While the world has for years been on the road to digitalisation of all tools in order to simplify and speed up many aspects of everyday life, the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the process in many sectors. One of the most affected by the phenomenon has been hospitality, with travellers stuck at home for many months and then forced to radically change their travel experience, starting with their hotel stay. Where the motto is touch less, digitalise everything.
Embracing the digital way to overcome the analogue one means in many cases rethinking old tools within the same spaces to perform different functions. One example applied to the hospitality industry is Manet, a fully customisable digital concierge service that allows hotels to offer their customers a tailored experience to optimise their journey. Born in 2015 with a list of services and conveniences usable via a smartphone available in every room, with the pandemic the project developed by Italian startup Manet Mobile Solutions has turned into an app that customers can download to their personal phones to count on benefits before, during and after their hotel stay and visit to their chosen city.
The solution that makes travelling easier and more enjoyable
The digital travel assistant allows guests to have unlimited worldwide calls and 4G/5G internet, travel guides and tips, museums and attractions tickets, as well as information about the hotel’s services. “The idea was born in 2015 when, during a trip to Shanghai, I had a smartphone that simplified my movements in the city and provided a lot of useful information to have fun and take advantage of various services, with just one problem: I risked missing my flight back to Italy because I couldn’t find the airport desk where I could drop my smartphone. So I thought it would be ideal to find the phone directly in the hotel room, replacing the landline phone, which is now unused by hotel guests,” says Antonio Calia, one of the five co-founders (along with Marco Barbato, Luca Liparulo, Marco Maisto and Andrea Proietti) and current CEO of Manet Mobile Solutions.
The essence and strength of Manet lies in the advantages it guarantees to hotel clients and the benefits provided to the latter. Guests have a long range of proposals at their fingertips to avoid wasting time and enjoy their stay to the fullest, thanks to a series of practical tools that include the ability to browse through a hundred points of interest with multilingual audio commentaries and local guides, city maps that can be navigated offline, reservations for hotel services (such as spa, restaurant, conference room) and features such as ‘my concierge’, to be in direct contact with hotel staff, and ‘take me to the hotel’, to get instructions on the best route back on foot, by taxi or public transport. A number of other useful references are added to the list: emergency numbers, translator, currency exchange, nearby hospitals, parking, embassies, medical assistance.
A package of opportunities chosen over time by hundreds of hotels across Europe (from Spain to the UK, from Denmark to Greece, via France, Italy and Germany) and by major chains such as NH Hotels, Radisson Collection, Best Western, Marriott, Hilton Garden Inn, Small Luxury Hotels, Princess Hotels & Resorts and Derby Hotels Collection, with Manet closing sales in the last year before the coronavirus, 2019, exceeding €1 million.
Less expense and more data
It may seem like a minor step, but using a free QR Code instead of producing paper material for hotels with 150 rooms means saving hundreds of thousands of euros per year. And when it comes to hotel services, according to Gallup research, offering bike/car rental, pet care, newspapers, spa, restaurant, transfers and room services could be worth, on average, €174 in extra expenses for each guest staying at least four days.
As for prices, the cost of the digital concierge depends on various factors, first and foremost the number of rooms (the greater the availability, the lower the price), with costs that for the smartphone are around €0.50 per day per room and around €15 per month, while for the app version the costs for hoteliers drop to €1.5-3.5 per month per room.
Pandemic is an opportunity
Manet’s business has been steadily growing, so much so that in 2019 the Roman company started a path to enter the Southeast Asian market, starting with Singapore. However, this project was inevitably halted due to the arrival of the pandemic, which changed the company’s plans and evolution. “Apart from the travel stoppage that paralysed the hospitality sector and almost wiped out turnover, we had to respond to a new way of travelling, focusing on an application instead of a device and on the digitalisation of all services in order to respect social distancing, also because of the fear people generated for contact with others and with objects,” explains Calia.
“The pandemic has upset our plans but there is no disappointment because we see it as an opportunity that has accelerated the digitisation process, which was already underway before Covid-19. After all, the game that hotels are playing today is not about room rates, a field dominated by giants like Booking and Expedia, but about selling the additional services that make the difference in the customer experience.”
The crisis and transition phase during the pandemic was not easy to deal with, but Manet was able to move well in the most delicate moment. “Thanks to our operator-providers Vodafone and Wind, we were able to suspend and reactivate contracts, providing vital support to the hotels, who appreciated the opportunity to return to offering our solutions at different times and in different ways.” The 1.7 million euros obtained in the previous years through three rounds of investment were also decisive in keeping the company afloat, as it now employs around 15 people at its Rome headquarters.
Future: hotels and more
In spite of the complicated period and the wait for the tourism sector to return to full capacity (the target is the three-year period 2023-2025), Manet Mobile Solutions is working on several fronts to expand its offer. “Since the most popular service on Manet is the experiential one, we have just launched Wannaticket, a comparator dedicated to tours and experiences in which we propose the different modes of use and price,” says Calia. “As for hoteliers, we get requests from all over the world, but our focus now is on the European market, on the countries with the highest rate of tourism, which are the UK, Spain, France, Italy and Germany.”
However, there is more to Manet’s present and future than hotels: “We believe in the car rental market, where the Manet device is replacing technologically outdated items such as satellite navigation systems and portable Wi-Fi routers, as well as providing a range of services for car hirers. The difference, compared to the hospitality market where we don’t allow resale of the service, is that the car rental operator rents the device, ensuring a significant income at the end of the month. We are also looking with interest at the tour operator market, where we believe we can make a great contribution while remaining confined to the tourism segment.”