Imagine being nestled on a forested hillside, cradled between a ring of high Alpine foothills, and taking in the incredible views of Lake Como from the rooftop terrace. This is how guests have enjoyed Hotel Il Perlo Panorama for almost a century. We took the opportunity to speak with Carlo Sancassano, owner of Hotel Il Perlo Panorama and cycling enthusiast, to learn how they have improved the experience for their guests and team through better technology.
Hotel Il Perlo Panorama has an impressive, century-old history. Can you tell us more about how the hotel came about?
This small boutique hotel was built in 1922 by my grandfather. What began as a small farmhouse with a few simple, affordable rooms rented to servants of the aristocracy visiting nearby Bellagio and Milan – is now Hotel Il Perlo Panorama, which still treats its guests with the same welcoming family hospitality as it did many years ago.
Has Hotel Il Perlo Panorama always been a family business?
At the time, my parents had helped reopen the hotel, focusing mainly on the restaurant. However, as time went on, we realized that we needed to expand the restaurant and increase the number of rooms to 17 to ensure we could continue to receive guests in our simple but welcoming lodge. It was only 20 years ago – that I was ‘forced’ to come back (I was bored then!) and decided to work in the family business ever since. The most important thing is that we are a family and the hotel functions as if we welcome our guests as if it were their home.
Since the Lake Como region is an iconic destination for cyclists, it seems the hotel has decided to invest in the cycling market. Can you tell us more about that?
In fact, we learned by chance that our hotel is cradled in the middle of a ring of high Alpine foothills that is particularly famous among cyclists. Therefore we decided to invest in the cycling market and became a bike hotel 15 years ago. With my educational background in socio-economic studies, I converted these stories into actions at the hotel while tiding over the challenges of running a family business.
How has technology influenced hotel operations?
Many people have a love-hate relationship with technology, but we know that technology plays an important role in facilitating processes for hospitality businesses like ours. I certainly drive people around me crazy because I am constantly introducing and investing in new technologies to automate the simple and mundane tasks of housekeeping and other areas of our hospitality business.
How have things changed for you as a result of the pandemic?
There have certainly been big changes in the technology, such as online check-ins, QR codes, and just using devices to make our interpersonal relationships closer – that has helped a lot. Although it has been a strange but busy year, with many people moving around after the pandemic, this has led to increased demand for hospitality services. The introduction of artificial intelligence and the automation of our processes, it helped us a lot in our day-to-day operations. I have to say, though, that the technical challenges of the technology sometimes make it more complicated, so it takes time for one to get comfortable with it.
Can you give us some examples of how you use technology to improve your hotel operations and the guest experience?
5 Quick Wins to Improve Guest Experience with Tech
- Find ways to speed things up, no need to replace all your processes.
- Check-in is the first step to automate. Also most solutions on the market.
- Get mobile payment solutions implemented as these require most time.
- Watch out on over-automating. Look where guests expect human interaction and leave human touch there.
- Chatbots will facilitate the repetitive questions, but ensure you have a human for special questions.
One example we are constantly working on is the online check-in system. Our goal is to turn our guests’ arrival moments into welcome moments, rather than just completing the check-in as a formality. When we receive our guests’ reservations, we can automatically send them a pre-arrival email a few days before their arrival, asking them for useful information about their arrival and stay. The online check-in generates a code to the hotel and the guest room, so guests are completely independent and free to arrive at their ‘home’ as and when they wish to. By then, we can also inform guests about the hotel services offered and activities they can participate in during their stay. This has proven to be particularly gratifying in terms of continually building relationships with our guests.
It is a nice combination of human and technological elements. How do you think about blending both elements together rather than replacing one with the other?
The idea was never to replace one with the other – we realized that the most important part of the arrival is simply to provide the basic information about our hotel and its events. We just tried to speed things up with technology while involving our guests in the process. Guests can see what they have consumed at any point in time, and see their hotel expenses transparently. Guests can even make payments at any minute of the day, which in turn helps the check-out process. Once we have identified our guests’ needs, there are many opportunities for upselling – we can offer them our F&B dinner packages and cycling activities.
Are there areas of your employees’ work that you think would be better done by them, rather than involving technology? How do you decide what is best done more efficiently using technology? What do you think would be better left to employees to add a personal touch?
It takes our day-to-day experience with guests to figure out which tasks are best made more efficient with technology and which are best left to staff to do personally. An example would be offering the menu in the restaurant – in our opinion, the process looses the human touch if technology is introduced here. Another moment is when crises occur in the hotel – for example, if something is not working properly in the room, we can use technology to trigger the red flags, but it is also important to make sure there is a human element to solve the problem. All those emotional moments still need to be managed by people, after all.
How do you use chatbots to improve service at your hotel? Can you tell us a little about this project?
We had decided to set up chatbot systems to avoid having to answer the same questions over and over again – “How do I get to the hotel?” or “How do I get from the train station to the hotel?”. In this case, we lose a lot of time in the hospitality industry. Therefore, we have implemented chatbots to improve our operational efficiency. There is still room for improvement and tailoring the system to our needs – but now it definitely helps us with that Q&A end. I really hope that this will have a positive impact on our sales in the future – even if it will take some time and we will have to figure things out ourselves.
Is there a technology or feature you are looking forward to in the future? Are there other interesting examples that you are excited about?
As I mentioned earlier, we certainly need to start incorporating the use of technology even more into our culture to leverage artificial intelligence for automated upselling. We need to work on our precision and continue to redefine our services.
Looking ahead, what does 2023 look like for the hotel? What are your plans or what do you envision the year’s focus to be?
Our goals are mainly to win back the cycling guests lost due to the pandemic. The border closures have made it difficult for our main target market – Australians – to visit and return. However, since October 2022, they have been gradually returning and their bookings are increasing. I hope we will see similar occupancy rates as before 2022. We are also doing our best to promote that our destination is open year-round, not just seasonal. All in all, technology would obviously help us in everything we do.