How Roomza’s Innovative, Automated Hotel Model Is Engineered to Compete with Airbnb
“We started Roomza because we believe the best way to create stellar hotel stays is by making hotels a better place to work.” And Roomza founder Curtis Crimmins knows better than most the reality of working in the hotel industry.
Growing up, his mom worked as a housekeeper. And despite room attendants being the backbone of the hotel business, Curtis saw firsthand that it’s not the easiest or most lucrative job out there.
So he decided to do something about it, which led him right into the heart of the industry. As a certified hotel administrator and general manager, Curtis has seen the ins and outs of the biggest hotel brands, which made him realize there had to be a better way to operate hotels, for managers, staff, and guests: Enter Roomza.
Roomza was designed to create a better hotel staff and guest experience by building a sustainable business model that not only survives but also thrives in the face of labor shortages and rapidly evolving guest expectations.
We look at Roomza’s key concerns and objectives, views on meeting guest expectations, and automated solutions for processes like check-in and room turnover. See how Roomza’s partnership with Operto has played a key role in taking it to market more than a year ahead of the initial roadmap.
Operto is helping hotels develop innovative solutions that combat the labor shortage while meeting today’s guest expectations.
The story behind Roomza, “a hotel brand engineered to compete with Airbnb”
In the words of Curtis, “Airbnb proved that people don’t care so much about the box… What matters more is the experience.” His vision with Roomza was to get rid of those unnecessary extras that hotel franchises spend so much on, like elaborate lobbies and decked-out gyms, to help guests save money while getting a better, more personalized stay.
“There’s no such thing as an original idea, right? I think innovation is simply taking something that’s not being done very well, cleaning it up, and doing better.”
Rather than reinvent the wheel of lodging, Curtis decided to design a hotel model inspired by what Airbnb does well, like ease of access and frictionless arrival, while being transparent with its fees and providing a more consistent experience.
To enable guests to stop paying for “the box” without taking away from the experience, Roomza tested out its vision in a controlled market—a hotel with 60 rooms and no front desk in Miami Beach.
The hotel created an experience that didn’t force guests to overspend on elements that didn’t impact their stay (for example, the televisions in the rooms didn’t have any cable, just streaming services). And keypads on the doors allowed for keyless access and the elimination of plastic key cards.
While they didn’t know it at the time, this concept would eventually evolve into what is now Roomza, a “rooms-only,” personalized accommodation solution that reimagines the traditional hotel model while solving typical issues with Airbnb stays, like inconsistent experiences and a confusing pricing model.
Focusing on personalization and the in-room experience
What Curtis and his team discovered is that the modern guest doesn’t need all those unnecessary amenities they end up paying for when they stay at a hotel. He cites a Boston University study, which served as an important source of data when arriving at the vision for Roomza.
According to the findings, fewer guests use common amenities, like spas and fitness centers, than expected, demonstrating to Curtis that “people don’t really do what we think they do in hotels. This was when we first started feeling confident that we could eliminate a lot of these on-property amenities without really slashing our demographic.”
Instead of investing in two pools and an upscale restaurant, Curtis looked towards personalization to enhance the guest experience. After all, Airbnbs don’t have these luxury amenities, and more often than not, the modern guest doesn’t need them.
As the study summarizes, “Offering too many amenities can waste capital, increase operating costs, and put unnecessary burdens on service delivery.”
What guests do need is the opportunity to easily personalize their stay to maximize comfort, like being able to pick regular or decaffeinated coffee for their room and state their preferences on a silk vs. cotton pillowcase.
Because the room is where guests spend the majority of their time in a hotel, that’s where Roomza focuses on enhancing the guest experience— with personalizations that will directly impact their stay.
Roomza: A proptech company focused on repurposing space and creating exceptional stays
Curtis doesn’t label Roomza as a hotel company. “We’re a proptech company: Not a franchise, not a management company. We’re a tenant just like anyone else in our buildings.” The company’s vision is to use existing real estate, like vacant office buildings, and transform them into dynamic, multi-use spaces.
For example, Roomza’s Chicago hotel, which is set to open in March of 2023, is two-dozen stories tall. But only around eight stories of that will be hotel rooms. In the rest of the building you’ll find student housing, as well as a bar and restaurant on the first floor operated by a partner.
By cutting out unnecessary amenities, like upscale lobbies, banquet halls, and business centers, Roomza hotels can give guests what they really want at a highly competitive price.
“Often the best part of a hotel is the swimming pool or the restaurant, something that many of the guests won’t even experience. So we’re putting the focus back on what guests actually pay for, the room itself, by making that room as comfortable as possible. The key is finding technologies like Operto that give us the tools to use less staff to make those personalizations possible.”
Curtis knew the only way to make this innovative model work was by adopting contactless technology across all their locations. “We were planning to sort of just build out all that tech ourselves at first, but then through some industry contacts, I found Operto and started looking into what they did.”
