TPG Hotels & Resorts' Ed Schwitzky talks AI, analytics and the need to evolve

(The VP of eCommerce at TPG Hotels & Resorts has a lot to say about emerging trends in technology, and why the industry needs to evolve yesterday.)

Ed Schwitzky is excited for the future. The VP of eCommerce at TPG Hotels & Resorts has a lot to say about emerging trends in technology, which is why HOTEL MANAGEMENT wanted to get a word in with him before the HOTEC Operations and Technology North America kicks off May 21 in Palm Beach, Fla. Running through May 24, the event is bringing together some of the sharpest minds in hospitality to network and discuss what's around the corner for the industry, and Schwitzky is prepared to bend some ears.

Ed Schwitzky

HOTEL MANAGEMENT: What are TPG Hotels and Resorts’ primary objectives for 2017, as it relates to improving hotel operations?
Ed Schwitzky: Our underlying objective is to eliminate any non-essential expenses. TPG embarked on a rigorous capital improvement pace a couple of years ago and stakeholders now want to see a return.

HM: What are some of the challenges you think the hospitality industry will be forced to overcome during 2017?
ES: Clearly, no one or no-thing is forcing the industry to change. Anyway, it may be too ambitious for 2017, but the industry must more quickly position for business success in a digital world. Job descriptions written in 1997 need to be shredded. Business outcomes have to be newly defined. Skill sets and experiences that align to deliver against these metrics must be identified. Then associates hired to perform those roles. Traditional positions may give way to ones more relevant for the world in which we live and work, e.g. chief experience officer and data engineer.

Mostly we are looking to replace positions that have always been, particularly when it comes to technology. When we morphed reservations to revenue management people were surprised. Now I hear about data engineers being hired to help hotels to personalize the guest experience. And why not? It’s a new and different world today than what it was in 2007 and 1997, and some of the industry's practices go back to 1987 and 1977.  

HM: How has the brand landscape changed most in recent years, and how can operators best succeed in a market so full of brands?
ES: In a word, “competition.” Competition within each family of brands, competition among brands and completion against alternative lodging choices, e.g. Airbnb. Borrowing from March Madness vernacular, the "first two out" are independent and select service hotels. Why? Independents drop out (or sign up) because major hotel brands have created non-branded lodging that leverages distribution. And select service hotels get pushed aside by Millennials who seek out and can easily access an immersive destination experience through alternative lodging. Meanwhile, hotel operators should take advantage of most (if not all) brand programs and promotions, leveraging data to create personalized guest experiences infused with ‘surprise and delight’ moments.

HM: What advancements in technology are you most interested in for the coming year?
ES: AI, or Artificial Intelligence. Of course, there are two sides to this coin. Why should business owners/leaders pay an associate to do work that can be easily automated and, in the process, likely improve the guest experience? But how can hoteliers communicate with guests sans the need to download one more app or access a website? This is the year text messaging explodes, with brands finally providing solutions to hotel operators. Ideally (because it is possible), that solution will have its foundation in AI because the last thing either a hotel associate or guest wants is to say or hear “I’m with another guest and will be with your shortly.”

AI is beginning to impact the industry from an analytics standpoint as well. We have no more time, and a greater need to use it wisely. AI impacts analytics and guest service as well in terms of what the guests are starting to expect. Do we need van or shuttle drivers? Can those people be re-trained? What cross-functional support can they offer hotels? Brands not only provide keyless entry but automated check-in these days. Most travelers just want to get into the room, and if they can do that with consistency, why not have AI power that process?

HM: What do you expect to get out of this year’s HOTEC North America event?
ES: At HOTEC, it is my expectation to come face-to-face with the future of hospitality: Solution providers on the leading edge. Either hoteliers will accept and engage, or, at least, these forward-thinking solution providers will cause hoteliers to think about what they already know, differently.