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  • Writer's pictureRyan Haynes

Hotel Partner - How Virgin Hotel's in-room innovation delivers revenue

In this episode we’re joined by Jason Doebrich, VP IT at Virgin hotels and Martin Chevalley, CEO and cofounder of Innspire to discuss the impact of in-room technology on the guest experience, hotel operations and the bottom line.

Achieving up to $25,000 per month from in-room F&B in its Las Vegas property, Virgin Hotels has invested in in-room tech across its portfolio. In this Hotel Partner episode, we hear about the problem and solution developed by Innspire and the impact it’s had on Virgin Hotels.

We cover:

  • Advancements of in-room smart tech

  • Better guest experiences and hotel operations

  • The ROI from In-room tech

  • Engaging staff with in-room tech

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Programme Notes


Ryan Haynes:

Hello and welcome to Travel Market Life. In this episode, we are going to be looking at Virgin Hotels in room innovation and how it delivers revenue. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes, and I'm going to be joined by Jason Doebrich, VP of IT at Virgin Hotels, formally at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Morgan's Hotel Group, and also Martin Chevalley, the CEO and co-founder of Inspire. We're going to be looking at the advancements of in-room smart tech, enabling better guest experiences and hotel operations, the commercial impact and engaging staff with in-room technology,


Ryan Haynes:

Hello, Jason Doebrich, thank you ever so much for joining me today to actually look at Room Smart Technology. It's a fascinating area. Yeah,


Jason Doebrich:

Definitely. Oh, it's an area that's evolving very quickly. I think every half year or every year there are new things happening. We're adapting to the market, adapting to requirements from guests and you know, as, as we progress, some things even become more or less generic and expected. And that's where we are with some of the technologies that were rolled out 3, 4, 5 years ago. They're expected now. So, we need to keep being at the forefront and keep developing new ideas and new perspectives and new ways for guests to make a difference in a different kind of state when they get to these hotels.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, it's a huge level of investment for hotels when it comes to actually developing and identifying the right technology for the room for the guests. We've seen, as you say, so many advancements in the domestic use of smart technology. So how can hotels really try to keep up and, and identify the level of expenditure and budget that they need to, to make sure that they meet these expectations of guests?


Jason Doebrich:

Well, there's, there's a few angles there. Probably the most important being one that it, that does help drive revenue. Part of what we try to do is to work with our partners to make sure that we're leveraging things that they're offering and selling within the property, whether it's food and beverage or experiences or, or tours or even, you know, Lia, then they should be able to purchase that easily throughout the, the property, whether it's through the TV or through an app, whatever is the easiest way to help them enjoy their, their stay more and actually spend more as they're going through it. That's why we want to help them do that, but we can also see that it's upsetting the need for staff in terms of efficiencies when it comes to the app, for example.


Jason Doebrich:

It can answer a lot of the basic questions we can make check-in more seamless, which requires less staff. So there are also, especially these days, really importantly, ways to reduce staff cost while increasing the guest experience and then making it more seamless with these kinds of digital and virtual tools and, and tying that all together so that the in-room experience rhymes really well and flows really well with the rest of the digital experience.


Ryan Haynes:

Now we're going to hear from Jason just a moment about how it's being deployed within Virgin Hotels, but I'm particularly keen to really understand the range of products and services that you provide at Inspire and where the, where you're seeing the adoption for may be different types of technology that you provide.


Jason Doebrich:

Yeah, so I would say very much a guest-facing company. We helped deliver the brand. We delivered the hotel brand through digital experiences, whether that's through the TV or whether that's through apps. For a while, it was a voice like we have at home with Alexa and Google. We have some of that as well, but it didn't, hasn't really taken off as much in hotels for privacy reasons and others. And then at the back end, we're more of an integration hub. So, to make this seamless for the guests, wherever the front end is, to make that seamless, we need to be integrated into so many different systems within the hotels, from the PMS to POS, to the ticketing and HVAC and whatever it might be to create that seamless experience. So, I think what we offer will evolve.


