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Hotel Zugbrücke Grenzau: Digitalization? Yes, but with a plan and reason, please!

4****-Superior Wellness Hotel in the middle of nature

The 4-star-superior Hotel Zugbrücke Grenzau leaves nothing to be desired. In the midst of greenery, not far from Koblenz in the beautiful Westerwald, the team around General Manager Olaf Gstettner and Assistant General Manager Athanas Tsitotas welcomes its guests. From the wellness lover enjoying their spare time to the adventure-seeking active vacationer to the relaxation-seeking family, everyone is guaranteed to get their money’s worth in the individually and lovingly managed hotel. Guests can pamper themselves in the “WaldRausch Spa & Sport” wellness area, enjoy delicious regional food in the restaurant, or simply enjoy the nature around Grenzau to the fullest on foot or by bike.

We met with Mr. Tsitotas to talk about his experiences with digitalization in the hotel and to evaluate the cooperation with us, Betterspace. The resourceful entrepreneur shared his views on digitalization and his experiences during the Corona pandemic.

Digitalization as part of corporate management in the hotel

At the end of 2019, the decision was made at Hotel Zugbrücke Grenzau to push ahead with digitalization. “We have long considered digitalization as something that is part of reasonable business management and work execution. There is probably no hotelier who says that digitalization is not a high priority for his hotel. However, we are not about digitalizing our hotels for digitalization’s sake, but about deriving real benefit from it,” Assistant General Manager Athanas Tsitotas explains.

Digitalization does not dismiss, but relieves!

In many hotels, Corona has led to an upswing and in some cases also to a rethinking of digitalization. Here in Grenzau, a conscious decision was made even before the pandemic to take a further step on the digital path. Last but not least, the sometimes-difficult search for new employees provided a decisive impulse. “Our goal was and is to simplify the processes and workflows in the hotel with digital solutions. In this way, we want to give our competent, but declining staff time to work with and on the guest again. It is definitely not the goal of digitalization to save employees, many have been misinterpreting that. It is about simplifying administrative and managerial tasks for the staff and thus saving time,” says Tsitotas.

In addition, the guest journey should also become more pleasant and comfortable. Because guests also benefit from the use of digital solutions in the hotel. Before deciding on the digital guest directory better.guest on in-room tablets and the reliable WiFi solution better.connect from Betterspace, the Assistant General Manager obtained several offers. “The thing that convinced me most about Betterspace in the long term is the fact that there are real people talking and not just salespeople. We could and can talk at eye level. Betterspace understands our concerns. We as hoteliers help other people to make the best time of the year, their well-deserved holiday, as beautiful as possible and Betterspace supports us to do so,” Tsitotas explains.

Not every service in the hotel needs to be digitized

The Corona pandemic has clearly driven digitization in the hotel and provided a positive upswing. “Many have used the time of the lockdowns to upgrade digitally. We too are still trying to digitize as many processes as necessary, whether in the pre- or post-stay phase. But I also say very clearly, not every service needs to be digitized. Corona has led to many hotels digitizing rashly without time reference and without a plan. That was not helpful. There is no point in simply buying, but you have to approach the matter in a considered way and think about what use the digital tools have for my hotel, what really relieves the employees, as we already did before the pandemic with Betterspace,” Mr Tsitotas points out.

The implementation in the hotel

“The implementation in our hotel with Betterspace went smoothly. We had super good support and were well informed during all planning phases and the installation. Direct communication is always very important to me. The chemistry was just right, also with the Betterspace technician who implemented the WLAN solution in the hotel,” Mr Tsitotas adds happily. Direct communication is therefore not only important with the guest, but also with the suppliers of the hotel industry.

