KOH SAMUI, Thailand — Banyan Tree Samui, a luxurious 88-villa beachfront resort on one of Thailand’s most compelling island destinations, is handing out smartphones with room keys at check in.
An initiative that got underway on December 16, the phones offer free and unrestricted international telephone calls and 4G Internet, as well as access to a host of resort features including restaurant menus, daily activities, and tips for sightseeing around the island of Koh Samui.
The Portier smartphone is user-friendly and delivers all of its features in English, Russian, Chinese, German or French.
The hotel is confident the innovation will provide visitors with a greater level of comfort and security.
“Often the first thing guests want to do is call home and tell family they arrived safe and sound,” says Remko Kroesen, Banyan Tree Samui’s general manager. “They can do that immediately here. The last thing you want to do after a long flight is run around looking for a SIM card.”
Kroesen says the most popular feature of the smartphone at the resort is the “Villa Host” function. Each guest is assigned a Villa Host – a personal butler-cum-concierge – who will contact them ahead of arrival to take requests and lay the groundwork for their vacation. Banyan Tree Samui has about 10 Villa Hosts on call at any one time – that’s one per eight or nine villas when fully occupied.
The Villa Host runs through the Portier’s features when the guest checks in. Thereafter, visitors need only call “Villa Host,” whether for room service, housekeeping, to hire a car or even just ask for translations or local advice.
While most upscale hotels feature robust Wi-Fi networks that enable communication between a guest’s own phone and the wider world, Banyan Tree Samui’s smartphones enable connectivity through Wi-Fi hotspots no matter where a guest travels on the island.
“You could be in a coconut plantation or watching the sunset from a beach, and you can still take a picture and send it home,” said Executive Assistant Manager Haruethai Maneerat.
The hotspot works in tandem with the GPS and provides a safety net for guests who might get lost. Recently, one couple hired a car to drive around Koh Samui but soon got into a bump with a local driver. Not speaking Thai and not knowing where they were, the guests called their Villa Host on their smartphone. She was able to track them via the GPS and drive with the resort handyman to the scene of the accident, where she sorted out everything on the spot.
All the hotel information is downloaded onto the smartphone -- menus for each of Banyan Tree Samui’s three restaurants; spa treatments; speedboat tours; daily kids’ club activities. It also features novel ideas such as a nature trail around the rolling 38-acre property, where guests can use their phones to identify some of the resident flora and fauna – birds of paradise, rubber plants, MacArthur palms, kingfishers, a white-breasted sea eagle that soars over the resort every day just before sunset, the occasional passing monitor lizard.
“Our delivery to the guests must always be exemplary,” said Kroesen. “From the limousine service at the airport to the moment they check out, it’s those extra personal touches that people remember.”
Villas at Banyan Tree Samui, each with private infinity pool, start from US$750 per night.