For hoteliers struggling to find their footing after enduring the financial and human resource ravages of COVID while facing continuing uncertainty, the temptation to resist investing scarce dollars in more advanced tech may be strong. However, three hospitality information technology experts say it would be a mistake to cut costs at the expense of the tools needed to adapt to new realities and move forward. Streamlining operations and investing in the guest experience with the right solutions ultimately help hoteliers remain resilient, flexible, and competitive.
Emily Weiss, senior managing director, global travel industry lead for Accenture, a global professional services company with leading capabilities in digital, cloud, and security, stresses the importance of adaptability and resilience to face this moment—mainly recovery—and those to come. She considers the two most important topics in what she calls “the recovery story” to be the cloud (to securely maintain essential software) and its data (to be efficiently gathered, analyzed, and optimized).
According to Weiss, “When people hear ‘cloud,’ many think it just means migrating your apps there, but we speak instead about a ‘cloud continuum,’ which goes far beyond that to accelerating your cloud journey to include not just your legacy apps but also your critical apps, enhancing your infrastructure, and being able to support your entire footprint, your entire landscape.” Noting that the travel industry historically “has not been the most advanced technologically in their journey into the cloud and cloud technology,” she says, the pandemic demonstrated the need to be on that continuum to keep up with “the mindset and the culture shift” that occurred during that time.
Weiss maintains that the cloud is not merely a technical solution, so it is not just the job of the chief information officer to move a company into the cloud. “Moving into the cloud and along the cloud continuum is so much more than a cost play and an efficiency play. It’s really about allowing your business to enter into new spaces, preparing yourself to shift to a culture of innovation.” For that reason, she says, “There must be leadership support from the CEO and CFO as well to show that there’s business value in being in the cloud.” Weiss observes that the hospitality industry has always captured a great deal of data—more than many other businesses catering to consumers—but needs tools and strategies to maximize the usage of that data. She suggests “thinking backwards” to determine what businesses want to do with that data, asking questions such as: “What are the experiences you are trying to provide for your guests, associates, and owners? What are the insights you need to be able to take those actions?”
Tech Investment Considerations
Frederic Dominioni, chief revenue officer, and Adelle Rodriguez, senior director of marketing, are both with RMS North America, a provider of reservation and property management systems for more than 30 years. For those considering an investment in technology, Rodriguez says, “My advice is to have a clearly defined list of must-haves, followed by those that would be nice to have.” To that Dominioni adds, “Take your time and look somewhat beyond the technology to make sure you have the right team, one that understands the space and can help you get what you need.” He points to “the DNA” of his own company and its latest brainchild, a new cloud-based property management system called Solonis. “Unlike companies that are disconnected from the realities of the day-to-day hospitality business, the vast majority of our staff—probably over 90 percent—comes from the hospitality space. We call Solonis ‘software plus,’ with the ‘plus’ being the people that empower the platform.”
To those contemplating such an investment, Weiss’s advice stresses the goals of each individual company, with an eye to the future and its uncertainties. “The overarching purpose of investing in the right technology is to adapt and even prosper within changing conditions, whatever they may be.” She suggests hoteliers evaluating an investment in technology focus first not on cost but “constituents of value”—for guests, associates, owners, brands, and the environment. “I’m not saying cost isn’t a critical factor, but you can’t look at cost in a bubble. You need to look at it as a component of the overall value, to ask questions such as these: ‘Will this drive incremental revenue and growth opportunities? Will it drive new business models? Will it drive new opportunities to enter into other segments? Will it provide a greater guest experience? Will it enhance the employee and the associate experience?’”
She recommends, too, that they assess the impact of the technology on people, especially those who stand to benefit themselves and the company most. “With all the talent lost since the pandemic, you need to consider the value proposition for reskilling current employees and recruiting new technical employees. With the right talent and training, they are important keys to remaining competitive.”
Most of all, she says, “You need to have the foundation for new capabilities, to be able to innovate in new spaces. Today we are adjusting to new consumers, which now include the digital nomad and travelers who combine business and leisure, but tomorrow there may very well be completely new business models that no one has thought of yet. And what about the next crisis—are you ready for that?”
Intelligent Solutions: Working Smarter
Frederic Dominioni, chief revenue officer, and Adelle Rodriguez, senior director of marketing, RMS North America, share their company’s approach to tackling today’s hospitality challenges. The hospitality software company recently introduced a modern, cloud-based property management system that maximizes the use of data. “The main theme, core, and heart of it is working smarter by equipping the hotelier, the staff, and the guest with the means to have a great experience,” Rodriguez explains. In fact, adds Dominioni, its very name, Solonis, “comes from the Greek and means ‘intelligence.’”
Dominioni says his company has helped thousands of properties streamline operations to save time and money, increase bookings and revenue, and enhance the guest experience. He and his colleague Rodriguez say lessons learned from RMS’s decades in the software business and navigating the pandemic informed the development of this new platform.
Rodriguez says Solonis aims to repair what she calls “cracks” in existing systems that became especially apparent during the pandemic, particularly the need to ease the burden on staff. “We need to provide a great experience for owners, associates, and guests, while also making sure that we’re making smart data-driven decisions.” Solonis, she says, addresses every aspect of property management within a single open-architecture solution, with what Dominioni calls “three high-level components”: (1) onboarding staff; (2) taking a prescriptive approach to business intelligence; and (3) managing the day to day.
Dominioni adds, “The main thrust of Solonis is moving away from the traditional property management system, which is mostly a record holder of the data and transactions for a hotel, to one that tells them how to use that data to run their businesses.” It includes a booking engine integrated with property management features; guest empowerment tools to manage payment, communication, and check-in/check-out; a customizable, business intelligence (BI)-propelled dashboard with real-time operations data; dynamic pricing functionality to maximize profit and occupancy; revenue and expense flow systems for complex property management; and guest marketing and communication features like text and chat.
Future Focused: Up Next?
Emily Weiss, who is senior managing director, global travel industry lead for Accenture, takes a somewhat other-worldly view of how technology might soon affect the travel business and experience:
End-to-end travel | Technology, says Weiss, can mitigate the stress of travel with end-to-end service that reduces friction by accommodating every aspect of the traveler’s entire trip experience—from trip preparation, leaving and returning home, traveling to and from the hotel, and arriving and departing from it—all brought to them via a coordinated effort from travel providers that work together. It would, of course, include touchless payment and check-in.
The metaverse | Weiss delves, too, into another aspect of the future to consider, what she terms “the metaverse continuum,” a spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds, realities, and business models, saying it is not a replacement for travel, but rather, a complement to it. “There is so much immersive technology out there today—augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), extended reality (XR)—a realistic digital landscape that allows users to feel as if they are inside and interacting with that environment.” Technology such as this, she says, can be useful in many ways, including training employees and enabling guests to experience a property or location in advance to ensure that it can meet their needs and expectations.
More personalized retail marketplace | This, says Weiss, would go beyond the standard ancillary revenues, with travel companies working together to capture and capitalize on customer preference before, during, and after their stay.
Loyalty programs | Weiss says loyalty programs will likely be “reimagined” by leveraging blockchain and other technology to stay up to date on who guests are and whether the existing programs, which are possibly based on outdated information and assumptions, meet their needs.
She looks forward to a future where technology advances but the commitment to guests remains the same. “I’d like to see it where we can adapt and be resilient throughout all the world changes and be ready to provide this futuristic experience for travelers, leveraging technology, leveraging data, leveraging the metaverse, and leveraging AI. But we should never forget that hospitality is always about the guest.”