Project Duration : 10 Weeks
Team : Nik Parekh & Christine Everdell
The Thunderbird Inn is one of the oldest motels in Savannah, Georgia. Its chic, retro exterior belays its ultra-modern take on service delivery. This is a unique selling point and an attribute the motel is keen to expand upon. Competition among hotels and inns in Savannah is as fierce as it is anywhere in the US, but many independent establishments, such as the Thunderbird Inn, are recognizing the value of an optimal service experience to customers. While big name hotels such as the W are able to build relationships with loyal customers through convenience by having a location in every destination, businesses such as the Thunderbird Inn need to develop relationships by delighting their visitors. And many are turning to technology and innovation knowing they can achieve this even on a smaller investment budget.
The objective was simple but demanding. How could we build on the Thunderbird Inn’s already astoundingly good reputation, to deliver an even better service? After all, hospitality is one of the oldest industries, and every fad or novelty idea has already been tried. From chocolates on your pillow to bath butler services, every establishment seeks to find novel new ways to delight you. However, the Thunderbird Inn has always embraced new technology to create unique experiences and stay on top of the industry. So this gave us the perfect opportunity to improve the delivery of their service through technology.
About The Thunderbird Inn
Originally built in 1964, the Thunderbird Inn in downtown Savannah features 42 retro decorated rooms that were updated in 2016 to serve the 21st-century’s visitors. With its roots in the motor lodge market, the inn originally promoted itself boasting ‘refrigerated rooms’ and ‘drive-in parking’. However, today’s visitors drop in to have a taste of old-fashioned Georgian style and hospitality, with all the mod cons.
Step 1 - Researching the Thunderbird Inn
The first step in any project is to complete a thorough investigation of the business, its current operating systems, company culture, values and mission statement. We started by talking to the manager of the motel and conducting several rounds of meetings to gather key information. This was when we found out, to our surprise, that the business was modern, forward thinking and extremely technologically savvy. They already used solar panels to reduce their energy usage and sent text messages to visitors when their room is ready. Different customer segments were catered for with marketed offers such as the ‘Baby Boomer Discount’ and a discount for AAA members. Furthermore, the business was already committed to sustainability, and recycling and were interested in improving their environmentally friendly practices and reputation.
Current technology used at Thunderbird Inn
Text message when room is ready
EV Charging Station
Commitment to the environment
No plastic cups or Styrofoam
No bleach in washing towels and bed sheets
Always prioritize recycled materials
No chemicals only eco-friendly products
We determined that their core operating beliefs focused on offering their visitors the highest standard of hospitality while remaining affordable and protecting the environment. Naturally, technology played a big part in this equation.
Most encouragingly, the Thunderbird Inn currently boasted an average occupancy rate throughout the year of 98%, meaning its current operating model worked very well. However, driving a campaign to fill that last 2% of vacancy could not offer a significant return on investment for the business.
This identified two elements of further research on our part.
Firstly, that no business can be considered in a vacuum, its location, competition and the expectations of its customers, must also be considered.
Secondly, the Thunderbird’s current success was based on its ecological leanings and technologically advanced practices. Both of which need to continue to evolve and advance to remain as robust as they are today. This project must deliver a solution that would future proof the Thunderbird for a considerable length of time.
Aside from these elements for further research, we identified the desire for an opportunity to generate more revenue without increasing occupancy or room rates at the inn.
Step 2 : Researching tourism Industry in Savannah
With its emerald tree canopy, quaint cobblestone streets, and majestic architecture, Savannah, GA is a hugely popular tourist destination for visitors from North America and beyond. According to the Kayak website, Savannah greets just below 15 million people each year. So it’s no wonder, big businesses seek out opportunities in the area, actions that could potentially push out smaller, local competitors.
However, Savannah is also a proudly dignified city. This coastal town is famous for its romantic walks, park-like Historic District, and friendly locals. In fact, the city of Savannah is ranked as one of the “World’s 30 Friendliest Cities” by Condé Nast Traveler readers. This is hardly surprising when you consider Savannah’s world-class reputation for hospitality and grace. After all, the city is the birthplace of the expression “Southern hospitality”.
While this is a big bonus to the area, it also means visitors expect a higher level of customer service, than they would, checking into an establishment in New York City or even Key West. And with so many tourist dollars at stake, there is a fierce competition within the hospitality industry to stand out in Savannah. Essentially, every hotel needs a unique selling point and must remain innovative to stay in business.
Tourism in Savannah
Therefore, it was extremely important for us to understand the tourism industry in Savannah and Georgia. We started by gathering tourism data from the tourism board websites, and the client, who furnished us with the relevant insights.
Tourism is booming in Savannah and it is one of the most distinctive places in the United States to visit. However, the average tourist spends only $123 per day, meaning affordability, as identified by the client, is a key selling point.
Competition in Savannah
We investigated for how long visitors chose to stay in Savannah and who else provided similar opportunities in the region. Naturally, the Thunderbird Inn is not the only hotel in the city, but other players in the tourism market were identified.
Users of Airbnb, one of the leading short-term rental marketplaces, ranked Savannah in first place on their wish list of domestic destination and in third place internationally. While this doesn’t make Savannah a more expensive or profitable location for the site or the renters, it does mean users were very interested in visiting the city, in their free time, if it were affordable to do so. If the price was right, the demand was there.
What’s more, potential visitor numbers in Savannah was rising. As this infographic shows, interest in visiting Savannah rose by 15% from 2013 to 2014 in travelers in North America.
As we’ve already covered, affordability is a big driver for visitors, but these aren’t your typical budget travelers. Visitors to the Thunderbird Inn already enjoy text message notifications and the business’s green credentials. Their customer feedback reaffirms the establishment’s awareness of how important these elements are to their choice of where to stay.