Jason Doebrich:

The backend will be similar, and we'll keep evolving, becoming sturdier and integrating more parts into it. But the front end, who knows, in three years we're probably looking at holograms or something like that. But at the moment it's TV systems and apps and what's really exciting right now is the evolution or even the revolution of AI and how things are becoming more intelligent. As I think we'll see a lot of automation, I think we'll see a lot of efficiencies. I think we'll see less dependent dependence on, on staff input and more action that is produced based on, you know, set parameters and how AI can help hotels become more efficient and deliver better service, actually be more personal and personalised even though we may be able to add more, more digital tools to it and more computation.


Jason Doebrich:

But at the same time, I think it can be more personal.


Ryan Haynes:

Absolutely. I mean it's fascinating and it's particularly how every aspect can work together. The important thing is to have the hotel tech stack that actually talks to each other, I guess, and be able to share that data so you can optimize these systems. Now let's go over to Jason in a very heavily air-conditioned room. It must be nice and warm over there where you are. Thanks for joining us, Jason. So, love to hear about how Virgin Hotels is using Innspire Tech in its properties.


Martin Chevalley:

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you, Ryan, for having me here. So, with Inspire, we're using their in-room TV solution and what that means is that when a guest comes into the room on the TV, through the menu and the Innspire system, they can control their thermostat and turn the temperature up or down like in this loud AC room here in Miami. Or they can turn the lights on and off throughout the room. So, you know, very nice features that if a guest is lying in bed at night and they need to turn off the lights, they don't even have to get out the bed, they can do it right from the tv. And then the big, one of the big points that we really noticed at Virgin Hotels is the revenue that it generates for food and beverage.


Martin Chevalley:

So, our property in Vegas, for example, generates over 20 grand a month just on food and beverage sales through the tv. And again, like Martin kind of mentioned earlier, not only is that revenue, you know, all owners and, and love to see the revenue side, but then on the cost side we don't need to have as many people answering the phone, taking the phone call, writing down the orders. So, it does help eliminate some of that staff. It's an easier, more convenient way for especially your younger guests to kind of interact. They don't necessarily always want to pick up the phone and dial down and then the revenue that comes along with it is very, very key as well.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean it's paying for itself by the sounds of it, and not just as you say in revenue but also in streamlining those operations and I guess taking some of those mundane chores away from the hotel staff so they can really focus on that guest experience. How did you like really identify the way in which you can optimize that revenue, particularly f and b through the systems?


Martin Chevalley:

Well, one of the nice tools I like with Innspire, they have really good analytics. So, we're able to go into kind of the, the background and look at the analytics and we can see what the top seller is, you know, through their system of course through their platform. And then that allows us to kind of see, you know, what are the guests most interested in, what should we target more, what do we want to push on the front screens of the tv. There are lots of ways of using the TV as marketing as well. So, we have different screens at different times of the day that promote different stuff and the analytics in the background that we can, you know, utilize to really see what works and what doesn't helps us out a lot as well.


Ryan Haynes:

Have you sort of seen a sort of shift in what guests want or the, the sort of products that they're actually purchasing? Is there any sort of interesting insights that you've perhaps learned from the profile of your guests that you perhaps didn't know before?


Martin Chevalley:

Not really. I would say, you know, the burger and the fries are always one of the top sellers, so not much of a surprise there. But it is interesting in some markets like say Vegas for example, at you can see what time of day there's the spike and you know, a lot of people are having a lot of fun at night and they, they, they're up late and they're actually ordering food in the mornings, hours of the morning, where at some of our other properties it's more your traditional like breakfast and dinner patterns. So that type of stuff that you kind of think, you know, it, it helps validate and really, you know, home in on the exact time that you're looking for. Is it 2:00 AM is it 3:00 AM


Ryan Haynes:

And I guess that from that you're able to staff your hotels better, you know exactly how many resources you need.


Martin Chevalley:

Correct.


Jason Doebrich:

Just an anecdote from Vegas that Jason mentioned, there are a lot of French fries going through the system. There isn't that that's a big-ticket item.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean there must be big hotels that you are, you are looking after. How many rooms are we looking for in Vegas?


Martin Chevalley:

Vegas is over a couple of thousand rooms. Typically, our hotels are much smaller, but that one is a big one.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah, absolutely. Especially with that level of income coming through now Martin, you don't have to invest in a brand-new TV to get this up and running. I believe you can retrofit, is that correct?


