The Hilton Sacramento Arden West completed a multimillion-dollar renovation in June, and a recent tour with hotel general manager Sami Qureshi revealed just what conference hotels are doing to appeal to today’s travelers.
The update responds to significant changes in customs and habits: Frequent guests can use their smartphones as room keys. Busy travelers can grab food to go from a kiosk in the lobby. And, in a nod to coffeehouse culture, designers have moved computers and printers normally hidden away in a tiny business center into the reception area as well.
“The chief goal was to just make sure our hotel is compatible with the needs of the guests of the 21st century,” Qureshi said. “The front desk has changed to pods. It (previously) was an old-style, long counter. ... All the furniture, carpet and tile are brand new.”
Qureshi, who grew up in Pakistan, came to the United States to study hotel management and marketing at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He got a job in the industry after college and decided to make a career and home in the States. Before coming to the Arden West Hilton in 2013, he worked for 13 years at a different hotel franchise that owned Sheratons, Hiltons and Holiday Inns in Illinois.
Arden West is one of more than 500 hotels that belong to Canada’s Westmont Hospitality Group, which was founded in 1975 and operates businesses on three continents. While executives at the Hilton hospitality company can recommend renovations, Qureshi said, the Westmont executive team made the decision to refresh the Arden West hotel on their own.
They chose the most upscale design that Hilton offered, he said, and opted to make Arden West one of the first 20 Hilton hotels in the nation to offer the so-called digital key through a mobile phone application.
“Let’s say Cathie is traveling to Sacramento from L.A. or from New York,” Qureshi told me. “You make a reservation and you get an option in your email, asking if you’d like a digital key. If you say yes on your smartphone, then 24 hours before your arrival, we send you another notification, and you can pick your room and we can issue you a digital key.
“When you come in, you don’t have to come to the front desk. You already know your room number. Your smartphone becomes like a digital key. You go to your room, put your phone in front of the digital lock that we installed during the renovation, and it will open the door.”
The digital key, available only to members of the HHonors frequent guest program, also provides access to common areas such as the fitness room, pool and executive lounge. Both the fitness room and the 12th-floor lounge at Arden West received new equipment and furnishings as part of the renovation.
Because many business travelers often are rushing to make appointments, the hotel now offers packaged salads, sandwiches, soups and more at the Herb N’ Kitchen kiosk in the lobby. Similarly, business travelers no longer have to hunt for printers and computers. They will find them at desks in the lobby, complete with comfy chairs that look more like they belong in a living room than an office.
“The goal was to make it more user-friendly, make it more compatible with the needs of ... convention people and families,” Qureshi said.
The hotel continued to operate amid the renovation of all 335 of its guest rooms, and that meant lots of juggling for Qureshi and his staff. “I had to make sure I kept my team informed of what’s going on today, what’s going on tomorrow, what area of the hotel is under construction,” he said. “I had to deal with guest needs and make sure the hotel had the least amount of displacement, although we had shrunken our room inventory. I had to work with the corporate office to make sure everything was on track for timeliness, budget and all that, so we didn’t blow our renovation budget.”
Hotel revenues have increased every year since Qureshi arrived, he said, and he expects the renovation to help him continue that growth streak.