Darren DeSilva – Arlo Hotels
Imagine walking into a hotel after a long day of travelling and dragging around heavy suitcases. Before you can collapse on your bed, you stand in line to check in, then insert your key card a few times before the lock turns green and you can finally enter your room.
Applying over a decade of experience with technology in the hospitality industry, he wanted to infuse the boutique locations across Miami Beach and New York City with upgrades that matched the other unique amenities the hotel offered, like an outdoor shower in the Manhattan location.
In addition to rolling out the mobile check-in, he’s also worked with vendors to create a system where guests can sync their phones with their room TVs to watch Netflix or whatever else they’d like—without ever having to touch a remote control. And, with COVID-19 arriving nine months after his hire, he’s also been swept up in the response of the hotels.
“Now, we have a template, and we’re standardizing guest facing technologies across each new location as it launches,” DeSilva says. “That helps solidify our brand and exceed guest expectations.”
A finger tap here and there
DeSilva says staff have also benefitted tremendously from recent upgrades. For instance, an application by Whistle—one of myriad vendors—allows a guest to text for towels. Staff who receive the text deliver the towel to the guest, eliminating a call or visit to the front desk.
Another example of better time management comes in the form of Oracle Hospitality, says DeSilva. The cloud-based property management system was rolled out across departments during slow periods. This allowed a general manager, for instance, to see the number of arrivals and departures each week, then ensure that the front desk and housekeeping are sufficiently staffed, and the restaurant kitchens are not under- or overstocked.
“Managers can even check and track this information from their phones or through the web-based app accessible from any device,” explains DeSilva.
For guests, this means shorter wait times and more availability of everything, from towels to cups of coffee. For staff, this means not feeling overwhelmed or scrambling to fill requests or being bored on the job.
“We were one of the first hotel firms to go live with Oracle’s cloud-based property management system. Our partnership is strong, and both parties benefit mutually from the learning curve,” DeSilva says.
DeSilva credits much of his technological success to founder of Arlo Hotels, Oleg Pavlov. When DeSilva presented him with a diagram showing the many technology platforms needed—think everything from housekeeping to reservations and even guest room phones —he gave DeSilva the go ahead to partner with vendors and unify what he calls the ecosystem of technologies
“It’s a boon to be given free rein to realize your vision,” DeSilva says. “I feel empowered to use state-of-the-art technology. Even though it took hundreds of hours to thoroughly research a variety of vendors before we settled on the approximately 40 that we have, the efforts were worth it because we’re ahead of the curve.”
COVID concerns and camaraderie
DeSilva says CEO Pavlov is very involved with anything and anyone connected to him. In fact, when COVID-19 forced furloughs, DeSilva says that Pavlov brought employees back as soon as was possible. He even joined fireside chats held through Zoom.
During these chats, executives and other staff discussed the future of the hotels, including the technological advancements that incentivized guests to stay during the pandemic and kept staff—front desk and housekeeping—in the hotel instead of at home.
“We took advantage of having emptier hotels than usually and discussed our hopes for the future of the hotel as well as our changing needs,” DeSilva says. “In the midst of construction starting, shutting down then restarting—along with a myriad of other COVID instigated issues—sometimes having simple conversations about coffee or breakfast kept us grounded.”
Staying grounded is one of the reasons DeSilva switched from the expansive and well-established Starwood Hotels brand—working for them for over five years—to the smaller Arlo Hotels. He likes that the smaller company has more room for big ideas that can be implemented quickly—like texting room service for coffee, towels or even shampoo.
As a child in Sri Lanka, he fell in love with technology after his father encouraged to explore.
“We didn’t have much, but my parents would buy me toys—and I’d promptly dismantle them,” DeSilva laughs, recalling how he took apart a remote control car and built a robot. As much as machines fascinated him, he also loved working with people, so a tech career in the hospitality business has been ideal.
His desire to help people also led him to become a volunteer for Hope and Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund and other organizations in the last few years. He feels he learns far more from those courageous children than they do from him.
“Tech is great but the only machine that continues to evolve and upgrade is a human being, and I’m delighted to discover something new every day,” he says.
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