After attending the summer season of hotel industry events, I was surprised to see a newfound recognition from hotel brand companies that technology has become an urgent priority. It is refreshing to hear executives admitting that they have fallen behind the curve and are desperate for new solutions.
It wasn’t that long ago that technology and distribution were barely mentioned at these events, but now they are often the focus of general sessions at even the biggest investment conferences like NYU. And now we even have newer events like the Revenue Strategy Summit and the Hotel Data Conference where distribution is a main topic on the agenda.
It’s remarkable to see such a transformation, but that’s where my excitement stops. In the next breath, many of the same hotel brand leaders talk about a renewed commitment to building better technology. They want to compete with Expedia, Priceline, and Google by creating their own in-house platforms.
To me, this do-it-yourself mentality is exactly what got the brands into this mess in the first place. I’m skeptical that hotel companies focused on providing the best guest experience can out-technology the tech giants. There must be a better way.
I was glad to hear many of the largest hotel owners take an opposing view at these same events. At RSS, Shai Zelering, managing director of operations and asset management for Thayer Lodging, said the industry’s approach to technology was “stuck in the Stone Age.” Mark Carrier, president of B.F. Saul Company’s Hospitality Group, said, “We’re going into battle with our hands tied behind our back because we don’t have the technology available to do all the things we want to.”
While some of the top franchisors are choosing to stay the course, other brand companies seem to be listening and forging a new path.
Red Lion, for example, has received plenty of attention and accolades for its innovative RevPak solution that weaves together more than 10 cloud-based technology providers to create a complete digital marketing and guest delivery platform. The company doesn’t own any of the systems or even have a competency in how they all work, but it understands what it wants and needs from each component.
That’s the beauty of this approach, as RLHC chief marketing officer Bill Linehan has explained to me: If one system isn’t performing, or even if something better comes along, he can remove and replace it with new technology. No more dreaded legacy systems.
That also puts incredible pressure on the technology provider to make sure its product adapts and responds to the needs of the customer.
Unlike many of its largest rivals, Wyndham has made a similar move. It recently announced the rollout of a third-party property management system, central reservation platform, and other automated tools. “We’re moving away from building in-house systems,” CEO Stephen Holmes said in July. “[Doing so] helps ensure our franchisees around the world are using the best technologically advanced systems.”
So far, Red Lion and Wyndham seem to be the exception. Their competitors have been just as busy talking about their renewed commitment and investment in building better systems.
For the first time, technology has become a real point of differentiation for hotel companies. As owners and asset managers become more involved and focus on technology and distribution, the pressure will grow for brand companies.
It’s great the entire industry recognizes the problem, but the question becomes, how does it get solved? Or worse, what happens if it doesn’t?
About the Author
Patrick Bosworth is CEO and a co-founder of Duetto, a hotel revenue strategy technology company based in San Francisco.
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