Brand execs on where they prioritize tech
 
Brand execs on where they prioritize tech
10 JULY 2019 1:09 PM

Hotel leaders have different approaches and priorities for technology in their hotels, and some executives speaking at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference said the industry must take the growth of technology seriously.

MINNEAPOLIS—Hotel executives seem to agree the investment and growth in technology are vital for the future success of their businesses, but the overall approach to that varies from company to company.

Speaking during the “Tech talk in the C-suite: 2020 and beyond” session at the 2019 Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference, Greg Mount, president and CEO of RLH Corporation, said he foresees distributed ledger technology like blockchain being incredibly impactful for hoteliers.

“It will connect the consumer more directly with the hotel,” he said. “And it’s important to understand how that connection will occur,” he said.

Meanwhile, Omni Hotels & Resorts President Peter Strebel said he thinks voice technology and wearables will be the top growing tech for the industry.

“There will be less texting and more talking all the time with search through speech,” he said.

Fittingly, Ken Greene, president of the Americas for Radisson Hotel Group, said it’s impossible to predict which technology will be most important.

“There is so much tech innovation happening,” he said. “It’s hard to predict what’s a trend and what’s a fad.”

Each of the executives on the panel said it’s important for their companies to pick the right technologies to sink money behind to drive returns on their investments.

Mount said RLHC has done this by prioritizing innovation via the creation of a subsidiary called RLabs earlier this year, which focuses on delivering new technologies to owners and operators.

“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.”

But Strebel said it’s similarly important to remember to not overemphasize the role of technology and keep the main focus on hospitality.

“I think (technology) is an ingredient but the bottom line is this is a people-serving-people business, and people use technology,” he said.

He said it’s important to remember not all travelers want the same experience in terms of how technology factors into their travels.

“Different customer segments have different needs,” Strebel said. “A business traveler doesn’t want human interaction, while family leisure travelers want to interact. There are lots of planning tools for booking online, but some still prefer to talk to someone about a special dinner reservation or spa appointment.”

There should be greater interplay between technology and guest experience even for those guests who want human interaction, Greene said, noting better leveraging data can help things make check-in or interactions with front-desk employees more positive.

“We’re rolling out a new PMS and reservation platform that takes data real time and uses that data to deliver a better experience in real time to guests,” he said.

And Greene noted it’s not just about tailoring technology to travelers’ needs but to franchisees as well. He said a big part of Radisson’s work is selling innovations to its franchisees and showing those investments will translate to dollars and cents.

This means new technologies have to start off small as pilot programs, then grow after the brand can clearly demonstrate its value. The typical path of a new technology within Radisson is starting at a company-owned property, then moving to brand-managed properties where they can exert some control on-property before rolling out to franchisees, he said.

He noted while hotel owners are often regarded as reluctant to make these types of investments, that’s not really the case. Their different perspective is also valuable to how large companies view technology.

“The great thing about franchisees is they’re entrepreneurs,” he said. “They think differently than corporate people, and that will improve ideas. Then it’s the job of the brand is to think about how to take those better ideas and scale them.”

Omni, which owns and operates its portfolio, still has to be judicious about its tech dollars, Strebel said. He noted it’s easier to find the right things to invest in when you have a direct connection to guests like his company.

“I think it all starts with customer research to find what they want and what’s missing,” he said.

But once the company makes a decision, it’s able to deploy it relatively quickly.

“That’s the beauty of only selling (investments) to one owner,” he said. “Once you do it, it’s done.”

Dealing with the giants
Many hoteliers have opined on the impact tech giants like Google and Amazon will ultimately have on the travel landscape, but Greene said he doesn’t see cause for concern.

“It doesn’t scare me because we’ve got a good strategic relationship with Google that’s allowed us to pilot things with them that are unique,” he said.

Mount said it’s vital for any hotel company to understand the landscape for online bookings and distribution, noting online travel agencies were once viewed as massive industry disruptors but are now primed to be disrupted themselves.

“Google is a part of that (disruption), along with Facebook and Amazon,” he said. “Amazon is already doing airline bookings in India.”

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