HotelTonight just launched its newest product, Aces, which is an in-app chat feature connecting users with a personal travel concierge. The concierges, collectively referred to as “Aces”, are available 24-7 during your booking to do things like make a restaurant reservation for dinner, or get extra towels sent up to your room.
If a customer has access to Aces (the product is being slowly rolled out to users in DC, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and San Francisco) the option to chat will show up on the bookings page starting on the morning of your hotel stay.
Hands On With Aces
Last week I had a chance to try out Aces in New York City. My first request was rather innocent, asking my Ace to recommend some options for dinner that night.
My Ace (named Emily) quickly responded with a few restaurant options nearby, which were embedded inside the chat with a picture, rating, and distance of the restaurant from me.
While the restaurants she suggested were definitely popular spots, they weren’t exactly places I wouldn’t have been able to find without a quick Yelp search for top-rated local restaurants.
Mildly disappointed, I tried one more time and asked Emily to find me a spot that is a bit more unique — something off the beaten path.
This is when Ace really shined. Emily responded with a few restaurants I (someone living in NYC) had never heard of. Both turned out to be excellent, and places I would have never been to without the help of Aces.
One of the most interesting things about this exchange is the informality with which Emily spoke. Our conversation was filled with phrases I would never hear from a traditional hotel concierge.
She even used Emojis and would frequently respond to my comments with “haha” or “lol”. When I didn’t respond to one of her restaurant recommendations, Emily continued to send more details, even “triple texting” me at one point, which is something I normally only see from very close friends.
While these actions felt weird at first, I quickly warmed up to them as I began to feel like I was talking to a close friend. This element of familiarity also made it less intimidating to “bother” my Ace with requests, which could help increase usage of HotelTonight’s new service.
Besides restaurant and outing recommendations, Aces can also can help with requests that you would typically ask the hotel for directly, like extra towels or a wake up call.
If you are inside your hotel room this doesn’t have a whole lot of benefit (since you can just call downstairs). However, there is something to be said about firing off a quick in-app message and having a toothbrush appear at your door a few minutes later.
How Many Aces?
As a user, you are given the impression that the whole time you communicate with your Ace it is the same person on the other end. This is reinforced by the fact there is a small picture of your Ace along with his or her name inside the app.
For the majority of the day it was clear that my Ace, Emily, was the same person. However, more than 12 hours after I started talking to Emily, the in-app chat still made it appear she was online and hadn’t been switched out by a relief Ace.
I asked how she could still be working, and in typical Aces fashion received a response joking that they are trained to take power naps in between customers requests.
Since Aces is available 24-7, there almost certainly has to be some form of backup from other HT employees. However, the app doesn’t make it clear that you are ever talking to more than one person, and a survey emailed to me after my stay only referred to one Ace, Emily.
How Aces Actually Work
For recommendation requests, HotelTonight says that Aces work in tandem with local insiders like food bloggers and tastemakers who have a deep knowledge of their respective cities. This may change as Aces expands to thousands of cities, but for now it seems that the advice is pretty hand-curated. The service also uses online advice websites and other HT employees to supplement these recommendations.
For hotel requests like a wakeup call or room service, the current method is for the Ace to call the hotel you are staying at. HotelTonight hinted in the future that some automation could be taking place, as it seems pretty simple to interpret keywords like “bring me towels” and automatically send a request to the hotel.
The chat function also offers pre-written suggestions like “can I get my room cleaned” or “where is the best place to go out tonight” which could make it even easier to automate in the future.
Behind The Scenes
Sam Shank, cofounder and CEO of HotelTonight, explained that talking to an Ace is supposed to be like asking travel advice from a friend who lives in a different city.
Shank also mentioned that Aces are trained to look for context of the customer’s request – i.e offering different suggestions for a business dinner as opposed to a weekend getaway.
Once limited to the upper echelon of credit card users, more and more companies are beginning to offer some type of free concierge service to their users.
This is especially true in the tech ecosphere, where it seems every week a startup like Magic launches with the goal of either being your personal secretary or helping get anything delivered.
While this means HotelTonight has some competition in the space, the Aces service seems to offer a human element unique from other services.
Aces is available now for selected users, and will soon roll out worldwide to all of HotelTonight’s 1,800 cities.