Hotel industry still navigating tech landscape
Hotel industry still navigating tech landscape
18 JULY 2019 9:00 AM

A look at the past seven months of HNN’s reporting on hotel industry technology shows that while tech can enable growth and efficiency, hoteliers still have work to do to make sure they’re getting the most out of innovation.

GLOBAL REPORT—Technology’s impact on the global hotel industry grows every day, and it can often be difficult for hoteliers to navigate how, where and when to make smart tech investments.

Each month, Hotel News Now releases Tech Impact Report, a specially curated newsletter of the industry’s top technology news. Here’s a roundup highlighting HNN’s tech coverage so far in 2019.

Even a year in, adapting to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation is still a work in progress for many companies outside the EU. Sandy Garfinkel, attorney at Eckert Seamans and chairman of the firm’s data security and privacy group, told HNN that many U.S. companies weren’t as proactive as their EU counterparts because they weren’t clear on how much the European data rules affected their businesses. Hotel brand companies, however, pushed for compliance.

“They saw a lot more potential exposure and decided, for the most part, to make their systems compliant, which included franchisees in some forced compliance behaviors,” he said. “In the U.S., GDPR culture started from the top down from the brands and made its way down to compliance at the hotel level among individual owners and managers.”

Technology is increasingly vital as a training tool for hoteliers, with some leaning on virtual reality as a way to “practice and master complex interpersonal skills.” Best Western Hotels & Resorts has developed simulations for team members working the front desk, housekeeping, maintenance and breakfast area that mimic real-life customer reactions, SVP and COO Ron Pohl said.

“The employee training initiative leverages virtual reality to transform communications between front-desk staff and guests, and uses a live hospitality virtual simulator, or the ‘avatar,’” Pohl said.

Tech also provides hotels with better options in how they communicate with their employees, but hoteliers need to be careful that they’re not using too many platforms at once. Kent Tweeten, asset manager at Alliance Hospitality Management, said he is in favor of new tech-enabled communications platforms that improve efficiency, but new applications pushed by brands can create stumbling blocks.

“This causes confusion and frustration for both the guests and the staff,” he said.

Speaking at the 2019 NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, executives at large technology companies such as Google said the battle ground in the hotel industry is and will be over ownership of the guest relationship. Cyril Ranque, president of lodging partner services for Expedia Group, said he believes OTAs like his company hope to deliver the most seamless experience possible to win over travelers.

“Everyone wants that direct relationship, and the only question really is who will be able to get that through data and human touch to offer the most relevant customer experience,” he said. “Hopefully we have a good game plan in the (online travel agency) space.”

Conversely, executives with hotel brands say they have to be careful which technologies to invest in to avoid embracing fads, but at the same time they have to support innovation. Talking during the 2019 Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference, Greg Mount, president and CEO of RLH Corporation, said tech innovation is an increasingly important part of his business.

“We do think brands have an obligation to be on the cutting edge of where tech is going, understanding it and being an innovator,” he said. “That way we’ve done things in the hotel industry for the last 30 to 40 years is about to change, and if you’re not part of that change, you’re going to be left behind.”

As more hotels embrace the idea of enabling guests own devices on property, the risk factor presented with smartphones becomes more obvious. Data from Verizon’s Mobile Security Index 2019 highlighted that 31% of hospitality and retail companies saw a mobile device compromise in 2018 with more than half of those described as major.

And while 83% of companies surveyed noted they are vulnerable to threats via mobile, only 48% are putting additional resources into combating the problem.

Investing in smarter technology to manage energy can pay dividends for hotels. Daniella Foster, senior director of corporate responsibility at Hilton, said her company has seen significant benefits from software to manage energy usage in guestrooms.

“For example, many hotels have linked their networked guestroom HVAC systems to their booking systems, so if a room is unoccupied it automatically reverts to an energy-efficient temperature set point,” she said. “Rooms also use occupancy sensors: RFID guestroom door locks sync wirelessly with control systems, including lighting and thermostats, to drive both guest comfort and energy efficiency.”

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