One of the more old-fashioned aspects of staying in a hotel is having to pull a leather binder out of a drawer and then pick up a 1980s-era phone to order room service, arrange a wake-up call, or set up a spa appointment. A Cambridge start-up, MobileSuites, wants to upgrade that part of the guest experience, letting you use your smartphone to explore the amenities and interact with the staff. After piloting the app with three hotels last year, MobileSuites says the iPhone app can now be used at about 700 hotels around the United States, including chains like Hilton, Westin, and Marriott.
“Guests are interested in mobile, on-demand convenience,” says CEO Dennis Meng, “but so far travel apps on mobile devices have really been focused on booking rooms and flights.” He says MobileSuites targets “the same people who hate picking up the phone to make dinner reservations, so they use OpenTable.” The app displays room service menus and lets you place orders; allows you to place a housekeeping request; or ask for your car to be brought out by the valet. Eventually, Meng says, the app may identify members of hotel loyalty programs based on their status, so that their requests get higher priority.
MobileSuites doesn’t yet have deals with the big hotel brands, but it has figured out how to get most of the data from their websites (and those leather binders) into its app, and it has a process for routing user requests to those hotels. (Meng is reluctant to get too specific about how that works, beyond saying it involves a mix of e-mail and phone calls.) But once hotels partner with MobileSuites, the company gives it access to a web portal so staffers “can see and respond to requests coming in from the app,” Meng says. Among those working with MobileSuites are the Boxer Hotel near North Station in Boston. Meng says that “the long-term strategy is still to have relationships with all the major hotel chains,” but those deals take time.
Eventually, the startup will charge hotel companies a fee for access to the dashboard. Meng says they’ll have the ability to send promotions to guests, and see a guest’s history with all of the hotels in their chain. They’ll also be able to “respond to guest feedback in real-time, turning unsatisfied guests into brand advocates,” he says.
The startup, founded in October 2013, operates out of the Harvard Innovation Lab. Meng says MobileSuites raised a small angel round last year, and also participated in the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator in New York. “We’re looking to build up our traction and do a seed round later in the year,” he says.
Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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