Digital Transformation Needed – With or Without a Pandemic
The hospitality industry is arguably among the hardest hit sectors of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Malaysian Association of Hotels reporting tourism revenue losses of RM6.53 billion in 2020. According to Malaysian Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, 204 tourism and hotel operators in Malaysia were forced to shutter due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) as of November last year.
Sunway Resort too was not spared from the drop in tourist numbers, exacerbated by the closure of international travel borders and the implementation of MCO in 2020. However, instead of languishing in its unfortunate predicament, Sunway Group’s most prized hospitality asset seized the opportunity to cut its losses and embark on a RM249 million once-in-a-generation transformation to upgrade its facilities, including digitalising its operations, welcoming a new era of hospitality when it reopens in phases starting Q3 this year.
The most extensive refurbishment in Sunway Resort’s 24-year history, the initiative aims to position the hotel as one of the top hospitality and entertainment developments in Asia. The new Sunway Resort will feature seamless digital integration, reimagined 477 rooms, specialist suites, signature restaurants, as well as extensive family and health facilities
A Digital Update
One of the components of Sunway Resort’s transformation involves updating the digital infrastructure, a move that is in line with Sunway Group’s digital transformation programme, said Sunway City Kuala Lumpur Hotels senior general manager, Alex Castaldi.
As the pandemic has altered consumer behaviour, hotels need to reimagine the customer experience and reengage with customers to build and maintain their trust, he said.
“Digital transformation is no longer an option. Due to the global pandemic, people now rely more on digital solutions to access information and to avoid face-to-face interactions as much as possible, we too must create a more seamless guest experience, by automating and streamlining the travel process,” Castaldi said.
A digital feature that will be available in the new Sunway Resort is a multi-purpose “Super App” that guests can use to book their hotel stay, check in, unlock the room door, act as a TV remote control, make and receive calls from the guestroom telephone, as well as remotely manage the curtains, air conditioner and lights. “Everything will be at their fingertips with this one-stop app. We are also partnering with Fitscovery to offer on-demand videos and live online fitness workouts with certified coaches, available in the Wellness Suites and in the gym, which are both powered by the world leading company in fitness, wellness and digital solutions, Technogym,” Castaldi said.
Internet Protocol television (IPTV) and telephone (IP phone) will be new features in Sunway Resort’s hotel rooms, allowing guests to access information on the hotel facilities and services, mobile screen mirroring, as well as order food via the new digital TV units, eliminating paper usage.
Sunway Resort’s hotel management system is in the cloud through its integration with Oracle Hospitality Opera Cloud service, streamlining reservations, easing arrivals and check-ins, and simplifying check-outs. Guests can register digitally on screen and will be billed online, with communication via email. Registration staff will be equipped with tablets and can escort guests around the hotel to provide better service instead of being confined to the front desk. The Group is also planning to set-up self-service kiosks at other hotels, introducing the paperless registration where guests are able to have a seamless self-directed check-in and out, improving efficiency and providing convenience to all.
“Digitalisation enables us to fulfil our commitment to sustainability by saving paper and resources in whatever ways we can. We also save on hardware costs and Sunway City will be seamlessly connected. Menara Sunway for instance, is already employing the IP phone,” he said.
The Power of Digital Marketing
Digital infrastructure is merely one aspect of Sunway Resort’s digital transformation process – building stronger customer relationships via digital marketing is crucial to being relevant in the market and ultimately, to win market share, Castaldi said.
“We need the customers to buy in digitally, so we place a lot more effort on digital marketing with a greater emphasis on social media across all businesses. In China, Weibo and WeChat are proper means of conducting sales but in Malaysia, more traditional social media such as Facebook and Instagram still play an important role in digital marketing. In business, it is important to cater to the new generation of customers, so we welcome digitalisation in our hotels,” he said.
Within moments of announcing that Sunway Resort will be home to the first Gordon Ramsay Bar & Grill located outside of London, the hotel received overwhelming enquiries and reservations – six months ahead of the restaurant’s opening in June.
This was one of the reasons Sunway Resort chose to partner with Gordon Ramsay Restaurants – the social media reach of the brand of about one billion people, said Castaldi.
“A digital agency commissioned by Sunway Group found that the announcement made through our social media pages and press release we had sent out reached 20 million Malaysians in a day and was published in all key media publications online. On our Facebook page, the post reached 1.3 million viewers in 3 days. This has shown us the importance of being relevant and taking advantage of opportunities,” he said.
Pandemic Reality for Hotels
The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat in Ipoh recorded a 95% room occupancy rate for four consecutive months following the easing of MCO domestic travel restrictions in June last year – underscoring the strong demand for travel – and hospitality players – even during a pandemic.
“During Sunway’s ‘Ke Sana Ke Sini Ke Sunway’ travel campaign, we sold 26,000 hotel room nights. This shows that people still need, and want to travel and experience fun but they just cannot now. While 2021 will still be a difficult year for everyone and we need to be prudent, come 2022, I foresee a boom in hospitality once things normalise again,” said Castaldi.
He opined that the hospitality industry is usually slow at adapting to change and when it comes to technology, the industry must move forward and keep up with its demand and upgrades, he said.
“Digitalisation is not an overnight process. The fact that the renovation was due to happen last year helped us to speed things up. If not for COVID-19, we would have taken slower steps. Change is not easy to make – by the time you change, something else may crop up. We should not redesign all businesses to adapt to the pandemic but if new opportunities present themselves, we should seize them,” he said.
This article first appeared in Berita Sunway Issue 71