Providing Hospitality in a Wi-Fi World

By | May 18th, 2011

Toll Brothers stays on the leading edge of wireless technology for 11 golf properties nationwide, including the Belmont Country Club in Ashburn, VA.

Whether it’s texting, talking or surfing the Internet on a smartphone, getting movie tickets or flight confirmation at a kiosk, or watching a full-length movie on a tablet computer, wireless technology use is in full force. No longer are we tethered to a desktop computer. Although the debate continues whether convenience beats safety, especially when talking about issues like texting and driving, today we literally have the world at our fingertips.

But what does that mean to the country club setting, which members historically have sought out as an oasis, a place where a ringing phone and other distractions could be pushed back for a little while?

Summing it up

  • It is possible to provide both a refined atmosphere and an environment where guests and members can stay connected to the outside world
  • Wireless technology can streamline operations in a number of ways, from the spa to the golf course
  • Wireless availability is a big draw for attracting and retaining members

According to Maurice Darbyshire, vice president of operations for Philadelphia-based Toll Brothers, Golf & Country Club Division, it’s a bit of a balancing act to ensure members who want to get away from it all can still do so, while others who want to remain connected to the outside world also get their wish.

Darbyshire is also General Manager of Toll Brothers’ flagship, the Belmont Country Club in Ashburn, Va., and he notes that over the years, technology has gradually infiltrated into the daily lives of members.

“We still ask members to be respectful of their fellow members by taking phone calls in more common areas, rather than the dining room itself,” he explains. “However, we have ensured that our restaurant and bar and pool areas are Wi-Fi hotspots, and we have no issue with members and guests using their smartphones or tablet computers to check e-mail or surf the Internet. It has become an expectation, versus a want, that the club have free wireless capabilities.”

Darbyshire says that at all Toll Brothers country club properties, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of members who allow their children to use their tablet computer or smartphone to play games, etc., prior to their dinner arriving. It keeps the children engaged and gives the adults the ability to converse and relax before their meal. “Therefore, it is our corporate policy that our clubs be wireless in all areas of the clubhouse and pool for the convenience of our membership,” he says.

The Belmont Country Club is unusual in that its clubhouse is actually the Belmont Manor House, which is more than 200 years old. Aesthetics were a concern when installing the wireless routers to enable Wi-Fi capability, but the IT team was able to keep the hardware out of public sight.

“The Manor House is a treasured historical artifact that employees and Belmont Country Club members are proud to share with others. However, that is the true beauty of what Toll Brothers has created — respect for the history of the site while functioning in a much different time,” says Darbyshire. “While history is an undeniable and appealing aspect to the site, we must be able to compete in today’s market. The wireless routers are undetectable to the naked eye, but very functional nonetheless.”

The golf course is not completely wireless, although most mobile devices allow the user to connect via a cellular signal if desired. Darbyshire says Toll Brothers’ strategy is to keep the spacious feeling both on the course and in the adjoining residential communities. “We do not crowd the course with homes or create a lot of ‘up and back’ holes,” he explains. “Our courses truly roll throughout the community.  That makes wireless a little difficult without significant cost issues that would have very little return.”

Streamlining Operations

Darbyshire says that one aspect of Wi-Fi technology in particular has helped him do business more easily and cost-effectively: videoconferencing.

“Because corporate headquarters is located in Philadelphia, and with 11 nationwide Toll Golf properties, this has allowed us to host all of our monthly operation meetings, annual club reviews, budget and employee reviews via videoconferencing rather than phone or traveling,” he explains. “We also take advantage of a see-and-share application that allows the hosts of our weekly sales call to lead the group by sharing their desktop with their fellow sales associates. This has proven to be a valuable tool when sharing prospects with one another, and how to overcome potential objections during the sales cycle.”

At Belmont, Darbyshire says they are currently exploring ways of incorporating wireless technology for its beverage carts and patio dining, and eventually into all of the property’s point of sales systems. Even today, front-line employees can bring up member profiles — photo identification as well as individual preferences — so as to ensure they maximize the member experience.

“We also made it a priority to ensure we can segment our membership for marketing purposes, and continue to improve this area in all of our clubs,” says Darbyshire. “We take preference sheets from members at orientation and continue to segment further, based on attendance at events via surveys. In my opinion, this will be a vital part of business going forward.”

Reaching out by Text and QR Code

Maurice Darbyshire says that Toll Brothers takes pride in staying in touch with new technologies. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and FourSquare continue to be explored, but the company’s most recent initiative is the adaptation of a Quick Response (QR) code. The two-dimensional barcode, which essentially looks like a pixelated pattern of black, gray and white on a small square on a postcard, menu, etc., can be read by a smart phone and then link the user to a specific URL.

“We have started very simply, with providing links to our corporate and club websites that allow members to utilize information quickly,” he explains. “However, we do see this as an area that can drive new revenues in the future, and continue to give members incentive to staying closely connected to their club while on the go. Ultimately, we see QR codes as an area where we can drive future business through linked promotions and communication, due to the ease and accessibility that it brings to our members and private event holders.”

Another area that Toll Brothers sees as an opportunity for growth is in segmented text messaging, Darbyshire says. Offering a special pro shop discount to golfers who have recently played the course, for example, can drive additional revenue while providing members a new avenue to connect to their club.

“We look forward to continuing to find ways to provide wireless technology that will allow the most convenience to our members as it is a true win/win for everyone,” Darbyshire concludes. “It is an exciting time for clubs, and we look forward to wisely choosing new benefits for our members while increasing participation in club events and programs.”

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