Hotel Case Study: A Discussion with Ryan Killeen, General Manager at the Annex Hotel Toronto
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Could you give us some background on the annex?

Since our inception in 2018, we were set-up as a next-generation hotel: high tech, low touch. We're located in a really cool part of Toronto, the Annex neighborhood, which is just outside the downtown core. We host a wide-ranging demographic of guests from abroad and local. During the height of the pandemic in Toronto we hosted ‘Heroes in our Hotel’, and being tech-driven made this possible.

In addition to having their own Airbnb units, our three owners all have varying backgrounds; from private finance, start-ups, tech, and real estate. Prior to launch, they saw an opportunity to bring an offering to Toronto that simply didn't exist. The annex is the first hotel in the City & Stay Hotel Group collection.

There is now a lot of talk about contactless guest stays, but the annex was way ahead of the curve.

Being contactless, even back in 2018, was very intentional; the hotel was set up to be a hotel for the future. The high tech, low touch experience really makes sense in a post-covid world, where you've eliminated the front desk in favor of smartphone interactions.

By removing the front desk and connecting directly to guests through their phones, it gives us a greater ability to interact between the guest and our team. With remote check-in, a guest can show up at the hotel and head straight to their room. It just makes sense; showing up to a hotel these days and waiting in line at a front desk seems like a very unnecessary process.

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View of annex hotel lobby and bar.

The annex is a fully technology-enabled hotel, can you tell us more?

Being fully tech-enabled is, in our view, the future of hospitality. Today everyone is on their smart devices and it really makes sense for that channel to be how you communicate access, how you interact with guest requests, and allow them to discover something new.

“At the annex, all touch points in the hotel are enabled by technology to eliminate unnecessary human interaction. That being said we're available 24/7. So if anyone wants that interaction or needs assistance, we're always here to help. We use technology to enhance the experience.”

How do you create the right balance between technology and hospitality for your guests?

Technology allows our team to focus on the hospitality aspect, going above and beyond for our guests, using tech to enhance the experience. The guest has a smartphone in hand and is able to receive suggestions for the night ahead or perhaps get a message saying “Hey, how are you? Would love for you to join us in the morning for coffee!”

Tech can really personalize the interaction without it feeling fabricated. It's not something where people have to endure the hassle of learning something new or just being a nuisance.

In our view, we want the annex to be a home away from home for our guests. We want them to feel like they are interacting with us as locals who are giving real local suggestions for their stay.

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Can you explain how Operto has helped the annex create a better experience for guests while also ensuring operational efficiency?

Operto has been fantastic for the hotel. When guests arrive all they have to do is place their palm over a keypad and enter a code and they're given access to the room. This is far smoother than the ‘old school’ room keys! It's always fun to watch people when they first realise how simple it is.

Using Operto has also allowed us to operate extremely efficiently as the access is essentially taken care of. All we do is provide that information to our guests through their phones; it really modernizes the check-in experience. It’s also fantastic from a back-end standpoint with things like housekeeping and access to room data for more efficient operations.

What is your staff-to-room ratio and how has tech helped you achieve it?

Our ratio on average is 1.5 staff to 24 rooms. We have one person on at all times with part-time help for busier times of the day. So we're able to operate a 24 room hotel with essentially one person on-site facilitating everything. That’s been fantastic. It's very efficient and software solutions like Operto make that possible.

During lockdown, you housed frontline workers - how did the contactless check-in and entry process work for them?

It was very well received. Guests didn't have to worry about keys or bringing them to work or anything like that. When they showed up to the annex, whether after their shift or on their days off, they knew it was going to be a seamless experience getting in and out. They were all self-isolating to keep those around them safe. Staying at the annex gave them somewhere they could come back to which was safe and comfortable.

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View of a typical room.

What's next for the annex?

Stay tuned! We're working on some very exciting things. This is an offering that has the potential to be very big and is not readily available in a lot of large markets around the world. Without giving away too much, there's going to be some exciting news in the near future.

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