Current trends in exceeding customer expectations
Court them with creative content
Focus on 24/7 tech and memorable experiences
Individualization over personalization
The Thunderbird Inn’s value statements on delivering to customer expectations
Embrace new technology that enhances their customers’ experience.
Use natural resources like solar power to reduce costs and generate revenue and attractiveness.
Show consideration for the environment by not using materials that are hard to recycle.
Offer unique discounts for the different target audiences in Savannah.
As you can see, the Thunderbird Inn is already very business aware of current customer expectation trends. However, technology and environmental responsibilities need to continue to innovate to remain relevant. Technology only feels like technology in contrast to lesser forms. Once a technological component becomes an expected norm, it is nothing more than a piece of machinery. Much the same can be said of environmental innovations.
Fortunately, we were able to find a solution perfectly aligned with the business’s values. In this case, technology and sustainability innovations could be implemented, hand-in-hand to ensure the Thunderbird Inn’s continued market success. Furthermore, this new concept allowed the Thunderbird Inn to move outside of the over-crowded ‘red ocean’ of the existing accommodation market, and into to a new ‘blue ocean’ of aspirational, high-tech destinations.
An Innovative Service Concept
But just how could we innovate technologically, while remaining environmentally responsible and increasing the Thunderbird Inn’s revenue? Our solution was a fully integrated service concept titled “Let the reception come to you.”
"Let the reception come to you"
Many big chain hotels already offer in-room information which streams directly to your room TV when you walk in. This service is designed to welcome, inform and up-sell while reducing the time you spend standing at reception with a line of other guests waiting behind. However, most of us have one response to this blaring, welcome TV message. We switch it off as soon as we find the remote.
Our service concept is a world away from this dated model.
The idea was to create an individualized technological solution in each room, which would carry out reception, room service, housekeeping, and concierge and butler services for the guest.
By using a custom app installed on an iPad, and connecting it with The Internet of Things, guests would be able to order food and drinks, get recommendations for things to do, turn on and off lights around the room and adjust the comfort settings on the thermostat from anywhere in the room. They would also be able to book late checkouts and complete their checkout, from the room.
While the concept’s technological credentials are clear, how this innovation feeds into ideas around improving environmental performance needs to be discussed.
One major advantage of the system is its connection to the thermostat, lights, and housekeeping. Using smart technology to control energy using devices helps reduce energy wastage, intelligently. If a guest has checked out, the AC will be switched off after a few minutes. There’s no chance of forgotten cards convincing the room that someone is still there. Being connected to housekeeping, guests can order more pillows and towels as needed. They don’t need to call down and extra items don’t need to be left in the room to simplify the process.
However, we still needed to answer the question of how we could open up new revenue streams.
Additional Revenue Streams
Firstly, making room service an interactive online app would increase the attractiveness of the Thunderbird Inn’s in-house products. Furthermore, souvenir items could also be showcased. In addition, partners both locally and nationally would be able to place high quality, informative advertising within the app, generating a whole new revenue stream for the motel. This could be presented hand-in-hand with the concierge app to lead visitors to discover local services, restaurants, and attractions as well as transport and transfer options.
To validate our idea we identified some of its pros and cons:
Stays with the industry trends
Saves cost on energy
Focuses on 24/7 service
Creates a memorable & individualized experience
Creates a new revenue system
Creates a wow factor
Sets us apart from competition
Diminishes the traditional southern hospitality touch
Lacks human interaction
Not everyone is technologically savvy
We conducted a Service and Business Analysis to see how we could add new innovation in the Service Offering Map. We found that with our service concept, we were able to improve customer experience and add new revenue to the Business Model Canvas.
These tools helped us to look at the idea from all the angles and understand that by adding technology we are actually making a difference to our customers.
Service offering Map
The aim of a Service Offering Map is to describe, in a synthetic way, what the service offers to its users. Here we broke down the Service Offering Map into five categories:
Core - The core business of the company
Enabling - How customers access these services
Enhancing - What elements are offered that make the business stand out from the competition
Augmented - What prompts the potential for customers to act
Innovation - What innovation we added to the existing service offering with our idea “Let the reception come to you”.
Business Model Canvas
The Business Model Canvas (BMC) is a visual chart with elements describing a company or product's value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances. We populated the BMC to show new key partners and revenue streams. This lets us see our customer segments as well as the value proposition for each segment.
Customer Journey Maps
Customer Journey Maps are used to document the customers' experience and allow us to better understand how customers are interacting with the current service, and how they would interact with the new service concept.
We identified several ‘pain points’ for customers, where inconveniences occur and were able to improve these interactions. For example, using the new service concept, they no longer have to go to the reception to check out as they can do it from their room. They can just pay and simply walk out. In total, we could eliminate two steps throughout their journey. However, if a guest wishes to go to reception to check out because they prefer this point of human interaction, they may still do so.
Rewriting the company's mission statement
We believe in blending the past with the future.
“Thunderbird Inn’s mission is to satisfy our guests though authenticity and innovation. Since Thunderbird Inn was founded in 1964, we’ve hosted millions of people from around the world and remain a landmark in Savannah. We are committed to making a difference every day; by contributing to the economic and sustainable development of our community.”
Preserving historic building
Commitment to the environment
Creating a unique and memorable experience for guests
Respected establishment in the tourist community of Savannah
Sustaining position in industry
Critical Success Factor (CSF)
Clean / green energy
Comfort / modernized rooms
Belonging to tourist board
Savannah brand (landmark, preservation)
Key performance indicators (KPI)
Red Dot Design Concept Award
European Product Design Award
Bronze award for IDEA 2017