SOJO Hotels, the refreshingly smart hotel chain, is a typical example of a completely new “touchless hotel” model in Vietnam. The hotels apply modern technologies to minimize direct physical contact, while offering guests many interesting and unique experiences. Launched at the end of 2020, SOJO Hotels has gained many achievements such as the Sao Khue 2021 award, being nominated for the Top 5 Best CX Ecosystem in the Markie Awards, and being the only Vietnamese nominee in “Asia’s leading lifestyle hotel” category by World Travel Awards 2021.
Lately, Destination Review had a chance to talk to Mr. Nguyen Ba Luan, SOJO Hotels’ CEO, to learn more about the “refreshing smart” hotel model as well as the advanced technology applications in the hotels.
SOJO Hotels is a business in the hospitality sector under TNG Holdings Vietnam Group with the aim to provide optimal services to customers, and create good values for the community in accordance with the philosophy of TNG Group towards a more beneficial and convenient life.
This is a hotel model which emphasizes the balance between the company’s business goals of pioneering shaping the Vietnamese hotel market future and the customers needs based on the 4.0 technology platform in order to give them completely new stay experiences. Our “refreshingly smart” commitment can be defined as bringing out convenience, utilities and efficiency. These are the significant values that SOJO Hotels want to provide the customers and community.
SOJO Hotels has also followed the digital technology wave that is hotter than ever in recent years, especially during the pandemic. In Vietnam, SOJO Hotels is applying advanced technologies in our touchless hotel model. We are using TNTech Smart Hotel Solution, the first utility hotel solution in Vietnam developed by TNTech Joint Stock Company, one of TNG Holdings Vietnam Group’s members. Thanks to the smart apps, our guests can book services, check-in, check-out, open doors, draw curtains, have luggage kept, etc. via mobile phone system. In order to put the customer at the heart of our business, SOJO Hotels also applies leading technologies, which prioritizes the application of a customer experience platform.
SOJO will move forward to silent check-in so that guests can register everything themselves at home via SOJO’s mobile apps, book and get a room 48 hours in advance. They just need to come and activate via the phone system, then go directly to the elevator with a FaceID recognition system without going through the reception, and go straight to their room. All interactions are done via phone.
In the guest room, customers can freely adjust the sound and lighting system or room temperature. SOJO Hotels also applies technology to the lighting system in the bathroom so that guests can customize the space matching their mood such as vibrant, relaxing, etc.
Restaurants at SOJO Hotels are no longer traditional ones, but open, friendly and more connected areas called JO247 lounge, where designed for people to interact and combine entertainment with cuisine. There are also no staff with towels on their hands to ask customers what they need. We provide guests with a tablet to choose food and beverage. SOJO is planning to improve more in the upcoming period to help customers choose and adjust the dish the way they want. For example, they can choose a cup of coffee with little or much sugar, increase or decrease the acidity or sweetness of the dish right on the tablet.
Moreover, they also don’t need to bother keeping luggage when going out. Normally, they have to ask a bellman, but in SOJO, customers can do it themselves. SOJO has designed a neat room with many cabins. Guests can use their password to control their security and safety. Cabins are designed to meet various needs, not only for small bags but also large suitcases (from 24 to 28 inches). You can imagine it as a kind of wardrobe on the major metro lines in Japan or some modern European countries.
For the laundry, customers can pay a fee through the automatic payment system by QR code or credit card. At other hotels, they often have to wait around one hour. But at SOJO, while waiting, they can entertain, relax, and eat because the laundry is combined with the lounge bar. Guests will feel no wasted time. This is a refreshingly smart experience delivered to the guests of SOJO Hotels.
With its technological advantages and new way of service model, SOJO targets the savvy and open-minded people. They may not be luxury customers, but are willing to pay to have a different experience than traditional hotels.
