Unlocking potential: How Atlantis the Palm embraces technology to streamline business
Atlantis the Palm embraces technology to streamline the business and improve customer service
With its 10th anniversary looming at the end of September, the 1539-room Atlantis The Palm has been undergoing a quiet programme of room refurbishment. As part of its room-by-room facelift, the hotel has fast-tracked its shift from old mag-strip-based door locks to a radio frequency ID (RFID) system.
The introduction of the RFID locking system is the harbinger of a sophisticated technology drive across the hotel and waterpark that aims to deliver a much greater degree of personalised service to its guests.
With the RFID room locks rolled out at the end of September (as this magazine goes to press) the hotel is planning a simultaneous switch to a blockchain-based, cashless payment system. The tech team tested the blockchain settlement platform from Lucid Pay, at two F&B events in the summer, where customers used RFID wristbands to pay for F&B. “We were approached by Lucid Pay and that sparked a conversation, and we started to look around to see how we could use this,” explains Anthony Lynsdale, vice president, information technology, Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai. “The business wanted a cashless solution… where guests got a wristband,” he adds.
Lucid’s blockchain platform will initially be used to streamline the management of the property’s half-board guests. Integrating tightly with Atlantis’ existing Micros Symphony point of sale (POS), guests will be able to tap their room key at the counter in any of the hotel’s outlets, which will generate a ‘pop-up’ on the POS screen; enabling the waiter to select the half-board meal to initiate the cheque.
“This will eliminate the need to print cheques and the requirement for the guest’s signature, making it a frictionless process, as well as allowing for better reconciliation on the backend resulting is more accurate billing,” explains Lynsdale.
Atlantis is currently assessing the opportunities for a broader rollout of the blockchain platform in the resort. Possible options include extending the payment system to third parties so that guests can pay for events and services at other venues and charge them to their room bill. The resort’s F&B loyalty programme, due at the end of October will take advantage of the platform.
“There are lots of opportunities for [blockchain]… We then have a food and beverage loyalty programme that will use this technology to allow us to track and verify discounts and consumption across our F&B outlets,” says Lynsdale.
The greater degree of transparency over transactions will also combat to fraud — something that is unavoidable given the large number of cash transactions on-site each day. Lucid Pay’s ‘general ledger’ platform captures all transactional information across the blockchain, so in case of any dispute, both parties are able to see exactly what has been consumed and charged for.
Atlantis is also looking to upgrade its existing wristband-based system in Aquaventure waterpark. Currently, the waterpark issues visitors bracelets to manage entry and exit at the park. Guests can store monetary value on the bracelet to buy F&B and other services. However, the IT team is assessing if it can further leverage RFID to integrate the wristband into the hotel’s PMS and billing applications to create a ‘seamless’ customer experience across the resort.
“We’re looking at partnering with our current vendor, which is Gateway, on a re-implementation of the software, but with additional features and capabilities,” says Lynsdale.
“We have an opportunity to look at RFID wristbands, and [think how] that guest journey transcends through resort. If I have RFID wristband, can it open my door? Get me into the water park? And maybe, be used as a payment method? Then I don’t need to carry my wallet,” he explains.
The migration to RFID locks, adoption of blockchain and a shift to a cashless systems illustrate the changing role of information technology at the property. Rather than maintaining application up time and buying bandwidth, the IT team is expected to study the business and anticipate how technology will add value to both the guest experience and back of house operations.
“IT is becoming an integral part of shaping the hospitality business and how it functions,” comments Lynsdale.
“It’s about anticipating business needs before they materialise and how we in ‘IT’ translate this into workable solutions. As business demands have increase… it’s important to ensure we are one step ahead of the game, particularly with competition being so high. Rather than ensuring systems are running smoothly, IT is a key player in helping drive business change through innovation and system optimisation,” he adds.
To match the business demand, the 25-strong IT team at Atlantis has virtualised much of its IT infrastructure, shifting applications, data and servers to the cloud, accelerated the check in process, deployed an IPTV system and instigated a rolling app development programme that aims to offer greater personalised services to guest.
Initial discussions about overhauling Atlantis’ servers and core business applications started in early 2017 and RFPs went out in the summer.
