Setting the standard for next-level mobile hospitalityAeroGuest is a full-service mobile platform for digital guest experience before, during and after hotel stays.
Why isn’t checking into a hotel, selecting a room, paying for and maybe re-booking your stay as easy as checking into a flight? That question has guided the developers behind Denmark-based AeroGuest since their startup in 2017.
We speak to AeroGuest founder Martin Sponholtz about their market-leading all-in-one mobile platform and to Mika Holmqvist, System and Application Manager at Primehotels Oy, a high-end hotel collection in Finland, about their current experiences with their rollout of the AeroGuest platform.
By Kim Wyon, Telling and Nesager
AeroGuest is a full-service mobile platform for digital guest experience before, during and after hotel stays. The core AeroGuest package includes mobile check-in/out, room selection, keyless access, mobile payment and a mobile app wallet for bookings.
What was the vision behind your business?
Martin Sponholtz: “What originally guided me was the stark difference between checking into a flight and checking into a hotel, which was an experience still stuck in the Stone Age. Our philosophy is to put the check-in process in the hands of the guest – to give them the freedom to check in, book and pay directly for their hotel stay using their phone – this is modern convenience.
“The AeroGuest web-based platform is fully integrated with all PMS and relevant booking platforms, which makes it a powerful mobile hospitality tool that can be adapted to any hotel setup. The aim is to ensure that guests have completed their check-in even before they arrive – and are given the opportunity to personalise their stay.”
Is AeroGuest about streamlining?
“Initially, we had expected the widest interest in AeroGuest services to be from the budget hotel segment seeking to streamline their services. However, our main customers are high-end hotels. Although mobile self-check-in does save time, our goal has never been to make front desk staff redundant – but to give them the right tools. AeroGuest is basically a digital Guest Management System, and the hotels currently using our platform are those that particularly value their guest experience.”
What are the revenue stream potentials?
“Giving travellers greater choice to customise their stay also means you can monetize some of those choices. For instance, we are all familiar with how guests often try to charm their way to the best room locations when checking in at the front desk. But why not let guests choose their room beforehand using their phone – just like when selecting a seat on an aircraft – and pay a small fee for their freedom of choice?
“We recently teamed up with map developers to digitalise the floor layouts of Brøchner Hotels here in Denmark. We then piloted the option of room selection with the chain, initially as a complimentary service. It turned out that 90 percent of guests opted to select their own room within their chosen category when checking in.
“Our recent Ipsos survey also indicates that 59 percent of business travellers are open to paying up to 7 percent of the room charge for such a service – so the potential is there. We have now introduced room selection as well as room upgrade to our platform, which guests can use for a fee. Among other incorporated revenue streams is the option on the Danish market of including the restaurant deal company MenuPay. Naturally, hotels can also configure their own cross-selling, including package deals and F&B offers, which are promoted to arriving guests using an advanced chat function.”
How important is keyless access?
“Consumers have come to expect this service as part of an integrated digital guest experience platform. It’s an essential service but not a driving feature any longer. Unlike other providers on the market, AeroGuest’s web check-in and the all-in-one AeroGuest app are fully integrated with the three major door lock providers that cover 90 percent of the market. This way we’re able to create a completely immersive digital experience without guests experiencing the disconnect of having to download an additional app for keyless access – this is vital to conversion, ensuring that guests actually use the service.”
What happens when arriving guests have not already checked in digitally?
“For those guests arriving at the front desk needing manual assistance with check-in, we have developed a patent-pending SNAP check-in option. Using NFC, our system lets the receptionist retrieve a booking using a single piece of unique information, such as the guest’s name, and then SNAP-send the booking directly to the guest’s own device for further mobile check-in. Besides SNAP check-in, we also provide hotels with GRAB booking, allowing the guest to find their booking by simply using their own mobile phone without using a check-in kiosk.”
Touchless technology has been given a boost during the coronavirus crisis. Does this spell the end of self-check-in kiosks?
