Technology still fails both guests and hoteliers; for hoteliers, it does not provide enough data to help push service and revenue, and for guests, it does not improve their profile once they arrive. The pace of change is the biggest enemy.
LONDON—Hoteliers are looking at how technology can improve industry metrics and revenue, according to panelists on the “Remaining relevant: Staying with the guest” session at Deloitte’s 30th European Hotel Investment Conference.
Trial and error is critical when it comes to testing new technology, sources said.
“For instance, who knows where voice is going to take us? We all should be testing,” said Christopher Cowdray, CEO of the Dorchester Collection.
Julie Fawcett, managing director of Qbic Hotels, said innovative thinking is necessary to come out ahead.
“Everything comes down to (revenue per available room) but never to (revenue per available customer),” she said. “Yes, we might hint at it, but we need to change our thinking.”
Karan Khanna, managing director for the United Kingdom and Ireland at InterContinental Hotels Group, said he sees a huge upside in pricing from how technology can better serve the guest. Technology aims to do that now but often fails or completes its task only partially.
“That will come from customer service and experience,” Khanna said. “Of course it is absolutely mandatory for brands to invest in IT, and it has been this way for quite some time. It is non-negotiable for us to invest in our own infrastructure, but the challenge is keeping up with the pace of change. And then then you can start to focus on what unlocks value, and do that for 5,500 hotels, not just the 15 launched that month.”
Fawcett said most of the technology present in a hotel is for the hotel’s benefit, not the guests’.
“After 20 minutes looking at someone tapping a computer, they’ll ask you if you’ve stayed with them before,” she said. “How come we do not already have an answer to that? It is just at the end of the check-in procedure that we get time for a guest’s wants.”
The higher up the chain scale, the more pain a guest can feel in this process.
“No platform exists there in the (customer relationship system) to utterly understand the customer,” Cowdray said. “First, you need all the systems to talk to one another, and only then can you yourself understand. High-end customers want to know how you will respond, and how will you get to know them better. Another challenge is not so much the technology but that (hotels) have a turnover of people in key areas.”
Not all hoteliers will want to hear it, but help can come from third parties.
“We have developed real-time feedback, which we can share with partner hotels,” said Ariane Gorin, president of Expedia partner solutions at Expedia. “Hotel companies need to consider what they can add to the value chain, what are their differentiators and when do I need to partner, so all can lead to that hotel company giving a guest the best experience possible when they enter the property.”
Panelists agreed there are so many touchpoints that there are ample opportunities to make guests’ experiences better.
“The overall ecosystem is flourishing, so it is knowing where you sit in that ecosystem,” Fawcett said.
Khanna said it’s important to “extract value” at every possible opportunity.
“(IHG has) gone from a business where eight years ago, we did all that IT in-house to now having it all cloud-based through third parties,” Khanna said.
Despite all parties singing the same tune, the reality is the hotel-OTA relationship remains rocky, Cowdray said.
“There is a disconnect between online travel agencies and hotels,” he said. “Still there is a lot of hesitancy of sharing information if bookings came via a third-party site.”
Khanna emphasized that everybody wins if guests are given the best experience.
“The goal of technology is to provide the best integrated experience at the best possible price in order for guests to come back again and again and again,” he said. “There always will be more pressure from owners for bookings to be direct, and that pressure is right. At our owners’ meetings, commercial performance comes up a lot as it affects the fundamental economics of properties.”
The prevailing theory is that simplifying processes will lead to more data clarity, a better idea of what guests want and the ability to see a more definite road to higher revenue, and that is all correct to a large extent, panelists said.
But one obstacle is that outside of the hotel, the booking world is getting more complicated.
“I do not see those 800 million possible interactions as a problem,” Fawcett said. “It is exciting, a new way of purchasing, and it is a journey via reviews, photos and videos. Essentially, today, every single room is purchased online, so the question needs to be how are we driving the experience of our hotel all through the journey?
“What we need to do is to allow the guest to personalize their stay, an ‘Amazon-ization’ of the stay, and that starts with capturing the guest.”
Cowdray said his company is developing a niche of service at the top of its guest profile.
“We’re seeing changes in our customers, as every organization does,” he said, adding that 70% of guests are booking direct.
“It surprises me how much that is, and it is all the way through our demographics,” Cowdray said.