Skift Take

Hotel labor groups have justifiably been concerned over the industry push in the last year to offer contactless features like mobile check-in that reduce staffing needs. The Standard’s chat function replacing calls to the front desk may be the rare tech innovation that actually helps the worker.

Everyone does it — even if they don’t like to admit it.

You know check-out is at noon, but you want to try for 2 p.m. anyway. Maybe the sample-sized toiletries were really nice, and you want an extra set to take home. You call down to the front desk only to be put on hold for 20 minutes because everyone else is trying to ask the lone person at the front desk the same thing.

Hotel brand The Standard and its tech partners don’t have an app for that, but they have a new guest chat feature they say can fix the problem.

The Standard currently offers “Stan,” a virtual chat agent that manages guest requests at its hotels across the U.S. and eventually abroad at properties in the Maldives and London. Stan fields requests like more towels or late check-out requests and doesn’t require a separate app. Instead, you directly text Stan like you would one of your friends or family.

The hotel and tech partnership officially launched the Stan chat function to other hotel companies Monday under a new brand called Elated.

“To call in with something like a room service order and get put on hold for several minutes or to walk up to the front desk where the staffer is glued to the phone, that doesn’t leave a good first impression. It’s certainly not very hospitable,” Jimmy Suh, co-founder and president of Standard-backed booking app One Night, said in an exclusive interview with Skift ahead of the launch. “Who in this day and age likes picking up a phone? Not the operator and certainly not the guest.”

Tech teams at One Night and SkillHire developed Stan and now Elated. The platform aims to eliminate clogged phone lines and hold times by connecting guests with the right department via text exchange. The idea is a staffer can multitask easier via multiple text chains at once rather than a backlog of phone calls with similar requests.

Guest phone calls dropped by 25 percent following implementation of Stan, the Standard hotel team reports.

Elated isn’t the first digital hotel concierge platform out there. Companies like Alliants and Volo both offer similar text-based functions in their guest request platforms. But the Elated team bills their offering as more functional since it is coming from an actual hotel company.

“A lot of tech companies try to solve things for hotels but don’t understand the operations, the brand, the logistics, or the training,” Standard International CEO Amar Lalvani said. “Incubating and developing things internally allows you to create a product for the market vastly better suited for an operator than what someone from the outside looking in would do.”

The Standard, High Line (Credit: Standard International)

Incubating at The Standard

Elated is the latest in a burgeoning tech incubation space happening at Standard International.

After developing One Night Standard, an app similar to HotelTonight, Standard International spun it into the standalone One Night hotel distribution channel. The platform concentrates on boutique and “experientially-driven” hotels in major cities like the Hoxton in Brooklyn or the Rosewood London.

Elated’s functionality could have broader appeal to more than boutique hotels, but the development team is still focusing on smaller operators to fuel initial growth.

“With Elated, we still feel that our sweet spot is independent, boutique lifestyle hotels,” Suh said. “They are the hotels probably in the direst state in terms of access to capital to afford new products and new tools.”

Another app, Benny, aimed to be a crowdsourced booking platform. The development team sidelined Benny in light of the pandemic and ensuing travel restrictions; though, it could come back in the future, Lalvani said.

Labor Pains

Elated launches amid a growing backlash against hotel owners and operators for cutting ties with workers in favor of tech advances that reduce staffing needs like mobile check-in or the elimination of daily housekeeping during a guest’s stay.

Such moves significantly lowered the financial breakeven costs at hotels last year, but it came at the price of major unemployment. The hotel industry’s unemployment rate has remained significantly higher than the national average for the duration of the pandemic.

“This isn’t a cost-cutting tool,” Lalvani said of Elated. “It’s being conscious of thin labor models that are now in existence and will remain in existence and how you can maintain guest satisfaction in a low labor environment.”

While on CBS’ Face the Nation political talk show on Sunday, Marriott CEO Tony Capuano downplayed the labor impact of tech innovation. The Elated team similarly maintained their chat function isn’t meant to cut down on labor.

“We were thinking about this measure before the pandemic, and it wasn’t about cost-cutting,” Suh said. “We want to increase customer satisfaction and engagement. If we do that right, they’ll have a better experience and return to a second or third trip.”

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Tags: coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, the standard

Photo credit: Elated is a chat-based guest request service created from a program at the Standard hotels (pictured: The Standard, High Line). The Standard

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