And what he found really impressed him. Through Operto, Curtis saw a way to deliver the guest experience he had envisioned—an automated, contactless stay that would make staffing easier and arrival frictionless.
The Roomza founder knew that to make his vision a reality, he needed to use digital access to automate the check-in process, and Operto was the perfect partner to make this happen.
“The team at Operto were the first people who didn’t think I was crazy for wanting to use pin-based locks in a hotel. Because it was almost unheard of, since practically any hotel you can think of uses plastic key cards.”
Removing friction from the guest and hotelier experience
Automating check-in and issuing unique codes for room access was key to Roomza’s operating model. But they also needed solutions to reduce labor intensity, allow for high-level personalization, remove friction from the guest journey, and eliminate the need for staff intervention throughout the arrival process.
Less friction for guests
Partnering with Operto and Yale allows Roomza to offer a truly automated, contactless check-in process without the need for a front desk. This gives guests the autonomy and flexibility to arrive on their own terms, without having to interact with anyone before they access their room: They simply check in and go through ID verification via the Operto Guest web app before arrival.
Roomza is also revolutionizing how guests find and book their accommodation. “A guest would either go to the Roomza website or download our app. Then, they use geolocalization or search a location to find their nearest Roomza hotel. They input their arrival time, which will then filter out rooms based on availability.”
Guests can pick rooms based on their location on the floor, or, since Roomza rooms aren’t carbon copies of each other, see a list showing each one’s different amenities. But personalization doesn’t just come in at the room selection stage.
“As soon as a guest checks in and has access to their stay, there are a minimum of 30 items they can personalize, from requesting hypoallergenic amenities to choosing the religious text they want in the drawer of their nightstand.” This information is then saved in a Roomza guest’s account and applied to all future stays unless they later choose to make modifications.
A better experience for hoteliers
Roomza doesn’t just make it easier for guests to book and enjoy their stay: Using Operto’s tech solutions and trusted partners, it makes the hotelier experience easier and less staff-dependent, from check-in to turnover.
For example, Roomza’s model completely streamlines the room checking and turnover process. Says Curtis, “I would argue, and I’ve done these jobs, that hospitality agents spend 90% of their time doing things that a computer should do, but can’t because the industry hasn’t innovated yet”.
One of these things is checking rooms to determine whether they’re ready for cleaning. Roomza uses Operto to integrate Legrand’s Netatmo smart atmosphere monitoring system with their PMS to detect occupancy.
“These devices allow us to see if people are in a room or not by measuring CO2 consumption. Just like that, we’re able to know if a room is vacant, and a staff member doesn’t have to spend an hour going around knocking on doors.”
CO2 monitoring also helps streamline the turnover process. “Once there’s been no CO2 consumption registered in the room for more than, say, 40 minutes within two hours of check-out time, we can assume the guest left and that the room is vacant dirty. This would trigger an automation to update the room status, and someone on the housekeeping team would be automatically notified that the room is ready to be cleaned.”
Curtis is keen to highlight that “Operto is the key to making all this happen.” The partnership has allowed him to turn his vision into a state-of-the-art hotel model that leverages smart tech to increase profitability while creating a fully customizable, frictionless guest experience with optimized operations and automated processes.
Shared competence, values, and compassion with Operto
Rather than try to follow a traditional model and improve front desk operations, Operto has enabled Roomza to eliminate front desks and lobbies from their hotels altogether. “It was just a matter of finding providers to make that work, and we just really lucked out with who we found…None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for our partnership with Operto.”
Roomza is going to market in the first quarter of 2023, all thanks to the tailor-made solutions that the proptech company and Operto have designed together. “Operto has saved us years off our go-to-market. Our first hotel will be going live next year, and before partnering with Operto, having a live hotel wasn’t even on our roadmap until 2024.”
And it’s not just Operto’s product Curtis was sold on, but the overall experience of working with the team.
“Who they are and the product they’ve built played equal roles in influencing our decision to work with Operto. Anyone with the right expertise can build a great product, but it takes an experienced group of people who are good at operations, customer service, and a lot more than just the technical part to get it across the finish line.”
“The biggest selling point was not just the Operto team’s competence, but the shared values and the compassion, as well as the quality of the folks that we found across the board and at every level of their organization.”
You can keep an eye out for the opening of Roomza’s flagship hotel in Chicago in March 2023, as well as a New York City location scheduled to open in June of the same year. The proptech company also has two more hotels, one in Las Vegas and another in Saint Louis, under development.
Thanks to his concept for building a better, tech-enabled stay, Curtis’s vision for making hotels a better place to work and stay is becoming a reality. And, with its partnership with Operto, Roomza is positioning itself as a true innovator in an industry that has so far struggled to meet its challenges of evolving customer expectations and labor market shortages.