Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Need a pillow? Tap the iPad

Airport hotel first in city to place customized devices in every guest room

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Hotel room service? There's an app for that.

When the Grand by Lakeview hotel opens at the Richardson International Airport in July you won't have to worry about fussing with the phones to reach housekeeping or room service.

Instead, a customized in-room iPad will hook you right up.

The soon-to-open 100-room boutique airport hotel will be the first in the city to offer an iPad in every room with customized mobile connection for all the hotel services.

So instead of having to call the front desk to get them to call housekeeping to bring an extra pillow, a couple of touches on the iPad will get the message right to the pillow department.

"Our tag line for the hotel is modern luxury embracing technology and the environment," said the new hotel's general manager, Neil Fishman. "This technology will let us cut labour costs and save all sorts of paper."

While this will be the first Winnipeg hotel with this type of digital mobile service application, it's a technology development that is currently rippling through the hotel industry.

"It is a major driver in the way hotels are going to be communicating with their guests," said June Tang, vice-president of marketing for a Montreal company, MConcierge, that has developed the app called GuestDriven the Grand will be using.

She said her company has a version of the app installed in about 200 hotels, but she said the Grand will have one of the most sophisticated versions yet.

"I would say Neil is very advanced and ahead of many others in the level of service that will be offered to their guests," Tang said.

In addition to direct connections to all the hotel's service offerings, the hotel's compendium -- that binder of hotel services and city guide -- will also be loaded on the iPad, as well as a number of other customized interactive features.

Fishman said guests can also download the app onto their own mobile devices before they arrive at the hotel and pre-register and just stop by to pick up their room key. Or they can use it to order services while they are out during the day that will be ready when they're back in the hotel.

Keith Levit, president of Lakeview Management, the owner and developer of the hotel, said the whole idea behind the development of the Grand was to be able to distinguish the property from everything else in the market.

"There are a lot of cookie-cutter hotels being built," he said. "This is not a cookie cutter."

Lakeview has a substantial track record in the market -- it owns and operates more than 20 hotels across the country -- and it knows a few things about how to provide a good customer experience and also what turns guests off.

"If you want to upset a guest, charge them $14.95 a day for WiFi," said Levit. "Or worse, don't provide it all."

The Grand will have free WiFi, as well as HDTV and -- also a first in Winnipeg -- PVR service on the televisions.

"When we're staying in a hotel, we want at least the kind of comfort and conveniences we have at home," said Jim Baker, president of the Manitoba Hotel Association.

He said some of the larger chains are sometimes the slowest in providing these kinds of innovations, but things such as WiFi and HD televisions are becoming key customer service features.

"It's more than just a cutesy feature," Baker said. "This is a growing area for hotels. Guests want the same thing they have at home and that means wireless, immediate access to search, HDTV, whatever."

Fishman and Levit may have to put their staff through some new training routines. The mobile communication services will provide enhanced information on who their guests are and what they want during their stay.

"This is where the upper end of the hotel business is going," Levit said. "It's not only about what we're providing our customers, but it's also about improving the bottom line with better information. We try to collect the information in other ways, but this will make it easier and more exact."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2013 B4

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Updated on Friday, March 8, 2013 at 3:46 PM CST: Corrects typo.

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