Ahead of this year’s HOTEC Operations and Technology North America show, which will take place May 21-24, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla., HOTEL MANAGEMENT caught up with Guido Kerpel, VP of operations at New Castle Hotels and Resorts, to discuss the opportunities and challenges awaiting operators this year. Kerpel was optimistic about the future, but admitted a level of uncertainty continues to permeate the market, and changes in national policy present new unknowns each day.
HOTEL MANAGEMENT: What are some of New Castle’s main objectives for 2017?
Guido Kerpel: “We are taking a two-pronged approach to our business by expanding on third-party management deals and continuing to find ground-up deals to support. Our pipeline is quite strong, so we may not add new builds for 2017. Third-party management contracts will be our focus for this year, while 2018 will be the time to see our deals come to fruition from a ground-up perspective. As for markets that are interesting to us, the East Coast and Eastern Seaboard are priorities, as well as eastern Canada, including Toronto and Ottowa.”
HM: What are some of the challenges you think the hospitality industry will be forced to overcome during 2017?
GK: “There are a few different challenges ahead. First is the upheaval taking place in Washington right now. Business is somewhat averse to rapid change, and we’ve seen a lot over the past week or so. We as an industry rely on a large pool of workers with a variety of skills, some come from outside the U.S. and Canada with J-1 visas, and I don’t know if this will change at all in the near future. It’s going to be a bit tricky. Another challenge pertains to where we are we in the economic cycle. Speaking generally, we have seen some lenders pull back their willingness to spend on hotels as an asset class. [The industry has] to keep an eye on that, and we have to find out what we don’t know.”
HM: What technology innovations are appealing to operators this year, and how do you see them being implemented?
GK: “Once again, there are a few. The first trend we’re seeing is about gathering more data on our guests, and how can we bring big data to the forefront for operations to bring value-added services to our guests. Some hotel technologies are also rapidly changing, such as RFID locks that facilitate online check-in, and it’s neat how these innovations ripple through the market. Also in the guestroom, the entertainment suite is changing and it will be excellent for our customers.”
HM: What is one aspect of hotel operations that cannot be overlooked this year and why?
GK: “The cliché is ‘lets go back to basics,’ but it’s what customers expect right now. First of all, they want a clean room, a smooth check-in and friendly people. Second, in light of what Airbnb is doing, we need to come up with ways to engage with customers in a very grassroots setting and really push on the experiential aspect of hotels. With Airbnb, travelers walking into someone’s house to stay will always have an interesting experience, good or bad. By comparison, we are sometimes vanilla when it comes to experiences in hotels.”
HM: “What do you expect to get out of this year’s North America HOTEC event?
GK: I hope to bump into some good productivity software programs. One issue I have with the industry is the lack of innovation and productivity improvements. I’m looking for housekeeping and laundry improvements, and HOTEC is also a good place to meet suppliers and other hoteliers to talk about what keeps them up at night. We all compare notes.”