How emerging technology will help drive optimal recovery

During the past 15 months, occupancy and revenue have been slashed to unthinkable levels. As travelers start to return, technology has been cited by many in the industry as a way to increase productivity and drive profitability going forward. Hotel Management asked several hotel executives how they are best leaning on technology to improve profitability in a positive way. 

“Occupancy will come back but the rate will continue to lag for some time,” said Jim O’Hara, chief financial officer at PM Hotel Group. “With the hiring issues right now, wage pressure is impacting profitability.”

Using labor productivity software will allow for appropriate staffing levels, saving costs related to overtime, O’Hara said. Additional technology, such as an online purchase order system, in the hands of management is key so management can utilize resources more effectively.

Cloud Benefits

While the pandemic hasn’t changed the technology strategy at IHG Hotels & Resorts, it has accelerated the need to deliver that technology at a faster pace, according to George Turner, the company’s chief commercial and technology officer. “Over the next five years, cloud-based platforms will be instrumental in helping us achieve our technology goals and will have one of the biggest impacts in the recovery of the hospitality industry and beyond,” he said. “We are investing in our cloud-based technology infrastructure to ensure we have a strong foundation.”

IHG’s cloud-based platform, IHG Concerto, provides the foundation on which the company will build its technology architecture for years to come. It also will allow the company to rapidly deploy and scale solutions across the entire global estate. “We have had to shift our approach to technology development and become more agile,” Turner said. “We are ruthlessly prioritizing things that will drive the most value, and then moving with speed and agility to build and enhance these products and platforms.”

G6 Hospitality Chief Information Officer John Laplante believes having the company’s technology systems in the cloud has really helped the company adapt to the challenges that COVID-19 presents and what the company was able to achieve during the early months of the pandemic. “With our property-management and distribution systems in the cloud already, we were easily able to change availability of rooms and properties in addition to what services were available,” Laplante said. Like the rest of the industry, G6 is dealing with labor challenges, so the company is looking to technology to find process improvements and implementing automation where it can.

Going Mobile

The hotel industry has historically been slow in adopting technology to improve guest services. However, due to the pandemic, there has been a rapid adoption of mobile technology, said David Kong, Best Western Hotels & Resorts’ president and CEO. “The biggest adoption that we have seen is our texting platform that allows guests to communicate directly with the hotel via text,” he said. “A lot more guests are gravitating toward using texting to communicate with hotels. This begins with prearrival when we send the guest a welcome message and encourage them to complete the registration form in advance to speed up the check-in process.”

Best Western also uses texting to upsell and convey hotel policies, especially as they relate to health and safety protocols. “During the stay, we have more and more guest texting us with their requests rather than using the phone,” Kong said. “This service is beneficial for both the hotel and the guest. For the hotel it allows more flexibility in staffing (phone calls need to be answered immediately; texts can be replied to as time permits) and for the guest, the texting platform has enabled us to achieve higher guest satisfaction.”

Within contactless technology, messaging software is a game-changer, said Sam Evers, chief strategy officer for Alice. Being able to communicate with guests before, during and after their stay not only meets guest expectations, but it provides opportunities for ancillary revenue, and builds the hotel/guest relationship.

“Aside from the pandemic, there are indications that a substantial percentage of guests and consumers prefer to interact with businesses—in this case, hotels—by a mobile device, an app or website,” he said. “Contactless business models are not only necessary for safety reasons; they seem preferable for many people as a simple and easy way to purchase and request service.”

Messaging software that’s connected to an operations platform is where the industry is headed, Evers said. Guests expect that they can message with their hotel, but with messaging and operations connected, requests that come in via text message are instantly made into tickets that staff can act on.

Changing Dynamics

Over the long term, Jansen Medeiros, regional vice president of operations at Prism Hotels & Resorts, believes privacy, security and artificial intelligence technologies will bring the biggest change for the hospitality industry.

“First, the accelerated growth of consumer technology companies coupled with the political environment and the most recent large-scale ransomware attack has put privacy and security at the forefront,” he said. “As an industry, we rely on data to drive strategy so it will be important to monitor how privacy and security regulations change over time.”

Additionally, artificial intelligence has the potential to make significant improvements in the guest experience—cognitive insights and engagement will get smarter and offer a better guest experience. Robotics adoption in both back and front of house will increase, he continued.