Not only did the pandemic deal hoteliers severe demand and revenue losses, it also significantly changed the way they must operate their hotels. To keep staff and guests safe, social-distancing guidelines and contactless transactions required major changes on the fly, all while operators were reducing staff in order to stay afloat.
Coupled with guest-facing changes, departments like reservations, revenue, sales and marketing are evolving to target and capture new segments of demand. The hotel companies that are most nimble and can adapt to a new normal with proactive strategies will recover fastest and become market leaders.
Longtime hotel tech leader Luis Segredo, CEO of Hapi, says it’s a challenging road ahead, but hoteliers need to approach technology as a way of enabling them to run their business into the future.
What role does technology play in hospitality’s recovery?
Segredo: Because we’re dealing with trying times, hotels really need to reinvent the way they operate in order to survive. Technology must drive value, allowing hoteliers to operate more efficiently and create new demand.
Which pandemic-driven technologies are here to stay?
Segredo: Maybe the one that has seen the greatest success is chat. The notion of engaging a digital platform rather than going to see or talk to somebody. Like with other parts of our lives, we’re ordering more things online and we’re interacting more digitally. This is a moment of change where we’ll all be operating more off of our devices. I think we’ll see that extend to other parts of the stay – check-in, check-out, use of a digital key – we’ll see more adoption, but it’s not to the levels that it needs to get to yet.
Do you see vaccine travel apps, or digital health records, helpful to the recovery?
Segredo: There is a pool of people out there who could be traveling today. Proving that they are able to travel safely will be helpful. Hoteliers might consider marketing programs geared toward those who have already been inoculated or vaccinated.
What should hoteliers ask tech providers when evaluating technology?
Segredo: First and foremost, hoteliers should explore the possibility for friction – are people going to use it? The harder it is for the customer to engage with the platform the less likely they are to use it. It’s important to see how easy it is to engage with the solution. In parallel to that, they need to see what the solution is going to deliver in terms of value. If hotel companies really want to drive differentiated experiences, new guest technology really needs to be integrated into the digital guest journey.
At Hapi, we started with messaging events – a guest has checked in, a reservation was created, someone checked out – for systems that need to consume it, such as CRM, chat solutions, etc. We’ve extended that to some of the transactional APIs, so that we can now help some of the mobile app providers who want to do mobile check-in solutions. We help them engage with the property management system and create an end-to-end experience.
What data do hoteliers need and where does it come from?
Segredo: There are some simple things, like hotels need to let different systems know who’s coming and who’s in-house so they can build a very connected experience. You need to put that into your communications tools, your confirmation emails, pre-arrival, mid-stay, post-departure messaging. You want to give that data to your messaging systems, chat bots, energy management systems, etc.
Hotel companies now have more access to what happens during the stay itself and are using a more holistic approach to analyzing operations. That’s where I think there is an opportunity to better understand demand drivers – where the business is coming from and what kind of business it is.
How do branded and independent hotels approach tech differently?
Segredo: Branded hotels don’t have as much choice – they pretty much use brand standards. They can change some things here and there. I think that it’s both easier and harder for an independent because they have to build everything themselves, which could end up being more costly. They do, however, have the opportunity to take a best-of-breed approach and sometimes even find more cost-effective solutions that are right-sized to their hotel.
How are hotels using technology to make more profit-based decisions?
Segredo: There are solutions out there for tracking the financials and getting the data in real time – that reporting is already happening.
Another opportunity is evaluating how you can create efficiencies that will help drive more revenue to the bottom line. For cost efficiency, hotel companies are clustering more of their operations. They can pull some of the labor out of hotels and move it above property, such as call center, response, mid-level management functions, supervisory functions, etc.
Then there are touch points where you just create efficiencies by applying technology to remove some of the manual processes that occur today.
The next step for mobility is evaluating how you can reduce the demand that you create at the front desk through digital tools for check-in, housekeeping requests and in-room dining, for example.