Steps away from the horse-drawn carriages of Columbus Circle sits the Hudson Hotel, a fashionable Manhattan dwelling stylized with the requisite eclecticism: a massive chandelier, ivy-covered skylight, hand-carved wooden chairs and '70s Memphis power pop piping through lobby speakers. This temporary home to tourists boasts another modern feature that's less apparent to guests: Its WiFi access links the hotel to its visitors' social data.
The eventual idea is for Morgans Hotel Group guests -- whether residing in one of its properties or merely stopping by the bar – to log into its WiFi system through a social account of their choice such as Facebook, Google Plus or Twitter. The hotel group currently is testing the WiFi logins at the Hudson Hotel only.
The system could help Morgans counteract the loss of customer data otherwise intercepted by room-booking middlemen such as Hotels.com and Priceline. Travel sites help hotels sell rooms they wouldn't otherwise, but without the traditional direct transaction with guests, hotels lose out on customer information. That makes keeping in contact, making targeted offers and building loyalty a challenge.
Morgans is working with Voyat, a travel industry-focused CRM software startup which recently grabbed $1.8 million in funding led by Metamorphic Ventures, to enable the WiFi logins and gather associated customer data.
Those logins give the Hudson access to whatever information people on its property make available publicly on the social site they use to access the WiFi. People can also log in using their email addresses.
"We can get some information about the guests that they have publicly shared on their profiles and upsell back to them," said Gustaf Burman, chief technology officer of Morgans Hotel Group, which has hotels in South Beach, Las Vegas, London and elsewhere. If a guest posts a lot about fitness, for example, the hotel might recommend local running routes.
"We could potentially upsell [guests] other third-party services," he continued, noting the hotel already makes offers from partners available.
The Hudson is collecting customer information through the system currently, but "We're not actually using [the data] yet," said Mr. Burman. "We have a roadmap that we're working on with Voyat to get to that phase."
One big disconnect the boutique hotelier aims to eliminate with the system is the gap between its reservation database and its restaurant and bar-business data. The company would also like better access to historical data as to which guests stayed at one of its hotels to offer discounts to them when they are staying at another hotel in its chain.
Ben Habbel, Voyat's CEO and co-founder, worked on early iterations of Android at Google, and has family roots in the hotel business through his grandparents who worked their way up in Germany "from nothing" after WWII. Eventually, he said, "they were running a five-star property in Braunschweig, Germany."
The company also counts W Hotels and The Sydell Group, which operates Manhattan's NoMad Hotel, as clients. "A lot of the brands that have kind of a boutique style… are more open to trying new things and implementing it and moving fast on it," said Mr. Habbel, who suggested that more traditional chains have longer approval, and implementation cycles.