When Leila and Adam Bedoian set out to open a 20-room motel, The Local – St. Augustine in Florida, they knew they wanted to create a guest experience that removed all the things they didn’t enjoy about hospitality, leaving only the things they loved.
“We first thought a bed and breakfast would be cool, but that’s a lot of work,” Adam says. “I researched trends in hospitality, and digital apps and keyless entry from big brands was something that appealed to me. I know that if a hotel doesn’t have a virtual key, I won’t stay there. I just want to go to my room, and I don’t want to see anyone.”
It became the foundation for building a seamless, end-to-end digital guest experience—but one that had to be done on a “smaller” scale. And, it had to go beyond just the digital key. While the Bedoians loved the idea of investing in and developing a boutique hotel, the thought of working 24/7 wasn’t as appealing. The goal was for a better work-life balance and a desire to push the industry forward.
It was a tall order. After all, guests come to expect a certain on-property experience, including a front desk manned by an actual human. Could this radical concept fly? The Bedoians, who aren’t strangers to the hospitality industry—Adam more on the F&B and Marketing end and Leila on the hotel operations side—set out to create proof of concept.
The Right Mix
The first thought for this husband-and-wife team was to purchase an eight-room property and open an Airbnb, where guests are a little more used to never seeing their hosts and entering their rental with the help of a lockbox. The deal fell through, but it sparked a fire in them. Shortly after, the Bedoians came across the Island Shores Inn, an exterior corridor motel that exudes a retro feel.
“We shot from the hip, and here’s where we are. We just knew we could do it. Adam said let’s do everything digital and run this as a contactless experience, and everything snapped into place,” Leila says.
The experience is truly contactless, with no front desk for guests to check in. Check-in happens via a mobile app, and hotel staff doesn’t need to be present. Guests can scan their ID to verify identity before a digital room key is issued. Of course, if there’s an issue, guests are able to contact a team member.
But were the Bedoians concerned that guests might not understand the concept, when essentially it meant an almost retraining of the customer base?
“We recognize that the hotel may not be for everyone, and we’re OK with that,” Adam says. “If the concept scares anyone away, then maybe they aren’t ready for this experience. You have to be a little open minded to try new things.”
Communication with guests is key, as is the right distribution strategy. For instance, selling rooms on large online travel agency sites proved to be problematic because there wasn’t a streamlined way to explain the concept to guests booking through third parties. Driving direct business through social media is the top strategy, and something Leila is well-versed in.
A Digital-Led Guest Experience
The goal for the Bedoians is to expand the digital guest experience so that everything from the digital key, concierge, ability to make dinner reservations, and more is all in one app, truly a one-stop shop. They also want to tap into their tech solutions to amp up the guest experience—for instance, they want to know things about guests, such as special requests, before arrival. You want a stuffed flamingo in your room upon check-in? Well, the ROI on that $15 toy can pay off in spades when the guest shares about the experience on Instagram, for example.
“The thought isn’t that you’re getting less service without a person there, but it actually feels like you’re getting more robust service,” Adam says. “When you’re thinking holistically about the entire guest experience, it’s really led by digital. When we came up with the name The Local, it was personal to us. We don’t like traveling like tourists, and we like to find those places that are off the strip.
“We want our guest experience to be the same way, where you’re not going to the front desk or seeing a flyer from the tourism board. You can give it all to guests by using digital tools and tricks so that they can live like a local,” he says.
The Bedoians partnered with Mews and Virdee to provide solutions that streamline and automate operations so that they can focus on serving up the best experience for guests.
“The people who are visionaries don’t look around them at what’s going on; they look at what’s not happening and make that happen,” Adam says.