WiFi and guest directory from Betterspace in use

The WiFi solution ensures a stable digital infrastructure, a cornerstone for all digital processes in the hotel. The guest directories on the tablets in the hotel rooms inform guests and simplify communication. The guest directory scores with push messages, the feature to quickly and easily cancel room cleaning and the interface to the PMS system Suite 8 from Oracle used in the hotel. The guest directory is already used at check-in. A tablet is always ready at the reception desk. The staff point out the digital assistant in the hotel room to the guests right when checking-in. This reduces the older guests’ fear of contact and increases the number of users.

better.guest – Popular with guests and environment

In addition to the various communication and information options, guests appreciate another little thing: the USB charging point on the charging tray for smartphones and other guest devices. Moreover, guests find the smart in-room tablets an additional service of the hotel that makes their stay easier. “We hardly have a room where the tablet is not used by our hotel guests. Perhaps not least because we show it out to our guests right at the reception desk,” says Tsitotas.

The surroundings, nature and the environment also benefit from the digital assistant in the hotel room. “One of our first campaigns with the digital guest directory was a complete success. For every room cleaning that is cancelled, we donate five euros to a local organization that is involved in the reforestation of our forests here. Unfortunately, we are not spared from forest dieback in Grenzau either. The drought of the past few years and the bark beetle have taken their toll on the trees. We simply had to act here. The guest directory has provided us with a perfect starting point for this. Guests can easily cancel room cleaning. In this way, we have been able to donate some large amounts in the past years,” the Assistant General Manager says happily.

Betterspace’s interface to Oracle won them over

“Above all, the interface of the digital guest directory to Oracle makes our work in the hotel much easier,” Mr Tsitotas explains. The interface to Oracle’s PMS system enables the housekeeping team to report the status of the room via the tablet directly to the team at the reception desk, without any paper lists or detours. Likewise, the connection to the PMS system enables push messages to be sent depending on occupancy. “The most important thing is that the digital systems used run stably and reasonably. The best solutions and systems are the ones you don’t even think about, and that is the case with Betterspace’s digital guest directory. Especially with interfaces, there are often problems and one person then blames it on the other. That’s not the case with Betterspace, it just works here,” Tsitotas laughs.

Corona and the influence on turnover and communication in the hotel

Often, the digital guest directory serves as an up- and cross-selling tool in the hotel as a kind of extended arm for the marketing team. Hotel Zugbrücke sees things quite differently. “It was never our goal to use the tablet for up-selling. But sure, one or two euros have been flowings here under guarantee. If it wasn’t for the Corona situation in the past, I could have guaranteed that five percent of our guests would have booked the late check-out for a fee nonetheless, even if that wasn’t our intention,” explains Mr Tsitotas.

What definitely is noticeable at Hotel Zugbrücke in Grenzau, however, and independent of Corona, are the reduced costs, especially in the area of housekeeping. “At normal circumstances, the output would be much higher and we would have reliable figures. Corona threw a wrench in the works here. What is a real plus, however, is the speed of the guest directory. We could always pass on information to our guests very quickly,” says Tsitotas. Especially during the peak phases of the Corona pandemic, the number of guests at the hotel dropped dramatically. Fortunately, the Hotel Zugbrücke never had to close completely. However, the permanent staffing of the reception desk was not necessary when the number of guests was low. “Here, the guest directory really helped us a lot. Our guests always had a contact person, not at the reception desk, but directly in the hotel room. Especially the chat via the digital guest directory was an absolute enrichment,” adds Mr Tsitotas.

Avoidable challenges when digitalizing a hotel

“The biggest challenge in the digitalization of our hotel is definitely not increasing costs for tools and hardware, but rather the employees often reach their limits in their ability to quickly familiarize themselves with the digital solutions and recognize their benefits. They often do not realise the benefits behind the digital solutions. That’s why we involve our employees as early as possible. And that’s what I clearly recommend to my colleagues: always get your employees on board in time and also arrange enough time for their training. That is very important,” Mr Tsitotas adds.

At Hotel Zugbrücke in Grenzau, one has three helpful tips for all hoteliers who are concerned with the digitalization of their hotel. “Firstly, hoteliers should not go into a buying frenzy but act in a considered manner. It is no use just buying something hyped without thinking about how it really benefits my hotel. Secondly, one should take a close look and check whether the solution works for one’s own hotel and supports guests and staff. There is no point in being a pioneer if the solution does not work. And thirdly, my colleagues should not forget the preparation phase, the implementation and the training of the employees. Especially about interfaces, which are needed, you have to think about thoroughly,” the Assistant General Manager explains.