How smart tech is shaping the serviced apartment sector

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Technology is changing the entire hospitality industry and the impact is also being felt in the serviced apartment sector. Covid-19, and the events of the last year, have no doubt accelerated the adoption of smart tech, contactless tech and property automation across the board. This is exciting to see says Sean Miller, president of Point Central.

Comparing serviced apartments, hotels and ‘Airbnbs’

Hotels have long offered keyless access to rooms, with hoteliers also increasingly pushing ‘straight to room’ check-in via apps. It’s not uncommon for the guest of a hotel to receive a code remotely, bypass reception and go directly to their unit with nothing lost in translation. Furthermore, hotels have heating and cooling systems that make sure you never show up to a freezing room in the winter or a boiling room in the summer.

The private accommodation sector, whether professionally managed vacation rentals or owners renting out their property themselves on AirBnB, have been slower to fully embrace the operating benefits of keyless access and thermostats connected to reservations and work orders in their properties. It’s been more of a challenge to convert these customers. One reason private accommodation operators have avoided keyless, for example, is because for many individual hosts and property managers, they have felt that ‘meeting and greeting’ a guest, being there to welcome, guide and build rapport, is all part of the service and integral for building a customer relationship.

However, when they do understand that keyless access doesn’t negate guest service but actually adds to experience by removing the friction point of scheduling a time to meet a host, they tend to become enthusiasts. Add to this the understanding that keyless access and smart locks saves money, through reducing lost key replacement, late night lock-out calls etc then short-term rental managers are fully ‘sold’.

Serviced apartments have been somewhere in between….they might have a common area access control system that utilises key cards, perhaps using low cost plastic cards like in hotels, or the more expensive fobs and tokens. Today, many of these systems still require the guest to ‘physically’ provide credentials, check in at a ‘desk’ and therefore not enjoy the full convenience of a direct-to-home check-in.

However, as common area access control systems become connected online, it allows them to sync with other access points, such as an individual unit or home ‘door’. This increasingly allows for physical keys and credentials to become smart digital keys - removing the cost to replace lost/damaged keys. This is not only good for guests, but also helps staff, vendors and visitors have a more seamless access experience.

Taking the smart, connected theme even further, serviced apartment operators can utilise connected intercom systems, whether with video or simply with a keypad. This allows for guests to buzz in friends, food deliveries, etc and extends a seamless access to a full curb-to-couch experience.

Changing customer preferences

Since a serviced apartment is geared toward stays of a week or longer, guests are more likely to expect features that blend between what they see in hotels and what they have at home. More than a third (34 per cent) of US broadband households have a smart home device, and this is even higher for Millennials and Gen Zers that have grown up thinking digital first or being digital native. Guests in serviced apartments will expect the same smart home conveniences in their apartment as they have at home.

For convenience they are looking to stay in properties that have package rooms lockers or curb-to-couch access systems that make deliveries easier (for all those Amazon packages…) They also want to be able to easily let in their visitors and be able to quickly request maintenance or extra services such as additional cleans. All of this is enhanced by integrated technology.

For comfort, good lighting (especially in the days where we all have a lot of online meetings and spend time ‘working from home’), that is ample and balanced is key. Having high-speed internet, with at a minimum 50MbPs down speed and 5MbPs up is, of course, a prerequisite. Smart tech can also be deployed with smoke and CO alarms, exterior cameras, smart alarms and monitored security.

Three smart tech trends to implement

At the very least, there are smart tech trends that almost every serviced apartment operator (and their guests) could quickly benefit from if adopted. These include connected intercoms that can be setup even when a serviced apartment manager doesn’t manage an entire building. Connected thermostats which allow not only for a guest to feel comfortable, but also saves the owner/operator money when a unit isn’t in use, and keyless locks for not just the common areas, but also for each unit/apartment/home. These digital keys can be turned on and off easily, give a full event history, can be given to service personnel and provide guests with greater convenience.

The benefits for managers who are open to tech adoption include increased operational efficiency, improvement to their bottom line and greater asset protection (higher safety with no floating keys, water leak detection etc).

Serviced apartments have the opportunity now to capitalise on changed customer needs, tech up their properties and enhance the guest experience at the same time. It’s worth reminding ourselves that sometimes, when events outside of our control shift our thinking and our needs, smart, innovative solutions can rise up to solve our pain points. The same is true of tech offerings available in this sector and the wider hospitality industry.

Sean Miller is president of PointCentral, a subsidiary of Alarm.com. PointCentral provides short and long-term property managers with an enterprise-class property automation solution that monitors and controls Smart Home technology across all properties in their inventory over a best-in-class secure and reliable cellular network – increasing property awareness, reducing operational costs and improving guest and resident satisfaction.

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