Many hotels have changed hands throughout the industry over the course of the past year and in many cases that has meant transitioning those properties from one brand to another. A trio of brand and management company executives discussed some of the ways to navigate the associated challenges, as well as the implementation of other emerging technologies, during a panel at BITAC Operations earlier this month.
The panel discussion, entitled “Impact Of Integration: Enhancing Hotel Operations Through Your Technology Stack,” was moderated by Marina Willis, vp, strategic accounts, and Heide Werthamer, COO, both of Edge Communications, a Plano, TX-based business technology services provider.
Sonesta International Hotels Corporation has grown rapidly over the past two years through large scale acquisitions and the assumption of management contracts from roughly 50 hotels to some 1,200 properties. Jeffrey Cohen, VP, CIO, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation, relayed one of his initial experiences with the franchise company following the transition of roughly 100 former Marriott-branded hotels into the Sonesta system at the end of November.
“We’ve actually gone very much into a learning mode as an organization. We did a lot of figuring out what went right, what went wrong and we did a lot of iteration. The next time around it was a lot smoother and a lot easier and we put in a lot of process quite frankly,” he said.
Meanwhile, for multi-brand franchisor Wyndham Hotels & Resorts onboarding hotels is business as usual, according to Scott Strickland, the company’s chief information officer.
“To put something in perspective almost every day Wyndham opens two hotels globally. So every day we have to convert two hotels to a new PMS, a new CRS and connect them into our loyalty program and we have to do it flawlessly otherwise franchisees get upset with us,” he said.
Jeffrey Parker, VP, IT Services & Delivery, Highgate Hotels, explained the onboarding process from the perspective of a prominent management company, which has added some 125 hotels in the last 6 months and now has more than 500 hotels in its portfolio.
“It’s a lot of working partners and a lot of focusing on keeping the lights on for the first several days and weeks; making sure everything works and everyone’s taken care of. Then you start digging into the other stuff you need to build up, details you have with properties, what are the escalation points? It’s a lot of change all at once and it’s hard, but if you have good systems in place and work with great partners, of course, the transition gets to be much easier,” he said.
When it comes to integrating technology and looking ahead at emerging solutions, Parker noted his company is focused on “delivering to the guests what they’re actually asking for.” He cited mobile key and remote check-in as a prime example.
“Brands love mobile key, owners love mobile key, but look at the take rates on mobile key usage. There are the road warriors that use it all the time—the one percenters that are out there—but in a leisure market because there’s so much complication when you’re traveling with your family, or with a significant other or anyone, sharing keys and doing those kind of things on the solution is difficult. There have been no labor changes at all, we’re not getting a lot of straight to room [customers],” he said.
Parker, however, did tout the value of self-directed service solutions.
“Giving our guests a way to alter their stay, a way to communicate with us to work with systems they already have [is key]. They don’t want to download an app, they want to use SMS, or RCS or Apple chat. Giving the guest the ability to communicate with us in the quickest and most efficient way is what we’re hearing over and over from them,” he said.
Strickland reinforced the point.
“The best channel to communicate with a guest is the channel they want to use. The best kiosk that’s out there is the one that’s in their pocket,” he said.
Strickland also noted the company is focused on “what is the guest asking for” when it comes to integrating other technology solutions.
“They’ve become accustomed to contactless so we rolled out contactless payment at our more than 6,000 hotels. They became accustomed to streaming Netflix from their couch. So that’s one of our biggest initiatives over the next 18 months, how do we allow them to stream Netflix at our Super 8s or our La Quintas?” he noted.
Strickland also noted the company is in the process of rolling out mobile tipping over the next year and he detailed its potential impact.
“It’s another way to reduce turnover. We’ve heard that in the mobile tipping area you can increase the hourly wage for back office employees by 2 to 4 dollars an hour, that’s huge. If you can do that and reduce that turnover it means then that the front desk agent doesn’t have to go back there and be making beds and the like,” he said.
Parker, for his part, emphasized the importance of “stability” with the integration of any technology solution.
“We can do all this cool stuff out there and deliver 71 property technologies, but if we have a PMS system that goes down for more than an hour then all of that is for naught. Our cues back up and that’s what our franchisees remember, no matter if we have 17 victories. I encourage all my vendor partners out there when you’re looking at innovation versus stability, get stability right first because that’s absolutely critical to these folks that have invested their life savings into this business,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cohen maintained that the overall approach needs to change throughout the industry.
“The technology itself is very hotel centric and not guest-centric and that’s really been a struggle as we move to a more guest-centric approach. I’d like to sort of tear apart half the technology and get the guest at the center of the architecture,” he concluded.