Artificial intelligence, increased personalization and convergence were among the key subjects discussed during a technology-focused panel at the recently concluded BITAC® Owner’s conference.
In a session entitled, “Touting The Importance Of Technology,” hospitality executives representing both owners and operators, as well as suppliers of product and services, provided some insight on the aforementioned topics in addition to several others.
Joe Bojanowski, President, PM Hotel Group—a management firm with some 40 hotels—offered some insight into how they approach investing in the latest technology.
“We definitely don’t want to be out that far on the bleeding edge. We look at it two different ways. In hotels that are under development and are opening we want to be as forward looking as we possibly can and delay purchases until the very last minute. The most critical component to us in that is building an infrastructure that is as future proofed as we possibly can get and then adding on the pieces at the end, whether it be HSIA or a content provider for television or whatever it may be,” he noted.
Bojanowski added, “With existing hotels it depends on the customer need and renovation budgets and things like that.”
According to Ghassan Sader, President and CEO, Sader Hospitality—which provides a variety of services, including asset management, to hotels and resorts— weighed in. “Everything depends really on the location of your property and if it is branded or unbranded…Technology is not for every hotel, it depends really on the demand of our clients,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kerry Ranson, chief development officer, HP Hotels, which owns and operates more than 50 hotels, also offered some words of caution. “What business are we in? I think sometimes you can get caught up in trying to reinvent the wheel, not recognizing the fact that we’re serving hospitality. Leave the technology piece up to the experts getting to know the nuances behind what’s there, but partnering with the right people that are out there and making the right decisions for your assets and the consumers that are coming.”
To that point, the suppliers were asked how to make sure solutions work and can demonstrate an ROI for owners.
Martin Thornros, principal, Convergent Services—which provides support services to owners and operators looking for customized IT solutions for their hotels—offered his perspective. “Our job is really to work with the owner or management company to make sure they have a strategy that makes sense for whatever they want to be in the world. There are obviously hotels that are going to want to be on the bleeding edge; there are hotels that don’t want to be involved in technology at all; and then the mainstream that’s somewhere in between. So for us it’s critical to get the convergence between the ownership requirements and the technology planned for the property,” he maintained.
Brian Uttley, director of distribution, TravelClick—which offers hotel cloud-based and data driven solutions designed to maximize revenue—reinforced the point. “We spend a lot of time educating our hoteliers on what the technology brings to the table. Some of the hoteliers are very much fine with status quo. There’s a little resistance to the technology aspects of the industry and how fast it changes so getting the ROI and identifying what our solutions specifically can do for a hotel above and beyond what they currently do is a challenge sometimes,” he noted.
Uttley went on to emphasize the importance of information. “Business intelligence and the data that we actually collect for hoteliers, you can’t make decisions without it,” he insisted.
Much of that data can be used to personalize the guest experience, which can be a critical point of differentiation for hoteliers.
According to Thornros, “That’s kind of the next step. All the data we collect has to be used somewhat usefully and personalization is obviously the way to go with that. Mobile makes it much easier, but also much more difficult because the demands are changing.”
Bojanowski elaborated on the point and benefits of mobile, particularly as it relates to mobile check-in. “It’s a guest friendly and easy way for the process that starts with the reservation and goes all the way through entering the room in a very seamless and integrated fashion. But at the end of the day we are in the hospitality business and the decommoditization of that sort of comes at the touch points with customers and that personalization of the experience. For us it’s caused us on the service side to look at it a little bit differently where historically the front desk has been a guaranteed point of engagement with customers,” he said.
The executives also acknowledged the potential impact of artificial intelligence.
“Whichever one of these franchises realizes that there is potentially this knack or ability to tie into artificial intelligence—which is not really artificial—they’ve found a way to find the answers to our consumer and give them what they want,” asserted Ranson.
Wojanowski commented on Amazon Alexa specifically and some of the challenges artificial intelligence poses. “It does some things well, but it is not a great device for everything. Obviously that will evolve very quickly, but then there’s the whole security issue around it. Do you want a device in your room that can hear, and to some degree understand, everything that you’re saying? And who owns that? Can the hotel company turn that into data that is then used to market back to you? There’s a big security component around those types of devices in rooms and who owns the information and how it’s being used and I think it will take a while to sort all that out,” he stated.
Wojanoski also underscored the importance of convergence. “For us where we might see the next round of really big returns would be on convergence and how we integrate all those systems so they talk to one other in a way that gives us data that allows us some savings around energy management and a lot of things on that side,” he said.