-selection process, and that would mean an incremental revenue stream for the properties.
Whether it is the way people buy music or do their banking, technology can be “completely disruptive,” and this is impacting the hotel industry, as well, Holthouser says.
“From my standpoint, it is really about keeping brands relevant,” he adds.
Holthouser says no decision has yet been made about expanding the room-selection capabilities beyond Hilton HHonors members to nonmember guests.
Hilton Worldwide already has apps for HHonors members, has their profiles, email addresses and credit cards on file so loyalty program members was a “logical place to start,” Holthouser says.
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Photo credit: By the end of 2014, Hilton's updated HHonors app will allow guests to choose rooms in more than 4,000 hotels. Hilton Worldwide