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Hospitality in the Digital Era

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“Smart hotels need to strategically leverage technology to offer excellent experience to the guests and ensure consistent healthy growth in their room occupancies and overall business,” says Harish Chandra, GM – IT, (CIO), Sarovar Hotels Pvt. Ltd.

At Sarovar Hotels Pvt. Ltd., Harish Chandra is responsible for formulating and implementing ICT strategy, technology solutions, information management initiatives and policies to support the company’s business requirements. During his career span of more than two decades, he has worked in multiple industries, including the hospitality, aviation, IT and telecom. In the hospitality sector, he holds the experience of working for both Indian as well as international brands.

So what enables Harish to lead the information technology solutions at Sarovar Hotels and other establishment where he has worked in the past: “To succeed in the field of ICT, what you need more than anything else is the ability to generate focused discussions on formulating and implementing IT strategy.” Along with being an Information Technology wizard, Harish is also an enthusiastic writer, speaker and online community moderator. His articles, touching upon the areas of Hospitality IT & Telecom from business point of view have been published in several prominent magazines.

Keep it Sweet & Simple

Harish is full of ideas about how Information Technology can be used to provide better services to the guests at the hotels. He says that when a hotel guest arrives at his room, he needs a “KISS” (Keep it Sweet & Simple). “The KISS that I am talking about can easily be achieved by ensuring that right kind of electronic and technology systems are available in the guest’s room,” quips Harish. He informs that most hotel guests today are in the age of 35 to 45 and they usually carry many WiFi enabled devices with them.

“Naturally such guests would like to use these gadgets with the same ease with which they use it at their home,” he says. “The guests expect safe and speedy browsing from their hotel room. They always wish to be connected with their business associates and family members through Skype, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and other available online social media platforms.” He is of the view that today WiFi in the guest rooms and in the public areas is a must for any hotel to remain in business. It also makes sense to have hub within the high end category of hotel premises to enable guests to recharge devices and to connect to HD screens for personalised music and video.

“Most of our Hotels have their own Wired and Wi-Fi Internet set-up as this helps in saving OPEX in long run. Third party wireless system integrator do Internet infra set-up on ‘Revenue share’ or ‘Fixed fee’ model with approx. minimum three years of commitment. We discourage having wired internet ports in all guest room floors and limit it only to one guest floor as usage of wired internet has gone down considerably and most of the guest prefers to use WiFi. This also helps hotels to save on OPEX.”
“Need of the hour is to have good wireless infrastructure in the hotels supported by adequate internet bandwidth for reliable and secure internet experience by our guests. This should be completed by all the hotels by the end of 2015,” says Harish.

He feels that good Internet connectivity is now more important for the guests than telephone connection in the room. “Due to the cheap cost of cellular calls, the guests rarely use in-room fixed handset for local, STD or ISD calls. It is used mostly for calling guest service touch points like room service, housekeeping or concierge related needs.” He informs that the telephone revenues in hotels are dropping significantly due to cheaper mobile calls. In fact, now many hotel chains have started keeping only one bedside handset—they are removing the desk side and the bathroom phones.

On the F&B side, the hotels have begun to use iPad, tablet or any other smart devices. Digital menu helps in overcoming international language barrier. The guests can study the menu on the iPad in the language of their choice, they can learn about the calorie value, preparation method and serving time. This is extremely successful in specialty restaurants which have very dim light theme.

Social Media Presence

Harish is enthusiastic about the role that social media can play in the hospitality sector. He has created an information sharing group on LinkedIn: “Hospitality CIO-CTO (India & Abroad)”. This group has the membership mix of more than 600 CIOs, Hotel IT Managers, Hospitality IT & Telecom associates, etc. He is also founding member of LinkedIn and WhatsApp group: “Global Hospitality CIO’s, CTO’s & Digital e-Marketing professionals”.