“I believe the mobile phone has won. I love my phone and it’s my preferred device. With AeroGuest, the guest journey is entirely mobile-enabled and touch-free. The last thing a hotel needs in the current coronavirus crisis is self-check-in kiosks. You would need someone to sanitise the keyboard or screen after each user – or provide plenty of hand sanitiser. AeroGuest, on the other hand, puts check-in and check-out, keyless access and payment in the palm of your hand – on your own phone.”
What is your vision for the AeroGuest app?
“There is a lot of talk in the industry of web-enabled technology as opposed to mobile apps. However, around 70 percent of guests currently using our web check-in also download our app. Currently, the AeroGuest app is mainly used as a wallet for bookings and for keyless room access.
“We also offer an aggregated choice of available hotels for booking, but we have no ambition of becoming an OTA. What we would like to do is create a travel app featuring a collection of AeroGuest-affiliated hotels and chains and support their loyalty programmes. This would allow hotels to keep even better contact with guests, also after their stay.”
If a major hotel chain asked you to develop an own-brand app platform, what would your advice be?
“We could definitely do that from scratch – but it would be a hugely costly enterprise. They’d need to be ready to burn at least a million euros. My advice would be to opt for our out-of-the-box platform and customise it to their needs. Naturally, we could incorporate added tools, such as integrated brand loyalty programmes. A really interesting current development among hotels is offering subscription programmes for stays or co-working concepts – these are also new business areas we would be keen to develop as part of a customised solution for dynamic hotel businesses.”
Primehotels is a collection of high-end boutique hotels across Finland. Currently consisting of five hotels, the collection will add two new properties in 2021. The Primehotels Oy corporation also acts as an operator for international chains and will oversee the opening of Finland’s first Hyatt Hotel in Helsinki in 2023.
What were the main reasons behind your choice of engaging with AeroGuest?
Mika Holmqvist: “We were initially considering developing our own digital platform or app but then discovered how crazily expensive that would be. We are a small yet expanding company with a collection of five hotels – two more will be added next year. So, it wouldn’t be feasible to develop a platform just for ourselves.
“A colleague told me about AeroGuest, which seemed a perfect solution since the platform handles the whole service flow from booking to check-out. Using AeroGuest also ties in well with our service promise since it allows us to devote our manpower to offering exceptional service. After all, the wow experience of travel is today less about the hotel room – or even the hotel itself – and more about creating something special. It’s the people you meet and the small things that make a difference.”
How many AeroGuest users do you have?
“These are still early days for us, and the coronavirus crisis also means we have less of a customer flow. We also currently only use AeroGuest at one of our hotels but are planning a rollout to six own-brand hotels next year. Our aim is to reach around 15-20 percent usage among our guests.
“Several of our hotels cater to a large segment of businesspeople, who are more inclined to seek convenient ways of managing their travels. We are still seeking to reach out to our guests with information about the AeroGuest service. One observation we have made is that the length of front desk check-in lines can be a very motivating factor for some guests who then quickly seek an easy way to the skip the line completely and check in via the link they received earlier via text message and access their room using the AeroGuest app.”
How do you plan to develop the way you use AeroGuest?
“One of our first initiatives will be to integrate a chatbot function using services from Hotelway, which is a local company here in Finland. This will also further free up time for front desk staff. Naturally, we’ve had a discussion on a managerial level of whether a chatbot function is an appropriate service for our hotels, but since most people now use bot services for all other kinds of services then why not hotels?
“This streamlining is especially important for business travellers. I also think offering travellers the choice of selecting their own room is something we will be looking into. This will help travellers arriving early to decide whether, for instance, they really want to wait for their pre-selected room to be ready or should perhaps opt for a different room with immediate access. These will be decisions travellers can make beforehand while on the go, but naturally front desk staff will always be there to assist them when they arrive.”
Telling & Nesager is headed by Michael Telling and Preben Nesager, two of Scandinavia’s most experienced and respected hotel professionals with over 50 years of combined industry experience. Together with a competent team, we offer services in support of the wider service industry with a particular focus on the hospitality sector.