Hotel owners and managers often view parking as a necessary evil or a source of headaches. However, parking is an essential guest service that can play a significant role in assuring the profitability of a hotel. Parking is usually the first and last impression made on a hotel guest. This means it can shape their expectations upon arrival and it can sway how satisfied they were when they depart. Was parking easy to find? If they valet-parked, was the valet attentive, and did the guest feel comfortable turning over their keys? Were there any delays? Throughout their stay, was it easy to get their car from the valet, or to get in and out of the garage if they self parked? Were the parking fees accurately reflected upon checkout?
An avalanche of new parking technologies is being introduced to the lodging industry, reducing headaches and making hotel parking a source of hospitality that can distinguish your hotel from the competition. Hotel parking is becoming more manageable and more profitable than ever before.
TECHNOLOGY LARGE AND SMALL
Two of the most exciting developments are the introduction of new hand-held devices and accompanying software suites that enable hotels to automate valet parking services. Valet attendants are using hand-held devices to streamline the guest’s valet parking experience. The valet enters vehicle and guest information into a computerized hand-held device creating a record that is wirelessly sent to the front desk for billing purposes. The software also creates a time-stamped record of the transaction, creating an added level of security in the event of a lost ticket or fee dispute. The software is also interactive, so if the valet forgets to enter the vehicle location or forgets to confirm securing the keys, an alarm is generated. No more searching for cars or calling valets at home to check their pockets for keys!
Cutting edge systems can scan a car’s VIN number or license plate so that the vehicle information is automatically entered. The high-tech simplicity of the system virtually eliminates the risk of data entry errors and dramatically reduces the time and labor required to manage valet services.
These new hand-held devices also help with liability issues. They can be equipped with digital cameras to document and time-stamp pre-existing damage. This significantly reduces the risk of unwarranted damage claims, and makes it easier to verify legitimate claims.
Hand-held devices also make the upselling of guest services, such as auto detailing, more convenient and accurate. Valets simply click on the service sold and a service order is placed, automatically adding the fees to the guest’s hotel bill.
Vehicle retrieval has also been automated. Guests can scan their valet ticket at a strategically placed valet kiosk or at the front desk, sending an alert to the valet so that the car can be retrieved without delay. This also creates a time-stamped valet queue ensuring ‘first-come, first served’ retrieval order in the event of a rush when large events conclude. Some systems include a monitor that shows the guest when their vehicle is en-route.
In addition to enhancing the guest experience, these technological advances ensure that all guest parking fees are accounted for, thereby increasing parking revenue. Operating costs such as payroll and insurance can also be reduced through streamlined procedures and fewer damage claims.
Another technological opportunity for hotels is providing electric vehicle charging (EVC). Electric cars are becoming more popular. Providing charging stations can establish your hotel as cutting-edge and will enable you to capture the market share of travelers who drive electric cars.
Most electric vehicles will be charged at home since it takes several hours to get a complete charge. This makes a hotel an excellent electric charging venue. Hotels in mixed-use developments can also market their electric vehicle charging stations to non-guest all-day parkers to earn additional revenue.
REDUCING ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS
Automated parking access and revenue control systems (PARCS) make it easier and more cost-effective than ever to manage parking facilities. Automated pay-on-foot stations are replacing cashiers. Hotel visitors process their ticket at a pay station before they return to their car, reducing traffic congestion at the garage exit, and eliminating the cashier payroll. Guests can also use a hotel-issued pass card or even their room card to enter and exit the garage. Some systems can read a vehicle’s license plate, track the vehicle’s parking activity, and add the parking fees to the guest’s bill.
Pay-in-lane technologies allow parkers to pay at the exit but without the cashier. The most popular systems allow patrons to enter and exit the garage by inserting their credit card into a reader, eliminating the need to pull a ticket or worry about losing it.
These modern parking access and revenue control systems (PARCS) lead to more accurate data collection and provide continuous audit control so hotel owners and managers can capture all of the revenue they’re entitled to. The detailed reporting capabilities of these systems make it easy to evaluate the performance of the parking facilities. Transactions and traffic patterns can be sorted in a variety of ways to determine parking trends and peak times, allowing for more efficient staffing schedules and to conduct ‘what-if’ scenarios for implementing rate changes.
Advanced parking guidance systems (PGS) are also breaking new ground in parking management. Sensors and/or digital cameras count and monitor parking activity to determine where open parking is available. This information is wirelessly communicated and displayed via LED signage at facility entrances and on individual floors so that cars can be directed to areas with open parking. Some structures include sensors in every parking stall in order to track individual spaces. Red, green and blue lights are used to easily communicate which spaces are full, open, or HP accessible without having to drive through each parking aisle. No more circling garages looking for a parking space – simply follow the LED signs and look for the green light.
Finally, hotels can take advantage of web-based mobile technologies to link parking services to their reservation systems. Most room reservations are made on-line; why not allow guests to reserve parking online? This is also available for event parking. Guests can even identify and/or reserve parking on their way to the hotel via their cell phone. Yes, there’s an app for that.
We live in an exciting time when new technologies are constantly being introduced to make our lives easier, more efficient, and more productive. Thanks to new parking technologies, hotel parking has gone from ‘a headache’ to ‘ahead of the curve’.
Dan Kupferman, CAPP, is Director of Car Park Management Systems at Walker Parking Consultants. He can be reached at Dan.Kupferman@walkerparking.com.