“I have created this group called, Global Hospitality CIO’s, CTO’s & Digital e-Marketing professionals, to serve as a digital platform for the Hospitality CIO/CTO/Corp IT community professionals to share knowledge on all various technology related issues,” says Harish. “This group has more than 115 top corporate ICT professionals from across the globe.”

Today social media is playing an important role in the selection of hotels. In fact, many hospitality chains are already harnessing the power of social media for its ability to increase customer engagement, enhance customer satisfaction and improve retention rates. “The online communities are effective tools for building relationships with customers,” says Harish. He says that the good presence on social media is a must for hospitality companies to stay ahead of the competition. “Often customers make bookings after reading social media reviews of various hotels,” he adds.

“The management of the hotel perishable room inventory and selling it at reasonable price via hotel brand website has become challenging today when many of today’s customers prefer to make their bookings through and other popular online travel agents (OTA’s).

Technology today has empowered traveler to compares hotel online prices as well as aspects of the hotel experience of any particular hotels using travel metasearch engines like Tirvago. These online engines compares prices for over most of hotels from more than 200 booking sites, such as Expedia,,, and, MakeMyTrip, TravelGuru, Agoda and others online travel portals. Users can search by location as well as the dates and type of room. The site shows all available offers that can be booked on linked external booking sites.

The information compared is based on a variety of sources, including partner websites, user-submitted reviews, and hoteliers themselves. This helps traveler to take decision on hotel booking” says Harish.

Information Technology takes off

What challenges did Harish Chandra and his IT team faces during the implementation of the guest WiFi project at Sarovar Hotels? He says that there were many challenges in implementing this project. As the number of wireless devices that many guests carry is fairly large, there is the much pressure on the WiFi system and at times the connectivity gets slow. “When we started this guest WiFi project, we had a clear idea that we wanted to ensure that the guests at all Sarovar Hotels, located in different parts of India and Africa, should have a consistent high quality of web browsing experience.”

The challenge, Harish explains, lay in not only standardising the guest WiFi infrastructure across all the 70 existing hotels across India and Africa, but also in convincing the hotel owners to invest for the revamp of their legacy WiFi systems. Initially many hotels had either inadequate bandwidth or old 802.11bg wireless access point’s (AP’s) deployment. These AP’S were installed outside the hotel building and cheaper brand like D-Link, TP-Link, Linksys, Brovis, Radmax etc., were used which don’t suite purpose of an hotel enterprise business. Their wireless setup was supporting laptop user and not a smart phone carrying guest as wireless signal receptivity in smart phone is poor due to sleek size and so is small wireless inbuilt antenna.

“To meet some of these challenges, we created the Sarovar Internet Policy,” says Harish. He informs that this particular policy, which has been created after doing extensive study of wireless installations in all the hotels, is meant to improve the guest wireless infrastructure and bandwidth. He says that this policy document has also helped by creating a standard document mentioning approved WiFi access points (AP’s) i.e. ‘Ruckus’ HP (Fka Aruba), Symbol (Fka Motorola) wireless etc) and others with wireless controller, etc., for the upcoming Hotels. This in turn ensures that a robust wireless system is in place and the wireless infrastructure is failure proof.

Management of cost while implementing the new wireless solutions was a major challenge, but Harish Chandra and his team managed to keep the budget under control. “As we were getting these systems deployed in 70 hotels, we could get heavily discounted corporate level rate agreements signed with various wireless system integrators.” In order to address the security related considerations, Harish informs that the deployment consisted of controller based Wireless system from approved OEMs like Ruckus, HP/Alcatel-Aruba, Symbol (Fka Motorola), Altai, Compex and few other wireless solutions.
Harish is eager to see how Digital, SMAC (Social Media, Analytics and Cloud) and ‘IOT’ (Internet of things) based solution are going to enhance guest experience in hospitality industry. He is of opinion that these technologies will increase operational efficiencies; reduce cost and profitability of hospitality industry.

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