Jason Doebrich:

Yeah, so we have two different options there, which have kind of evolved over time. So what we did early on is that we, we wanted something that was, that you could basically plug into any tv and when I say any it should still be hospitality TV for various reasons, but somehow you could plug into any TV and make that TV smart and get the full experience without having to purchase a new tv. So that's what we call us in cable, which is basically a setup box in a cable, that's what it's called in cable. So, it's, it's very small, very nimble, you don't actually see it once it's installed there's no heat, there are no fans, there are no lights, it’s just really running. So that's good. But we think it's, it's actually really good today as well that hotels are moving to smart televisions.


Jason Doebrich:

I mean we of course love selling our solutions, but we also think that the less there is to tangle with in the room, the less there is to touch, and the less there is to unplug it's a long-term benefit, it becomes easier for hotels to manage it and we get less questions at the end of the day. So, we also have solutions that are purely software-based that go on the major players’ software platforms such as LG and, and Samsung. So, ties in for Samsung and WebOS, for LG, which is very easy to roll out, very easy to manage, and very easy to upkeep. So, we have those two versions to make it and they can actually run in parallel, which we see very often that a hotel may have purchased the setup box or the in-cable a few years ago.


Jason Doebrich:

And now that they're looking to upgrade our TVs, our recommendation is to buy smart TVs and maybe you do it on the top tier floors in the suites or in one tower or wherever you start, but that can run on smart in parallel with what you have on set box. And then as you evolve, as you start changing out more TVs, they'll go smart, but, and you can keep the other TVs for now.


Ryan Haynes:

So it allows you to provide a level of guest experience across the entire property, but by having staged upgrades to the technology in the room, that's a great approach. And the other thing I understand is that you do the apps side of things to li deliver guest experience and your start, you've deployed one within a Virgin Hotel er, is that correct?


Jason Doebrich:

Yeah, so that's actually within a part of the Virgin brand called the Limited edition and perhaps Jason is better at explaining how that works.


Martin Chevalley:

Yeah, we have our sister company now we've merged together to create the version hotel collection, but those are version limited editions and are going to implement the Inspire app. So that'll be kind of our first test of the app side and see how it, you know, compares along with the tv because it's nice to be able to have one vendor, you know, in one solution versus having to manage multiple different vendors and solutions. So very excited to see how that plays out.


Ryan Haynes:

And where do you see Martin, the value of apps for hotels? I mean, is it something that would sit side by side with the in-room technology? Is, is this important for small hotels, large hotels, and resorts? I mean where, where should hotels be thinking if they're looking at investing in an app?


Jason Doebrich:

I think it's seamlessness. It's the, the everything should work the same way. I think that's the most important thing. Then if you have, I think the app is what people will use most frequently. It's what you have in your pocket, you pick it up. We're so used to ordering food and taxis and whatnot from the, directly from our app, but the TV should be kind of like the companion to that and you should be able to cast your content, you should be able to do things on the big screen when you need it. But I think when you're out and about when you're by the poolside, when you are the, where you're by the beach, then that's where the app comes in. So, the benefit for us is that it's all built on the same system and is all the same integration. So, we just do everything once and roll it out.


Jason Doebrich:

So even if, if a hotel wants to add an app four years after their initial TV rollout, that's not a major issue because they have most of it already installed. So, it's more of a matter of creating that app and rolling it out for them, which I think is a huge, huge benefit. So, the seamlessness is what we're really looking for to power the brand, make that visible across all the screens and create one experience that is the same wherever you go, whether you're in the room or you buy the poolside.


Ryan Haynes:

Thank you. I mean you just took me on to the next point over to Jason for the rollout, how you actually deployed this smart room technology and actually engaged staff in that process. I'd love to learn what process and approach you had to take to really get that buy-in and ensure that it was being maximized within the property.


Martin Chevalley:

Yeah, it's tough if it's a, you know, there are different installs, right? You have your kind of new build where it's a new hotel or, or a new opening hotel and then you've got your existing hotels where maybe you're implementing the technology, which is much easier as far as from a staff buy-in and training perspective because there's not so much going on like for a new hotel opening. So, an existing property that's running and you're looking to put the system in, it's a lot easier training and staff buy-in when you're opening a new hotel or you know, converting a hotel, there's a lot going on. So the staff is quite busy and there, they're learning all different systems and, and how to do their operations.


