Many hotel owners—big and small—have desperately adopted technology during the pandemic to keep afloat and stay connected to visitors, despite the turmoil. But as we have a moment to catch our breath in the lead-up to travel resuming, hotels must make a step toward a tech-first system that will allow them to tap into new revenue streams and survive beyond crisis recovery.
If hotel owners continue with their current discombobulated approach to technology, it will result in inefficiencies down the line, risking a loss of valuable revenue and—ultimately—dissatisfied travelers.
Hotel owners must make sure they partner with a technology company that aligns with their vision. Otherwise, their efforts to digitize will be rendered obsolete.
There are several questions and considerations that hotel owners must ask themselves to properly evaluate potential solutions before getting into bed with a partner. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to choose the right company to work with when you are digitizing your hospitality establishment:
Step 1: How flexible is this solution you have found?
The first step a hotel company can make in accessing more revenue opportunities is partnering with technology providers who are agile, lean, willing to work quickly and motivated to innovate. This will be the best partnership because it will last and create real differentiated capabilities for the hotelier.
In your initial research, ask to see examples of how this potential partner has helped hotels pivot and adapt in the past, and the specific products that can fluctuate in line with your business’ trajectory. You want to avoid choosing a cloud provider or technology suite of products that cannot be easily reconfigured according to your needs because COVID-19 has taught us that anything can happen, so be aware that your current situation may change, and you need a partner who can change with you. Ask yourself: Can the company demonstrate their ability to innovate? Are they market leaders or followers? And as a customer, will you have input into future product roadmaps?
Step 2: Look at the verticals
Flexibility may be one of the most important things to consider during your research, but you absolutely must ask if their product offering is fit for your business. If you run a resort, does this company understand unique requirements of resorts or are they primarily focused on basic hotels? Will you be a small fish in a big pond, or will they ensure you get the attention you need and deserve?
Enquire about the specific products they have and the bespoke packages they can pull together for you that can work for your hotel’s exact needs.
Step 3: You need a mini business plan to work with the tech provider on customer mapping
Once you have found a company that will work flexibly with your needs and one that specializes in the type of establishment you run, you now need to ask yourself “what” and “why” instead of diving straight into how your hotel will go tech-first.
Ask, “What do I believe the impact of this technology will be on my hotel and ultimately on my bottom line?” and “why would implementing this be a benefit to my operations, staff and visitors?”
When you have these questions answered, you can lay out how to achieve the transformation, but you should not have to map out those requirements on your own. Good technology partners will gladly participate in analyzing the data you do have and begin mapping the customer journey with you based on a good business plan. Do not go it alone because you will benefit from more perspectives and inputs.
Step 4: Choose the right technology for the back office
A lot of hotel technology products for the back office operate as closed systems, whether they are property-management systems, point-of-sale systems or even accounting software. While the idea of open application programming interfaces and tighter integration with external systems is getting more traction in the hospitality vertical, there is still a long way to go. If you are in the position of having to select a back-office solution, you will want to look at two aspects: does it address your operational needs (i.e., check-in, checkout, housekeeping, etc.) and does it use available APIs for integrations to external systems to create complex marketing and data analytics platforms outside the back office?
Critically, it is important to understand the purpose and capabilities of each layer of technology. The property-management system may have excellent capabilities to manage rooms, housekeeping and inventory for example, but these systems may not have the ability to personalize rates and promotions across sales channels or to allow upsell and cross-sell of multiple product types (rooms, air, rental car, activities, show tickets, etc.) across internal and external channels. The points of contact between systems for managing the hotel, its guests and for managing marketing capabilities online, in the call center and for online travel agents, wholesalers and travel agents will determine how broadly a hotel can share their capabilities. The assumption that one solution will meet all the needs of a complex property or chain of hotels had proven untrue time and time again.
Step 5: Choose the right technology for your visitors
It is important to recognize that guests do not care about the limitations of your systems. Their expectations are set by their experiences. So, your hotel booking engine, like it or not, is compared to how easy it is to book on Amazon. Your customer help section of your website is compared to Alexa or Google Home. Travelers expect, and feel like they deserve, automation, searchability and thoughtfulness when they interact with a company digitally.
It does not resonate with them to have to book a hotel room and a swim with the dolphins excursion in two separate transactions. This is a blessing and a curse because it means you must constantly be innovating and breaking down walls to a better user experience, but you have plenty of models to base your solutions on.
Adopting a digital approach to hotel management does not have to be complex. Following this step-by-step approach may just be the best starting point to kickstart that journey for your hotel during recovery. The goal here is to secure returning visitors' season after season, and that their visitor journey is as swift a digital operation as it is placing an order on Amazon. Let’s simplify hotel management for the long run by making the right investments now.
Christman Korah is associate VP at IBS Software.