When a hotel undergoes a brand conversion, the owners and operators must also oversee changes and upgrades to the property’s technology.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Along with the more visible physical changes that can come with a brand conversion, the transition brings about some technology challenges as well.
It’s not as simple as flipping a switch or downloading new software, though these might be part of the process. Hoteliers with experience moving from brand to brand, brand to independent or vice versa said conversions require careful planning and coordination to meet all of the technology requirements.
The biggest challenges
The guest database maintained in the property management system and central reservation system is owned by the outgoing brand, said Michelle Davis, director of systems training and optimization at Hospitality Ventures Management Group, which means the historical data isn’t converted to the new system and brand. This creates a challenge when developing past guest marketing and can create accounting-related issues and an inability to target future reservations from past guest data, she said.
“An independent collection of guest data through direct hotel marketing and social media channels are important to maintain for the hotel regardless of the brand or systems being used by a hotel,” she said.
Reconfiguring the internal property network and replacing hardware to meet new brand standards can sometimes be resource-intensive, said Ethan Kramer, president of Paramount Hotel Group.
“Depending upon the existing condition of the property, internet and connectivity issues can also be challenging,” he said.
Another challenge during conversions is the availability of historical data in the old system for reporting and audits, said Don Walker, corporate controller/information technology at Chesapeake Hospitality, particularly those that must comply with Sarbanes-Oxley requirements.
“Will you have access to folio data in old system and for what length of time?” he asked. “What format will the historical data be in—paper/PDF? How (do) we make it useable?”
Each brand has its own standards for the “free to guest” Wi-Fi, said Mark Hemmer, COO at Vesta Hospitality. While the item is straightforward, it can be costly, especially if the system infrastructure needs to be upgraded.
Credit card processing and converting to chip and pin technology has also been a challenge as well, he said.
“Each franchisor seems to be at a different place in the conversion process,” he said. “Depending on (the) franchisor, you may experience change in this area more than once.”
The largest technology challenge Hotel Equities has faced during conversions is retrofitting the block-and-plank buildings to deliver the newest entertainment technology, said Jeff Shockley, VP of asset management and operations.
“The ability to deliver wirelessly has helped, but we continue to work with our construction teams and architectural groups to ensure we have the best and most useful technology plan,” he said. “Our advice, in most cases, is to have appropriate bandwidth, not only for today but for the next upgrade. The systems and equipment must be convertible and expandable.”
Preparing for changes
Paramount relies on the new brand to furnish it with the appropriate checklist for each area, Kramer said, and it’s Paramount’s responsibility to thoroughly review and activate the requirements of the checklist. The company’s capital partners are told about any issues that deviate from the plan, he said.
Because the brands provide the instructions on their requirements, there usually aren’t any issues complying with the new standards, he said.
“However, if you happen to license a brand that is in the midst of transitioning their own technology, we have experienced issues, particularly in the area of hardware compliance,” Kramer said.
Along with working with brand partners for PMS and POS providers, Shockley said Hotel Equities works with its proprietary partners to make sure it has the best systems at the right cost for its ownership groups.
The company uses cloud-based systems to keep up with its revenue, expenses, sales calls and property assets management, he said, and it reviews its systems quarterly and keeps an eye out for new technology to help with efficiency and keep employees knowledgeable.
“We test new systems thoroughly before deciding to change to ensure we have little or no downtime,” he said. “We want to make certain that the systems are cost-effective and that they can grow in the future.”
Technology changes are rapid and are important to improve support at a hotel, Davis said.
“When making the decision to change technology, we look for systems that are more comprehensive than our current needs, so we have the flexibility to grow versus outgrowing the technology,” she said.
Seamless interface requirements are sometimes forgotten during a hotel conversion, Davis said. The new brand usually requires new PMS and CRS systems, but it’s recommended to have additional systems installed at the owner/operator’s discretion.
“For example, additional systems may include all accounting, POS, guest key, financial reporting and telecommunications, varying in how they interface with a PMS,” she said. “The need to bridge interface connection could require additional or upgraded equipment, new drivers or software and may even cause limited functionality of the interface.”
Global distribution system accessibility for customer rates is another area often overlooked, Kramer said. When changing brands, the property changes its CRS, he said, so it’s imperative for all corporate accounts to be loaded properly to the new CRS so the GDS can read them and there’s no interruption of visibility to corporate clients.
Ensure the systems are PCI compliant and understand who is supplying and monitoring the firewalls, Hemmer said.
“Is it your responsibility or is the brand handling that?” he asked. “The answers are not always easily obtained and can require an investment of time to ensure the business is protected.”