CHICAGO—While the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win last fall did end a 108-year-old curse, it also rooted the beginnings of lifelong friendships; everlasting romantic relationships; and, in some cases, over a few drinks, strategic business partnerships.
Kenny Crawford, VP of sales at First Class Travel, an on-demand concierge service, and Imran Jivani, general manager at Hotel Chicago Illinois Medical District, met at a bar by chance during Game 6. “They hit it off, and we had a meeting the following week,” said Ken Clay, CEO and co-founder of First Class Travel. “[Jivani’s team] loved the idea.”
Within three weeks of their initial meeting, First Class’ product went live at the 116-room hotel, which is located right off of W. Jackson Blvd, a short walk to the United Center. “In our ongoing effort to differentiate Hotel Chicago Illinois Medical District within the crowded marketplace, we are constantly searching for the latest enhancements to improve the guest experience,” Jivani said. “This city is a frontier for new tech ideas, so, fortunately, we don’t have to look too far in our pursuit. After being introduced to the First Class team, we quickly became believers in their vision and felt their product aligned with our brand. It’s exciting to be on the forefront of new technology.”
“What stood out was the company and its innovative take,” he acknowledged. “They realized that a need people assumed was filled still needed work. Other tech did not focus on the guest service part, just the individual, which ties a hotel’s hand.”
Available for download, the First Class app enables guests to order complimentary rides throughout the City of Chicago within four miles of the hotel. “This covers all the hot spots in Chicago,” Jivani said. Guests can take the service to airports for a fee.
“First Class completes the travel experience for the hotels and their guests,” Clay said. “With our product, hotels can extend their brand to their guests with our application, and our users can earn points at specific properties. First Class is really aimed for those loyal customers and, most importantly, business travelers.”
First Class is “completely cost neutral” for all the hotels offering the service to their guests, said Clay. “We know how important budgets are, and that is why we are adamant about the fact that this must be and remain a cost-neutral plan for all of our hotels,” he said.
“Our goal is to create an inclusive rather than exclusive experience for our guest,” Jivani said. “Hotel Chicago Illinois Medical District is on a mission to rethink the hospitality paradigm. We are not here to nickel-and-dime, and get a quarter from here and a dollar from there. The cost is built into the budget as CPOR (cost per occupied room) and takes into account a little less money at the bottom to create a great experience for the guest.”
Pricing for the service depends on two factors: hotel rooms and expected occupancy rate. Its most expensive subscription increases room rate by $3.25 per room booked. There are yearly and six-month contracts in place for hotels leveraging the service.
“Hotels like this because it does not come out of their budgets, and guests like this because they do not have to worry about transportation when they come to Chicago,” Clay said. If you come into Chicago for a weekend, you are guaranteed to spend at least $50 on taxis and Ubers. With our service, you get a licensed and insured professional driver in a certified black car every time.”
Hotel Chicago Illinois Medical District doesn’t require its guests to download the app to use the new service (the independent boutique hotel understands the “cyber-clutter apps are causing on phones”). “Guests may download the app to control their own experience, or they can ask the front desk to [order]their rides for them,” Jivani said. Certified livery company Windy City Limousine provides private black car chauffeur.
Guests needing a ride back to the property after a long night of cocktails will have to look elsewhere, though. The service is only available between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The app itself isn’t integrated into an overarching property app for Hotel Chicago Illinois Medical District; however, the app is branded with the property’s name. “We wanted to extend the brands of our clients, which are the hotels, businesses and big brands that we partner with,” Clay said. “These hotels and businesses, especially in the travel industry, spend millions trying to acquire and retain their customers.” He noted First Class’ rationale: “Why just because someone needs transportation should they have to pass them off to another brand?”
Primary issues with the luxury travel booking service have only been related to “growing pains” so far, said Jivani. “The partnership has allowed for two-way communication to help streamline the process for the guest experience.”
First Class will also be available at seven other hotels this year; however, the company cannot publicly name the properties at this time, Clay noted. The business, based here, services Merrill Lynch, Kirkland & Ellis and several other law firms, as well.
“We plan on expanding to seven other markets by spring—primarily on the East Coast, with Dallas and Atlanta sprinkled in there,” Clay said.
This year, Hotel Chicago Illinois Medical District has several projects in the works for its guests: mobile check-in/out, digital key and the ever-growing integration of “artwork that is unique and exclusive” to the property itself. “With regard to the car service, we will continue to work with our partner First Class to keep reinventing the wheel (or removing it),” Jivani concluded. HB