Interview: Book4Time CEO Roger Sholanki

BHN caught up with Book4Time CEO Roger Sholanki, who is launching a tablet-based in-spa app at boutique and luxury hotels across the U.S.

• Can you tell us about the tablet-based in-spa app that you have created? What is the purpose of the app and who are you looking to target with it?

“We provide a business management platform for the health, beauty and wellness businesses so part of our solution is creating an app that handles everything from bookings to back office management.”

“The tablet app was launched on Android and IOS platforms and its purpose is to complement the core platform in-spa offering that we have today with the ability to provide certain tasks that they do so that the staff don’t have to be desk-bound anymore. It therefore provides more convenience especially within the client base that we target, i.e. high-end boutique and luxury hotels, and it is being rolled out to all of our clients.”

“The app is targeted to anyone in the hotel. The platform is in the spa, wellness and fitness side of the hotel business but it could be anyone in concierge or at the front desk of the hotel who is dealing with customers. Using the app, anyone working throughout the hotel can easily book appointments, check for availability and manage the check-ins. Guests can walk up to the desk for their appointment and if the front desk is busy, a concierge staff member can greet the guest on a tablet and check them in. That convenience is really important for many of our clients so they don’t have to wait in lines.”

“Another popular area that we are targeting at many of these boutique hotel resorts is at the poolside where guests are relaxing and to ensure the spa is busy, spa staff will walk up and talk to guests and book them in for massages.”

• Is this convenience part of a wider trend in the spa / wellness industry?

“It’s a huge thing. For someone who is staying in a boutique luxury hotel, their journey as a consumer has to be flawless because they’re spending a lot of money and their expectations are high. Among our clientele, two thirds of them are luxury hotels like Four Seasons, Marriott, Hilton and Shangri-La and even at boutique hotels like Belmond, COMO Hotels, the Cosmopolitan and Caesar’s, your expectations are high. When you’re spending $400 for a service, you want to be able to do a lot of things and be serviced right away.”

• Has the app already been rolled out at these boutique hotels?

“We just started releasing it last week and it’s being released into our client base now as we have three different data centres.”

• How does technology enhance the spa experience?

“Think of yourself as a consumer, say you want to go to Four Seasons for a massage. You can go online and book through our call centre that touches our technology because the spa staff are checking for availability. If you complete that booking you’ll get confirmation that you add to your phone through our technology. If you physically arrive for your appointment, a staff member will greet you at the front desk through our technology and check you in. When you’re waiting for your therapist to bring in an iPad to take information on your health, that touches our technology. It’s the same when your therapist is suggesting add-ons and when you go home and receive a thank you email to rate your spa experience. It’s a full-360 time to complete the booking and review the spa using our technology.”

“What’s critical in our company is providing exceptional service to our clients. That’s because, as a consumer on your journey, if you had any bad experience as a result of a technology failure you’re going to leave a bad review for the Four Seasons Hotel, not us, so this is why it’s critical as a spa goer on your journey. The technology is just as important as the massage therapist that is providing the service.”

• Did you see a gap in the market where spa visitors are looking for a more convenient in-spa option?

“Of course, think of it with traditional technologies. There are a couple of areas of inefficiency. Firstly, at the front desk there are often only one or two computers so if it’s a busy spa and they’re checking out clients and a guest walks up for their appointment, they may have to wait. That could impact their guest experience and their service time so that becomes a challenge and we looked at how we could solve that problem.” 

“The second area is when you’re getting a service and you’re disclosing information or they need to track things, they would have to use a pen and paper and go to a computer outside the room to bring up your profile and add information. Therefore, therapists would need to make visits in and out of the room, which is disturbing for the guest. As a result, we wanted to bring in something that was not going to affect their guest experience and having a tablet makes sense because it is non-intrusive in the treatment room.” 

“The third element is the challenge of getting guests spending their leisure time at a luxury or boutique hotel to go into the spa. What we are finding is when our guests ask the spa staff for availability, the spa staff don’t know what’s available so they have to go back to their computer. By equipping them with a tablet, they can check right there in front of the guest and book their appointment.”

• Can you talk to us about your International Spa Association (ISPA) Innovate Award for technology and equipment on behalf of Book4Time?

“The ISPA recognises various categories every year and one of those is for technology and equipment. For that this year, we received an award for guest intake, which is a new product that we launched last year which digitises intake waivers and forms so you no longer have to fill out medical forms on a clipboard. That improves the guest experience because not only can you do it the traditional way by waiting for a therapist on an iPad but you can book a spa appointment on a mobile device before you even arrive and that’s a great way to improve the guest journey. For this, we partner with MINDBODY and they focus on independent owners so the strategy for that is to book with other booking engines and then it’s a separate brand that we launch.”

• What are your future plans for the expansion of the app’s uses?

“What we’re seeing is the evolution of the app with additional features. One of the things we’ve started working on is something called Express Checkout. What happens is if you are staying at a hotel and you have an account on file, you no longer have to even visit the desk so they can charge your bookings to your room. That’s very innovative and we love it. We’re going to try to bring that to the market early next year.”

• What direction do you see the current market going in?

“We are looking long-term. We’ve already had discussions with high-level open platforms for bookings especially with Groupon and Travelzoo. On those sites, you buy packages on that and it’s a very manual booking process but as a spa owner, you want to drive your guests towards booking the least popular time spots and not give away your premium time slots. A big challenge is having to do that manually so we are starting to work on a platform there with those two that will provide very curated availability for the spa’s inventory. We have a great operating system for our clients and that will help to drive business.”

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