In business operation, every activity is controlled by a relatively large automated and technological system. Most recently, in August 2021, SOJO officially applied a facility management system built on the Archibus infrastructure basis. This is one of the investment platforms for optimal management of assets or error reporting on systems, etc. Up till now, in order to control the business situation, SOJO has applied technology to many software systems such as property management system (PMS) or data system and customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP). In addition, there is an energy management system. For example, an electronic metering system of electrical energy can show how areas are using electrical energy and how much they use. This helps us to optimize energy use, avoid energy waste, and know whether an area is operating efficiently or not.
SOJO Hotels also aims for sustainable operation with simplest design, trying to use materials with minimal impact on the environment. In future development projects in the South, SOJO is also considering using solar cells to provide heat for the hot water system.
SOJO Hotels cannot say no to interaction among humans. Despite few touch points, we always try to make them meaningful. Besides the apps SOJO owns, the strengths of technology will further enhance people working here.
Human touch point at SOJO Hotels is called GURU. In Sanskrit, GURU means masters. GURUs are very versatile, and trained in many skills to be able to do everything, unlike staff in a traditional hotel. GURU can work as a receptionist, an F&B staff or a concierge (customer support in the lobby), or even assist customers with other tasks. They are supported by technology applications such as CRM. The CRM system can integrate customer data, customer hobbies, etc. This helps GURUs a lot in meeting customer needs. For SOJO, GURUs may not be an experienced person, but just an open-minded person, capable of analyzing, observing and taking care of customers. As for professional skills, they will be supported by the seniors in charge and the technology systems.
Normally in a traditional 4-star hotel, there is at least 0.8 to 1 staff per room, but SOJO only maintains less than 0.5. The reason is that most services have been optimized through technology applications. For example, there will be from 9 to 10 GURUs at a SOJO’s hotel with 100 to 120 rooms. Along with the service industry trend in the future, I think the versatility and the optimization of human resources are still difficult problems for the hospitality sector.
SOJO has changed the traditions in the hotel sector by discarding unnecessary spaces or underutilised services. Instead, the designs are simple and optimized. A typical example is the way we optimize room space. At traditional hotels, the room space can be very large, from 24 to 32 square meters, however, at SOJO, where convenience is put on top, the space is minimalist, only about 15 square meters per room. SOJO has studied and put great effort into an important space for customers which is the bed. In particular, we focus on investing in luxury beds, even some that can reach 5-star standards.
In public areas, traditional hotels often have a reception hall. At SOJO, there’s almost no reception hall, not even an ordinary receptionist, but only GURUs.
Lounge bar – JO247, another SOJO Hotels’ public space, is open 24/7, unlike other hotels that often close their bar at 10 PM or midnight. In JO247, customers can play some entertaining games such as billiards, board games, foosball, even traditional games such as mandarin square capturing, hopping, etc.
Besides, expressing local spirit in designs is always the top concern of SOJO. From the very beginning, when setting design criteria, the Board of Directors had identified to apply modern technology but not forget the local tradition. For example, in Nam Dinh, an old city of the North since the French colonial period with the leading textile industry in Vietnam, we put a backdrop decorated by spools of thread and also designed seats that simulate big spools of thread. Or visiting SOJO Hotel Thai Binh, guests can see the images of the “land of rice fields” through a new and interesting lens. By 2026, SOJO is aiming to open 70 to 100 new hotels from the North to the South.
I am very optimistic about the development of this model because it brings absolutely new experiences to customers with technology. Humans are always curious and interested in technology applications at the places where they travel to. SOJO Hotels also doesn’t forget important touch points such as a lounge bar. Lounge bar creates a personalized space for many different purposes from business meetings, co-working with colleagues to entertaining and gathering with friends.
Safety and the wish to optimize all services are the important shifts in the behavior of tourists recently. Facing the tremendous Covid-19 epidemic, the hotel industry is in need of a big change and revolutionary solutions: Limiting physical contact, applying technology to create new experiences, removing additional services, investing in core services to improve quality and competitive prices. And SOJO Hotels has been fully equipped to participate and ready to be a conquering hero in this revolution.
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