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By Lauren Carter
EDMONTON—Staff at the Radisson Edmonton South can now connect instantly with guests through LobbyFriend, a social networking tool for hotels. “It’s like an internal Twitter,” explains general manager Robin Cumine. When visitors check in, they gain access for their stay and can use the network either on a station in the lobby or by downloading a smart phone app.
Owned by SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts, the Radisson is the first hotel in the chain – and in Canada – to use the temporary network, which is currently in place on a year-long trial. Developed in Montreal, the app is in use at 50 other properties, in cities including New York and New Orleans.
Through LobbyFriend, staff can distribute promotions, special offers, restaurant specials and event information to current guests. “It’s like having a concierge to a degree,” says Cumine. “We might post about a pasta evening in our Atrium Restaurant or invite guests to the pub for [Edmonton] Oilers hockey and half-price wings.”
As with any social network, guests are able to interact by posting photos and status updates and sending messages. Those opting for privacy can still get the spa discount or learn about the breakfast special by interacting anonymously. Guests can also ask private questions.
“You could be shopping at the West Edmonton Mall and post a question asking where to catch the hotel shuttle,” says Cumine.
Last spring, the hotel tested the technology at the SilverBirch leadership conference with a mobile station in the Radisson’s conference room. The live feed showed real-time comments about the presentations, says Cumine, while also addressing practical matters. Brigitte Diem-Guy, the chain’s vice president of sales and marketing, posted that the panel needed water and refreshments were delivered without interrupting the proceedings.
The Radisson launched LobbyFriend last June. So far they have trouble-shot problems like the lobby installation’s appearance and issues with inappropriate comments. “It can recognize and block many words, but some guests have been more creative.” This emphasizes the need for quick response, says Cumine, which is key in online relations.
Integrating the network has been a bit bumpy. Last summer, it was used recreationally by visitors and didn’t earn immediate accolades. “At first it was confusing and after three months we were really questioning it, but once September hit and we started getting into the corporate cycle, we found it was being used more as a communications tool.”
Best for big conferences
Conference services manager Lynsey Savill agrees and adds that LobbyFriend is best for big conferences where it’s more challenging to keep everyone connected. “If you have lots of people and dinner is delayed, for example, you’re able to post that so everyone will see.”
The younger demographic and college and business conference attendees have gravitated more readily towards the new technology, she says. “They’ve embraced it because they’re used to communicating this way.” But Savill remains confident it will catch on with a wider range of guests. “It’s like Facebook,” she says. “Five years ago, your mom kept asking you about it and now you can’t get her off it.”