There's a revolution going on in hotel loyalty apps.
Originally created to provide regular customers with special perks and rewards, such as advance room reservations and upgrade abilities, many major hotel chains have since expanded their apps to give regular customers more control over their stay, from remote room check-in to an in-app room key, allowing customers to open and lock their rooms using their mobile device.
The expansion of app capabilities started around 2014, according to Jim Grillo, president of HeresChicago.com in Lombard.
All major hotel chains now offer expanded services on their apps. Many experts point to Marriott and Hilton as leaders in the expanded customer experience apps, offering perks from remote check-in and mobile key to direct contact with room service or concierge services.
"Talking face-to-face is too hard according to some busy frequent flying travelers," Grillo said. "Therefore, the app is handy as you can check in on your phone and use your phone as a key.
"If you prefer, some properties still allow you to go to the front desk and pick up your key after you check into your hotel," he added.
Even non-chain and boutique hotels can offer customers similar experience through third-party apps such as OpenKey. In fact, according to OpenKey's blog, mobile app downloads worldwide are expected to reach 352.9 billion per year by the year 2021.
The Hilton chain this year has taken the mobile experience up a notch through the rollout of its Connected Room platform.
Connected Room-enabled hotels allow guests to use the Hilton Honors app to manage their personal environment, from controlling the temperature and lighting to the watching TV and adjusting window coverings, according to a news release.
Guests can also personalize their room by loading streaming media and other accounts to their in-room TVs.
The technology is being tested in about 500 rooms across four hotels near Memphis, and the company plans to expand it to thousands rooms across five Hilton-brands hotels in other locations, according to Josh Weiss, Hilton's vice president of brand and guest technology.
In addition to giving guests more control over their stay, Weiss said the platform allows hotels to be more energy efficient.
"For example, when guests aren't physically in their booked rooms -- typically around 70 percent of the time -- hotels can power down devices such as the television, HVAC, and lights, dramatically reducing energy consumption," he said in a recent interview. "We believe that through Connected Room, we can open up new, advanced ways of tracking and reducing energy consumption around the world, and continue to be a leader in sustainability."
While giving hotel guests more control over their stay has a number of benefits, Greg Hanis, president of Hospitality Marketers International of Milwaukee and Fort Myers, Florida, warns there can be a downside to more technology.
"The fear I see is that the hotel industry is going to get away from customer service," Hanis said. "The personal touch of actually seeing someone, talking to someone, being greeted by somebody, is going to be lost."
He said customer service is one of the primary things in the business that makes one hotel different from another.
"It's the personal touch that you give to the guests," Hanis said. "If we get to the point where we become impersonal, than what makes us different from the hotel down the street?"