Ahead in the Cloud

The hotel industry is in the midst of a minor tech boom that isn’t ending any time soon. With lodging riding the groundswell of an industrywide recovery, hotels across the country are looking for an edge when it comes to converting rising room demand into real pricing power.

Navigating this new landscape increasingly involves being at the forefront of technology. A lot of owners and hotel companies know that putting money into the crucial software and hardware platforms now will give them the right set of tools for efficiently managing their properties and maximizing revenues. And, as it turns out, this strategy doesn’t require the huge financial commitment it used to.

A company that has long had a keen interest in the geekier side of the hotel business is Choice Hotels. It has invested heavily in Web and other technologies as a way to separate itself from the competition. “The approach we’re taking to technology that has really catapulted us from close follower to leading position is all around this notion of agile development,” says Steve Joyce, Choice’s president and CEO. Which means that the development process it uses for IT and e-business activities is “run by scrum teams that are pretty much self directed and are accountable to each other on a daily basis.” The company has been building up its tech divisions over the past few years and recently hired a chief technology officer, Eben Hewitt, formerly of O’Reilly Media, to oversee the development of software and platforms that can help franchisees manage their properties and be more profitable. It even set up a fancy new data center in Phoenix not far from where its technology headquarters are located.

“This is a transformative time for the hotel industry,” says Pat Pacious, executive vice president of global strategy and operations for Choice. “There are three trends that are behind these changes—cloud computing, mobile, and big data.” On the mobile front, Choice was the first hotel brand to come out with a smartphone app, and it has been downloaded more than 1 million times since it launched. According to Pacious, mobile bookings currently account for nearly 15 percent of Choice’s total online revenue.

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