Building a culture around tech differentiates hotels
Building a culture around tech differentiates hotels
09 OCTOBER 2019 1:00 PM

Fads come and go but technology is here to stay, and hoteliers need to cultivate a culture around tech in order to find the right tools to ease operations and impress guests.

PHOENIX—As travelers’ preferences evolve, hoteliers need to continually adapt technology in order to wow guests and improve operational efficiencies. But that doesn’t mean adding tech for tech’s sake, sources said.

On a panel titled “How hotels can adapt technology to wow guests, improve productivity and deliver ROI” at the recent Lodging Conference, John Edwards, CIO of RLH Corporation, said his company has been focused on instilling a culture of technology innovation.

“The idea really is to watch whether it’s consumer technology and the fads that are floating through that or also watch what is going on in our own industry, but really focusing—not just on the technology side for technology’s sake—but working with the operations team to make sure that their goals align with our goals,” he said.

To parse through fads and trends, Edwards said RLHC focuses on the concept of “failing fast.” It’s the idea that when things aren’t working, “we just need to say they aren’t working.” It’s a better outcome for the properties and operators to do so, he said.

He said his company continuously surveys its properties and advisory boards while working through different projects that can leverage technology to be a differentiator.

One fad that comes to mind is smart TVs, Edwards said. As for ongoing trends, RLHC has been focused on implementing automation solutions to help the on-property operations teams be more efficient.

For example, RLHC is developing a bathroom-cleaning robot, which will be used to help housekeepers but not replace them, he said. RLHC just finished its first pilot of the bot with a hotel in California, and it completed 80% of the cleaning for a bathroom.

“Obviously we want to improve that—it’s an ongoing project,” he said. Another goal with this solution is to eliminate hiring and labor challenges, he said.

Aly El-Bassuni, SVP of franchise operations, Americas at Radisson Hotel Group, said one of the biggest trends right now is ensuring the mobile app experience is the best that it can be.

That’s a big directive now because of who the traveler is, he said. Today’s traveler is very self-sufficient, focusing on getting things done on their own devices.

“In an ever-changing world, in keeping up with guest needs, the word millennial is thrown around ad nauseam, but the reality is it’s the biggest consumer segment that’s spending today,” he said.

For its staff, Radisson recently implemented a whole new tech ecosystem to get “our own in-house (operations) in order.” Next up is a new CRM and PMS, called Emma.

“It will be a fundamental change for us to not only enable our hotels but also provide that guest experience at peak levels,” El-Bassuni said. “Our owners are already investing in these systems.”

Jason Hsiang, SVP of development for Yotel, said his company is always trying to incubate new technology applications for guests. He said some hotels are starting to implement voice-controlled guestrooms. Since Yotel’s traveler base comprises upwards of 50% international travelers, he said the company is waiting for the right technology to accommodate a wide array of languages before it’s implemented as a brand standard.

He said the company focuses on technologies that improve operational efficiencies and lower overall staff to keep margins high.

“In some of the markets that we are in, we’re generating upwards of 50% GOP margins because of the ability to decrease the amount of full-time employees,” he said.

Balancing high-tech and high-touch check-in
Hsiang said the front desk is evolving and will continue to evolve. Most of Yotel’s properties are in tight urban areas, and there’s a need to be cognizant of space. With mobile check-in and kiosks, Yotel was able to decrease the footprint of the front desk while speeding up the check-in process, he said.

Yotel was one of the first brands in the hotel space to successfully adopt the kiosk check-in, he said, something the airlines had already been doing.

Looking ahead, he said his company is exploring and discussing biometric check-in, which could eventually eliminate front desks and kiosks; however, Yotel doesn’t want to ultimately lose that human interaction piece.

“We’re still in the hospitality business, we still want to be a point of entry where there’s still a good acknowledgement of the guest coming in,” he said.

El-Bassuni agreed, adding he hopes that the front desk won’t turn into a completely unmanned station in the future.

Cost challenges
El-Bassuni said a big challenge today is the cost behind technology, in terms of the investment either by a parent company or owners and developers.

“One of the areas that we’re seeing right now that is table stakes across the industry is revenue management, (artificial intelligence), pricing tools and the management of inventory. That has proliferated across the industry,” he said. “If you don’t have it today, you are out there competing against very sophisticated algorithms.”

He said the other challenge is getting people and staff to engage with the tech that you do invest in.

In terms of reducing costs on technology, Pamela Barnhill, principal of Strategic Growth Advisory, said to consider whether or not you “build it, buy it or collaborate with someone who already has it.”

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