After exploratory discussions with the major vendors, the hotel team opted for infrastructure based around Dell’s VxRail and VMware.
“We already had a very good understanding of VMware and the nuts and bolts of VxRail,” says Lynsdale.
“But a key factor was the post-implementation customer care. For us that was critical. We’ve worked with a lot of vendors, [and] a lot of products have the capability, but it’s really about how they support [you] post-implementation. I felt that Dell were very solid in that regard,” he adds.
The revamped infrastructure offered Atlantis some immediate business benefits, not least of which was a more robust and simplified setup. Given the size and scope of the resort and the volume of transactions it handles every day, a bulletproof infrastructure, without a single point of failure was vital.
The shift to the cloud also has allowed the hotel to significantly reduce its number of on-site servers from 70, to just 10.
“As a result of the volume [of transactions] that we have, we had to have a lot of server infrastructure… We were looking for vendors that could streamline that for us and put the data centre into one rack,” explains Lynsdale.
With sister property, The Royal Atlantis due to open on the plot next door, adding another 793 rooms and 230 service apartments sometime in 2019, the infrastructure also had to be scalable. The additional server and storage capacity for The Royal Atlantis should plug-in straight into the existing setup. There is also the possibility of building a disaster recovery site across both properties. “For us, it is about scalability,” says Lynsdale.
“We have enough room and scale here to support them, but I would like to have a disaster recovery type of scenario, where we have primary infrastructure here and then secondary [data centre at the Royal]. That would be the ideal situation,” he adds.
The simplified infrastructure has freed up time and resources to enable the team to add value to the business. The IT team is still structured around service desk, network infrastructure, telecoms and application support, however, work has now moved into ‘new areas’. With the “hyper-converged infrastructure we spend less time ‘watering’ the systems, everything is on a self-contained dashboard,” explains Lynsdale.
“We are focusing a lot more on guest facing areas, and on how to innovate and update our technology to enhance the guest experience,” he adds.
A prime example is the integration with the hotel’s Opera PMS and the VICAS (visitor identification capture and archiving system). Front desk staff can now initiate passport scans directly from Opera, and VICAS synchronises the data between Opera, Police CID and Department of Trade and Commerce Marketing (DTCM). The integration cuts two steps from the previous process and reduces the check in time of a family of four, from ten minutes down to just six, which has had a direct impact on the hotel’s TripAdvisor scores. “This was the number one pain point during busy check ins. We wanted to address this with technology,” says Lynsdale.
“In essence it’s just streamlined the whole check in process because you now initiate the scan from Opera. On top of that we have introduced an eReg Solution, which is a digital signature and e-folio… We have that for our VIP check in,” he adds.
Other customer facing projects in the past year include the rollout of a pool-side ordering app called YQ that was integrated into the existing point of sale system. The hotel also upgraded its IPTV system throughout the hotel, which now provides much richer content to guests.
The team also consolidated the management of the digital signage throughout the property. Previously, the marketing department could only update content on each screen by visiting it individually and inserting a USB. The Omni Channel Smart Signage Solution brings “everything together to one central content management system, and give[s] marketing a dashboard that they can use to push content out to various locations”, explains Lynsdale.
Despite all the work over the last eighteen months, it is only the beginning — there is still massive scope to target services at guests.
Increasingly just how well a property ‘knows’ its visitors will determine the quality of guest experience. For Atlantis its mobile app development plan is vital to building a binding relationship with its customers.
Currently, only in its initial stages, the app will evolve over time, “so we can reach out to guests in advance of their arrival [to] understand their preferences before they arrive, so we can caterer to them as soon as they get here. That is something we are keen on driving,” explains the VP for information technology.
Understanding customer preferences is vital if the property is start to proactively targeting services to guests. Again using the resort’s mobile app, the tech team at the Atlantis is experimenting with the use of beacons in its retail spaces so it can send targeted messages about retail and F&B to guests it believes might be interested.
“The Wi-Fi infrastructure that we have at the moment is Cisco and very robust. Cisco has a lot of capabilities when it comes to analytics, and we are working with marketing to see where we have crowds and where we have opportunities to send messages within the resort,” says Lynsdale.