Your Hotel Concierge Is Probably A Texting Robot
The hospitality industry is shifting automated text responses to communicate with guests.
The hospitality industry is shifting automated text responses to communicate with guests.
Your next hotel’s concierge might not be in the same time zone as your room. Or sentient.
Larger chains and smaller inns are moving past the custom of having guests press “0” on a landline phone to ask for that extra towel. Instead, properties have turned to text messages. That means requests could get answered by someone in another state, a bot or a digital spider monkey.
Photographer Andrew Gallery requested a bottle opener and extra glasses at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in California via the hotel’s Chat Your Service app during a recent stay. “I just feel like it’s some happy person who is down to help,” says Mr. Gallery, who lives in Los Angeles, of the help he received. “But I’m not 100% sure if it’s people on the other end.”
The Loews uses off-site employees 2,000 miles away to answer texts or phone calls, says manager Lara Loewl, who oversees a staff of 14 agents at the company’s engagement center in Franklin, Tenn. Most guests never think to ask who is answering them, she says.
These staffers field common requests, including housekeeping or restaurant reservations, within minutes, without involving the hotel’s concierge team. The team isn’t quick to share their actual location. “We always say we’re an extension of the front desk,” she says.
This shift to texting and automated responses has happened as a way to cope with staffing shortages, hotel executives say. Some services are offered via artificial intelligence.
“It’s easier to get their needs met and it’s less intrusive,” says Tina Edmundson, global brand and marketing officer at Marriott International Inc., based in Bethesda, Md.
The volume of texts sent via Marriott’s app tripled in 2021 from the year prior, with some hotels needing to reshuffle staff duties to meet the needs of guests, Ms. Edmundson says. For the past six years, Marriott brands, including Moxy Hotels and Westin, have offered guests the option to use the Marriott Bonvoy app to communicate directly with hotel staff. Text replies come from a mix of hotel staffers and automated responses, based on the request.
On a weekend trip to Mexico, Tracy Shaw was ready for “a break from everything”—even talking to the hotel staff. The Encantada hotel in Tulum let her text them instead.
Throughout the long weekend, Ms. Shaw, a 45-year-old marketing manager from Tampa, Fla., used WhatsApp to request morning coffee on her terrace, strawberry margaritas at the beach and predinner tequila shots in her room. Dashing off texts was less awkward than calling the front desk, she says. “This is not something I’d pick up the phone for,” says Ms. Shaw, who stayed at the hotel with her husband in December. “We were totally spoiled.”
Cassie Down, a publicist who checked into the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, was relieved to find “Rose,” which the hotel describes as the “resident mischief-maker and digital concierge” answering her requests. Ms. Down, who tested positive for Covid-19 shortly after checking in for her family vacation and “couldn’t roll over to pick up the phone,” was less self-conscious about making requests by text.
Ms. Down says “Rose” texted her that “when I’m in a good mood, I tend to be generous with friends.” The bot helped arrange delivery of two nights of pizza dinners and a tube of toothpaste from the sundries shop downstairs, and relayed Ms. Down’s request for the extra towels and tissues to be left at the door. “Honestly, she was so chic and witty,” says Ms. Down, 30, who lives in San Diego.
Real-estate broker Susan Harrison spent the weekend of New Year’s exchanging texts with “Johnnie Brown,” a computerized spider monkey at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. Ms. Harrison, who lives in New York, enjoyed that all the messages she received were signed with a monkey emoji in a cheery tone. Her requests about Advil, exercises classes and dinner reservations were addressed in minutes. After booking a table for 8 people, she was assured that she would be “seated at the winning table.”
The hotel, which has had the monkey as its mascot since 2016, says guests like the efficiency of texting, an option it started offering in 2020.
Hyatt Hotels is deploying Medallia Zingle, text-messaging software, across more than 1,000 hotels in 68 countries. Employees are encouraged to show personality, including using emojis or lighthearted language whenever possible, says Julia Vander Ploeg, Hyatt’s global head of digital and technology. The top request is for bottled water.
Concierges at the Pendry Chicago refer to guests by their last name and a title via text, use signoffs that include “at your service” and are careful to scan for typos. Emojis and informal greetings are effectively banned, concierge Alex Yu says.
Some guests admit they miss the small talk. After using text to arrange rides within the Resort at Paws Up, a 37,000-acre luxury ranch in Greenough, Mont. Rich Burt, a retired audio engineer from Orlando, Fla., realized he needed more than just efficiency. The three-word texts he exchanged with his driver were convenient, but he prefers picking up the phone and talking about his day. “I’m more old-fashioned,” he says.
Raj Singh created an AI-powered concierge named Ivy that is used in 3,000 hotels. He estimates that roughly half of hotels offer messaging services. Mr. Singh, now chief strategy officer at Revinate, a hotel software provider based in San Francisco, says texting with Ivy is meant to feel like texting with a fun, in-the-know friend.
But even the best chatbots stumble at some queries. A recent one: “Actually, this might be a weird question…are the bathroom windows see-through from outside?” Ivy referred that query to a human.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: Jan 23, 2022.
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.
When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.
“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”
Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.
According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.
In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.
“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”
Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”
Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”
A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.
The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.
“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer. “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”
The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.
Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.
But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.
It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.
“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”
On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”
Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.
Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.
There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.
When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”
Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.
The family moved in a few months later.