One on One: An Interview with Kontactless Client Cedric Sharp of the McNeill Hotel Company

Gabriel Weisz

As 2020 winds down, we're taking some time to check in with our trusted clients to hear about how they've managed to navigate the unprecedented events that the coronavirus pandemic has brought upon the hospitality industry. Most recently, we spoke with Cedric Sharp, Area General Manager of McNeill Hotel Company, which manages the Courtyard by Marriott Nashville Green Hills in Tennessee. Read on for the full interview.

Why did your hotel choose to go Kontactless? What was the initial process like and how have the first few months been since going live?

I chose to implement Kontactless after working with [its legacy product] Kallpod in New Orleans. I got an update about the new product and thought it would be a good idea to try it out, especially given the change in the environment with COVID-19. I was curious to see if we could finally provide room service for the guests, something we hadn’t done before.

As a hospitality professional, I love trying out new and different ideas. Working with Tomás, the initial process was very easy; I made sure that I tested each step of the process as if I were a customer, starting with scanning the QR code and going through every item; this allowed me to provide the Kontactless team with feedback as to how make it more guest-friendly. Once we got set up, everything was super smooth.

The younger generations love to do everything through their phone already, and we’ve taken the time to teach older guests how to use their phones to place their orders. We also created a little business card with some basic information on it, which is placed in the room key card packet to inform customers about Kontactless right during the check-in process.

What have you noticed about evolving customer needs and preferences during this time? How has Kontactless been able to meet these needs?

This year’s COVID restrictions have definitely pushed the concept of contactless ordering as well as a to-go/pick-up/delivery model. Because of state laws and recommendations advocating for minimized human interaction, at our hotel we’ve done everything we can to be as contactless as possible. These mandates might be seen as pushing away revenue to a certain degree, meaning we had to rethink how we do business. It was perfect timing.

I’ve noticed that some guests still want to have human interaction, but at the moment it’s the minority. If we’d had implemented Kontactless before the pandemic hit, it would have been easier to capture more revenue through the platform when everything else was shut down. Kontactless has allowed us to reorganize our staffing set-up, letting the platform take some of the stress off during peak hours or busy times at the restaurant.

What inspires you about contactless technology? Do you think its impact on the hotel and hospitality space is permanent?

I think we will see contactless technology used beyond the end of COVID. The way we do business has changed forever; we will never go back to the norm. Ultimately, people will continue to prefer the contactless model.

Kontactless has been a great tool for really connecting with guests, letting them know what’s happening and what we offer.  I like the fact that I can control my prices and inventory, and that I can promote a particular item. Now, it’s much easier to communicate that to our customers. For example, we created a Daily Specials tab, which is so easy to target to our customers, marketing a few items in particular to them.

When it’s an option to view a menu contactless, I do; if it’s mandated, I have no problem doing that. I like having both options — if you do, you’ll choose what you’re used to.

Looking forward to 2021 and beyond, what do you envision for the hotel industry?

If I had the answer to that, I wouldn’t be in this position! (laughs) Honestly, it’s unknown, I don't know if we’ve seen the worst of it yet. As we continue to evolve with COVID, even if we have a vaccine, I don’t think business travel will ever be the same, given that companies have found ways to both save money and accomplish goals - and maybe even increase revenue - while saving on travel expenses.

From the group travel and convention perspective, I think it will be 2-3 years before they come back, if they come back. A lot of convention centers are going to have to focus on leisure travel and different kinds of gatherings, for sure. People still want to get together for fun activities and to enjoy events like sports at an arena, for example. When it comes to leisure travel, people are never going to stop doing that. They’ll fly or drive to get where they want to go. A business person that won’t go on a trip for his company will still travel with his family for pleasure.

We’ll have to see how hotels adapt to the change in rates, individual vs. group set-ups, and wait a few more years to really have an idea of what the industry will look like. It’s tough because hotels have had to cut their rates, but guests still expect all of the same amenities and services; this makes it hard to cut costs, in particular because due to health and safety protocols many hotels have seen an increase in spending. However, if you’re in the right destination and have the right kind of offering — something cool, unique, like a boutique style — that might look different. These days, it’s all about the guest experience and finding a way to set yourself apart.

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