Sinclair Holdings President Farukh Aslam and former Virginia Governor George Allen shared why they believe hoteliers should be spending money on improving technology.
WASHINGTON—Farukh Aslam, president of Sinclair Holdings, acknowledged that he’s in a relatively unique position as both an owner and developer of hotel properties and is someone who advocates for greater focus and investment on technology at hotels.
Speaking at Hospitality Technology Next Generation’s North American Insight Summit Tuesday, Aslam said improved technology doesn’t have to come at the expense of owners’ bottom lines, and his company’s efforts to improve things like lighting systems have already resulted in savings in both operations and capital expenditures.
When it comes to tech improvements “a lot of you are thinking ‘how much does this cost,’” he said. “But as a developer, it’s my money being spent, and I can say it’s a lower-cost deployment. I’m spending less on CapEx and about 35% to 40% lower in (operating expenses).”
Aslam said developers willing to embrace cutting-edge technology will set themselves up with an advantage over their competition.
“In commercial construction, there’s really no innovation,” he said. “We’re working with 50-, 60- or even 70-year-old technology.”
Staying ahead of the curve
Former Virginia Governor, Congressman and Senator George Allen told those in attendance that innovation is key for any business, including hotels, to continue competing and thriving. He said businesspeople need to accept the fact that sometimes investing in technology carries some risk because it’s virtually impossible to perfectly predict consumers’ technology demands.
“Nobody wants to invest in fad and frivolity, but ultimately, there was only one Steve Jobs who knew what we wanted before we actually wanted it,” he said.
Allen said hoteliers need to be paying attention to growing areas of technology, including the possibilities inherent in greater use of fiber optics and increasing interest in and possibilities with the Internet of Things. He said there are various applications for increased connectivity in hotels.
“People like to take long, hot showers in hotels,” Allen said. Technology “can communicate to you about your hot water heaters.”
He said fiber optics is basically “future-proofed” technology.
“Whatever way people want to communicate, it has to run over fiber,” he said.
Allen noted consumers’ expectations for technology are only going to grow going forward.
“They expect to have what they have at their homes when they stay at your hotels,” he said. “Sometimes, they expect even better.”
Allen noted he believes continued improvements to technology infrastructure will continue to be a focus for federal and state governments, even in this period of gridlock. He said he expects rural areas to see greater access to broadband, in particular, which underlines the fact that the world is only growing more interconnected.
“What we’re doing now in trying to get broadband out (to rural communities) is what we were trying to do in the 1930s in getting electricity to people’s homes,” he said. “I think there is broad-based support.”
He said in the age of connectivity and high expectations, hotels’ networks have become “the engine that makes things go.”
Creative power solutions
Aslam said he has been able to realize considerable savings in energy costs, along with greater control and customization, by deploying new lighting systems that utilize power over Ethernet. He said these improvements have been put in place in an Autograph Collection property in Fort Worth, Texas, and yielded strong results.
“Fort Worth mandates (new lighting consume) no more than 0.82 volts per square foot, and right now we’re using 0.28 volts (per square foot),” he said. “That’ a third of what the city requires. It’s pretty impressive.”
Aslam said his company’s efforts to reduce energy consumption have been so successful—they expected to be down roughly 40%—that he’ll likely soon have to pay a penalty to his energy company for consuming too little electricity.
“The lesson there is read your contracts before signing power agreements,” Aslam said.
In addition to being more energy-efficient, the Ethernet lighting system also gives the hotels complete control of the lighting system, including control over tint and color. That opens the property up to interesting possibilities, Aslam noted, like turning every exterior light purple on days Texas Christian University’s football team plays home games. Similar systems can be installed to control things like curtains and drapes, he said.
The Fort Worth property “has 750 windows, and everyone one has (powered over Ethernet)-powered motorized shades and drapes,” he said.
Ultimately, Aslam said he’d like to eliminate emergency generators on his properties, instead opting for smaller and more affordable battery systems. While that technology isn’t readily available to developers today, he said it’s clearly doable with the small and relatively inexpensive battery options that are now used in electric cars.
“I have three companies with three electrical engineers working on this solution right now,” he said.