Hotel technology professionals realize guests want more and better all the time in terms of tech in hotels, but they also have to cope with a web of legacy systems, experts said.
NEW YORK—Technology is ever-changing, both inside and outside the hotel industry, and hoteliers struggle to keep up with it while also bolting on older and increasingly less functional legacy systems.
A group of experts speaking during the 2019 NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference’s “Information technology and the digital revolution” panel said their top tasks involve getting more properties off of legacy systems and into more sophisticated back-end technology.
Scott Strickland, chief information officer for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, said his company’s transition to a cloud-based system has helped alleviate some of the pain, and the transition of LaQuinta properties to Wyndham systems was a perfect example of that.
“We converted hundreds of properties to a new PMS in 24 hours,” he said. “We had buses of trainers going around (to help with the transition on property). It boggles the mind to think about, but that’s the pace of change.”
Tony Zolla, SVP of digital product and technology for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, said technology isn’t new, but what’s new is how quickly it changes. Noting the phone took 50 years before it was fully adopted; television took 20 years; and Facebook took just three.
He said hoteliers need to be both judicious and active in their tech investments.
“Companies and enablers have to invest in infrastructure to drive agility and navigate uncertainty,” he said.
Elevating human interaction
Panelists said the priority for many guest-facing technologies should be keeping them simple and using them to enable better human interactions.
That’s why several have prioritized things like texting with guests over building more complicated in-app chat solutions, because it meets guests where they’re at.
“There’s an immediacy to texting, and you can do it anywhere,” said Daniel Kornick, chief information officer for Loews Hotels & Co.
He said texting can act as a supplement and extension of the hotel’s traditional concierge. Hotel guests at some of the company’s Orlando properties text staff asking for suggestions such as where to find ice cream while enjoying the nearby amusement parks.
“The power it gives us is through its simplicity. … We don’t have an app because it doesn’t feel as seamless or simple,” he said.
Personalization is key
Hotels are sitting on troves of data about guests and their preferences, and it’s important the industry do a better job leveraging that data to offer a better experience, panelists said.
Maud Bailly, chief digital officer in charge of digital, distribution, sales and information systems for Accor, noted hotels need to do this while also balancing privacy concerns.
“We call it responsible personalization,” she said. The data it has “is a real gold mine, but you have to build a model that’s responsible.”
Dealing with employees
With increasing automation within the hotel industry, panelists said there have been some more concerns among employee groups that automation will replace them at some point in time.
Dan Berger, founder, VP and GM for Social Tables, said hotel companies need to address this head on with additional employee training to let employees know tech will enable them to do better jobs, not eliminate the need for them.
“If a hotel company doesn’t provide training opportunities … they’re not only creating a bad workforce, but they’re not prepared for the future,” he said.
At the same time, concerns about technology are as old as technology itself, Berger said. But he believes neither jobs nor technology are going to take a step back
“One-hundred years ago, we had 30 million farmers,” he said. “Now we have 3 million and the lowest unemployment rate in history. No matter what their concerns are, there will be work for the workforce.”