Amanda Abbott, Founder of CEO of Solay, pulls back the curtain on her transition from hotel guest to hotel technology entrepreneur
How does one start a successful business? Any entrepreneur knows that there is no simple answer to this question. Bringing a product or service to market and building a brand from the ground up is a complicated endeavor, and, sometimes, ideas that appear great on paper might not resonate in the market. And while there is no one formula to predict ideas that stick and those which fail to capture (and hold onto) the attention of consumers, there is a big question that every trailblazer should be able to answer when deciding to bring their idea to life: What problem are you solving?
Today, the best products and services don’t just fit perfectly into the market they’re hoping to infiltrate – they transform it. Entrepreneurs are change-makers, and change is an increasingly valuable currency in a world that is ripe for innovation.
The prospect of change was precisely what Amanda Abbott had in mind when she founded Solay, a hospitality app built to fulfill a simple purpose with a meaningful impact on the guest experience. Hospitality is, after all, an industry that has long been chastised for its resistance to technology innovation and policy reform. While other sectors move quickly to embrace trends and streamline touch-points, hospitality often finds itself firmly rooted in tradition – almost to a detriment. With an old allegiance to the legacy technology that has long outlived its potential, travelers are left to grapple with processes that seem archaic when viewed in contrast to the user experience offered elsewhere. It’s the crux of the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset; we might have always done it this way, but is it the best way to do things? Across the hospitality industry, the answer is – more often than not – no.
For Amanda, there was one problem she had experienced as a hotel guest that seemed especially glaring and, with the right technology, entirely avoidable. The classic “chair dash” dilemma has plagued seemingly every traveler at one time or another, specifically those who frequent tropical destinations.
“When you stay at a resort, or you’re on a cruise, and you plan to go lounge at the pool or the beach, you either need to get up at the crack of dawn to try and secure chairs by marking them with a personal possession, or you have to skip breakfast to wait in line and be seated at the beach,” explains Amanda, “Often, it feels like you’re competing in the Hunger Games just to get a spot by the pool which, for some travelers, might be a primary part of their vacation. Moreover, it’s a universal problem; we haven’t talked to a single traveler who has never experienced this. And now, as hotels work to move beyond the pandemic, properties are frequently understaffed and overwhelmed while trying to rebuild their teams and solidify the post-pandemic guest experience.”
Fortunately, Solay is solving that problem by taking technology that already exists, and formulating it with smarter algorithms, and putting it on the mobile device of hotel guests who wish to reserve their spot by the pool or the beach in advance. “If a family wants four lounge chairs by the main pool from 12-4 PM, they can go on the Solay app and make that reservation, arrive at the pool area, check-in on their device, and be shown to their seats by the app. It’s that simple,” explains Amanda. “The way I see it, finding seating to enjoy leisure time should never be an added stress built into the guest experience while on vacation, especially when we have the technology to remove that obstacle entirely.” With Solay, guests can finally reserve paradise – but with a tap, not a towel. The best part? It can be monetized by hotels to seamlessly boost their bottom line.
“After all,” Amanda asks, “Isn’t hospitality about going above and beyond, making the guest experience special and one that will keep your guests coming back and keep them traveling?”
While developing the app, Amanda viewed the user experience both from the perspective of the guest and the perspective of hotel operators. “I asked myself, what would make this technology so easy to use for both hotel operators and minimize their need for staff while monetizing something that has never been monetized effectively?” During this phase, Amanda and her team eliminated all unnecessary steps and leveraged custom coding to make the backend intelligent and efficient. “We wanted to create an app that would do the work behind the scenes and make it really easy on the front-end operators,” explains Amanda.
Of course, launching a business is difficult in any climate, but launching a company at the onset of a pandemic that disproportionately impacts the industry you serve is especially challenging. “We had our soft launch ready to roll out in March of last year, right as everything shut down, which was hard to believe. So we had to put everything on ice, which made the development process, including marketing and sales, really challenging. However, it’s given us a great deal of time to do our due diligence in regards to market research, which has been incredibly valuable.”
From a revenue standpoint, Amanda recognized the monetization potential that resort amenities offer. “This is a monetizable asset that could earn the hotel ancillary revenue each year, but it needs to be an equitable charge that would be the same for everyone and remain financially accessible to guests. No one should have to pay a resort fee and then pay another $100 to sit at the pool.” With this in mind, Solay relied on market research to gauge travelers’ response and their ideal budget for a reservation-based amenity system. The result? An accessible, low fee that still establishes enough of a threshold to ensure guests make use of their reservations.
Solay also offers hotels the opportunity to white label the app with their own branding and within their own applications. This offering is well suited to the current climate, as hotels are shifting to embrace self-service technology and app-based touch-points to minimize hands-on exchanges between staff and guests. Using this technology, hotels, resorts, and multi-property brands can benefit from a fully customizable platform with free reservable pool and beach seating reservations, cabana reservations, and the ultimate control to determine how much guests pay.
As for Solay’s future – poolside and cabana reservations are just the beginning. “This Spring, we spent a lot of time having conversations with virtual concierges and food and beverage providers to determine the ways we could collaborate,” shares Amanda. “Ideally, our app could bring together a variety of offerings, such as poolside mobile food and beverage ordering right from a guests’ mobile device.” This functionality not only improves the guest experience by enhancing convenience and eliminating unnecessary wait times but helps the hotel to drive sales and increase revenue.
Solay also aims to make hotels more competitive, specifically, helping hotels drive direct bookings and outperform OTAs and non-traditional rental options like Airbnb. “Hotels would always rather attract guests through their own reservation process, but if guests feel frustrated by the experience offered by resorts, why wouldn’t they book a private home with a private pool? Our commitment is to help hotels compete with this and guarantee guests the experience they deserve,” says Amanda.
More importantly, perhaps, hotel operators should recognize the competitive opportunity presented by the post-pandemic landscape. “Before the pandemic, many travelers were demonstrating a preference for boutique, unique experiences rather than the premium, consistent experience offered by major hotel brands. But in the aftermath of the pandemic, market research is revealing a renewed interest in hotels; specifically, because travelers trust the professional management and cleanliness standards offered by hotel brands,” notes Amanda. Finally, hotels have an opportunity to capitalize on increased guest interest and trust while picking up steam with app-based amenity reservations that ensure a truly seamless guest experience.
Solay is an innovative SaaS software solution providing contactless pool and beach seating reservations and inventory management for Hotels and Cruise Lines. The Solay App is a seating reservation tool used by overnight guests that generates real time information to Hotels & Cruise Line Management staff. Solay utilizes customized property information and seating maps, organizing the logistics of social distancing among registered guests when they enjoy pools and beaches. Solay has a totally contactless reservation and check-in process on each user’s individual mobile device and does not require any other integrations or technology solutions to operate. As an effective way to manage vacation experiences through the challenges of COVID-19, Solay promotes reassurance and increases the confidence of guests. Hotel & Cruise Line Management staff can now operate with peace of mind knowing Solay provides a system to support property and guest needs alike at pools or beaches, without the uncertainty of a first come, first served model.