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Driving Differentiation

Executives Emphasize Innovation, Technology During BITAC® Panel

Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Dennis Nessler
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Impactful innovation, cutting-edge technology and sustainability were among the key topics discussed by owner and brand executives during a product-focused panel at BITAC® Purchasing & Design East earlier this week.

The panel, “Executive Insights: Key Points Of Product Differentiation For Hoteliers,” helped kick off the annual event which took place at The Fairmont Southampton in Bermuda.

Russ Urban, President, High Hotels, took the industry to task from the standpoint of innovation. “I’ve been in the business for almost 40 years and sad to say that I don’t think our industry has really innovated very well relative to other industries. So I think we have a little catching up to do,” he said.

Urban specifically cited traditional services such as front desk check-in and phone systems as being outdated as he emphasized the role of technology going forward, particularly when it comes to checking guests in with tablets, for example. “I don’t think it has to diminish the customer service side of the business. In fact, I think it can enhance it. I’d like to see in five years all front desks done away with,” he said.

Cheryl Richardson, senior design manager, Marriott Luxury Brands, underscored the point noting that by 2020 all Marriott hotels are required to be equipped with RFID locks to allow for keyless entry.

She further commented on the role of technology.
“Moving forward personalized service in regards to innovation is going to be expected and I think the capabilities in technology are going to be able to provide that,” she said.

Brian Carney, vp, operations, Cooper Hotels, highlighted the evolution of digital key solutions, specifically as it relates to Hilton properties, which make up a large portion of his portfolio.

”There were some drawbacks to it in that you might reserve your room and check in digitally and all of a sudden you didn’t like your room because there was a big highway outside. So now they put in maps of the exterior of the hotels,” he said.

David Gould, President, hospitality division, Moody National Companies, weighed in on technology. “I think one of the biggest things that has been spot on has been the entertainment packages that have been coming out and being able to have the experience in a hotel room that you have at home,” he said, in reference to programming options such as Hulu, Nextflix and Xfinity.

Gould added he would like to see a device near the bed that includes a clock, USB port and a blue tooth speaker, for example. He further noted, “I think blue tooth speakers in the rooms are something that should be coming next.”

Richardson pointed out the traditional ways of measuring return on investment are no longer relevant. “The reality is the 25-year-old business traveler is tweeting about their experiences online so you can’t just put a monetary figure on return on investment for technology. You have to really think of it in more terms of experiences and what that return is,” she commented.

But Urban emphasized that technology can only go so far. “Really our only major differentiator is our customer service in the end. There are all these products out there but if your customer service isn’t great then you’re not going to be there. Some of the technology issues and ROI issues end up being purely defensive,” he said.

The panelists addressed the importance of sustainability when it comes to making product decisions. Richardson touted Marriott’s Serve 360 program, a sustainability initiative targeted toward 2025. As part of the program all of the FF&E that’s purchased by and for any Marriott hotels is evaluated for sustainability.

Richardson explained the company’s approach.
“We partner with all the major manufacturers of hospitality products because we have such a wide gamut of brands. I see a lot of these people all the time at corporate headquarters presenting and offering solutions toward that end. It is about our partnerships because they are the ones that supply our product,” he said.

Gould weighed in and credited Marriott specifically for switching over to bulk solutions in the bathrooms with regards to shampoo and body wash. He maintained it “makes all the sense in the world” and touted its efficiency. However, Gould stressed that more needs to be done. “Plastic straws are great but at the same time we’re still selling bottles of water,” he said.

Urban noted the company recently converted all of its hotels to 100 percent LED lighting. He added, “it ROI’s very quickly.” Urban also noted that the company just converted a Courtyard by Marriott to solar power and acknowledged he hopes that solution will become more prevalent.

“Hopefully people will take a page out of our playbook there because it’s ultimately better for the world. It’s not easy because it doesn't really pencil from an economic standpoint so you have to really want to do it as part of your ethos,” he stated.

Urban later provided perspective in terms of FF&E spending for a property, which the company has studied extensively. “We really believe that if you reserve 8 percent of your revenue over the course of a long-term hold that you’ll have enough over the course of the life of the hotel to pay for all the brand upgrades that are necessary and for maintenance. I think you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s going to be any less than that,” he said.

In conclusion, relationships were a main point of emphasis for a couple of panelists, among other things.

For example, as a 60-year-old company Carney emphasized long-term, generational relationships as being important to High Hotels. “What we look for is reliability and service, and of course, product quality, but it’s those relationships [that are key],” he said.

Gould agreed, “You want to do business with people you know and not just companies you know. If we do need something customized or done for us special, or if there’s a problem, we have a relationship with somebody already established,” he said.

Urban, meanwhile, offered some practical advice to the suppliers on hand. “When you are talking to the owners out there just be realistic with your delivery. Putting together a renovation or a new build is a very intricate process in terms of timing. Don’t tell us what we want to hear, tell us what the truth is about delivery times so we aren’t caught in middle of a project with a delayed product because I can’t tell you how many times that happens,” he said.

Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
Hotel Interactive®, Inc.
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