Martin Chevalley:

So, it is quite tricky to get them to kind of buy into this TV or this app. It's kind of the last thing on their mind or they think they'll do that after the hotel's open. But you know, with Martin and his team, they've done a great job with us on really helping to provide some good, customized training as much as we need multiple pieces of training. So, you know, we, we try to get people to attend but they don't always attend. We have to do extra training. So, you know, that is very key. There's so much to do on this, on this system with technology, it does reduce, you know, those mundane tasks of answering phones and, you know, sending messages. But then it adds these extra things where you can really customize the state and it's important that the, the staff understands how to do that and how it works and be able to, you know, utilize all the different features and get the most out of it.


Ryan Haynes:

Yeah, absolutely. Because I guess, you know, if they know what's going on and, and they know how everything's working on in the background, they can provide that support where needed if, if everything, anything doesn't necessarily go to plan there. Martin, you know, when it comes to Smart Room tv, so as say we said earlier is a big investment, what type of category or is it best suited for hotels? Is it for boutiques, or is it for holiday resorts? Where, where is this sort of in-room technology? Do you see hotels getting the most benefit from?


Jason Doebrich:

Yeah, my, it's kind of what you said there. Boutique Resort City Hotel. I think we're, we're very much looking for a, for a very consistent branded experience. I don't think we're the best choice for an airport hotel where you stay half a night, and you don't really utilize the features to just go to bed. We are much better suited for places where you are part of the experience where you want to emerge yourself in this case the Virgin experience and you want to, you're probably staying there for a few days. It's a resort or a really cool city hotel like the Dallas one or New York. There are several examples. So, we've really taken the direction that we want to be able to be close partners with our, our, our customers and that means that we want to be able to spend a lot of time with them, which means that we can't spread ourselves too thin.


Jason Doebrich:

So, if we're all over the place and we're trying to please everyone, then we're just going to do a half job everywhere. So we decided to try to go the other route and focus on a few key players and be able to answer any questions that they have and even if they're not related to our product, and maybe it's, you know, some other technology that's related or even competing, we at least want to be able to give advice for that so that we can be considered someone that is, you know, worth talking to, not just now, but also in six months and 12 months and 24 months down the line.


Ryan Haynes:

Thank you. Now Jason, advice to Hotelier, I mean, Virgin as a brand is renowned for the experience that it delivers its customers when it comes to upgrading the digital guest experience and the technology. What is the key advice that you would give to hoteliers with a portfolio on how to approach it and identify the right vendors?


Martin Chevalley:

Yeah, I think the key here is kind of what Martin was touching on, is it's about partnerships. You know, versus a vendor. A vendor's just going to come in and install it and kind of leave a partner who is going to be with you in the beginning, throughout the whole process. Afterwards, they're going to help you evolve the product. You know, things don't always go right. We, we've had issues before and a partner will jump in right away and fix it and do what it takes and kind of help you throughout your brand and keep your standards in there. So, I think a key is really looking at good partners, good partnerships and then again, you know, you have to look at the technologies, what, what you want to go for. Stuff that's cloud-based that's very flexible, you know, as kind of Martin with mentioning they have different offerings and you can run them in mixed mode, whether it's for an older TV or a newer TV.


Martin Chevalley:

So, you need that flexibility in a system, and you know, from an IT perspective, I want to try to move everything to the cloud. I don't want to have stuff on site, I don't want to have things that engineering has to go into the room and fix and disturb a guest. So, the more I can get offsite into the cloud, away from behind the TV is better. So, you know, those are some of the key areas that I traditionally look for in-room technology. And then of course you got to see the ROI, right? It's got to make sense financially; it's got to have some return on value and revenue and then you can really check off on all the boxes.


Ryan Haynes:

Excellent. Jason, there are some great final words of advice there. Thank you ever so much. And Martin, thanks for that input and insight there into in-room technologies and delivering those commercial games for hotels. Thanks ever so much for you both for joining me today.


Martin Chevalley:

Thank you.


Ryan Haynes:

So that was Jason Doebrich, VP of IT at Virgin Hotels and Martin Chevalley, the CEO and Co-founder of Innspire. Check out all the other podcasts on TravelMarket.Life, or any of the podcast channels including Google, Deezer, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts. Thanks much for joining me today. Don't forget to subscribe to our channel on LinkedIn Travel Market Life. I'm your host, Ryan Hayes ciao for now.

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