With nearly 400 exhibitors at this year’s Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC) in Houston, it was clear that the current hospitality technology landscape has become incredibly vast and varied. The products and services showcased this week to over 6,650 attendees—the most in HITEC history—offered a range of ways to improve travel, make hotel operations more efficient, and enhance the guest journey and stay. However, as hoteliers rollout more tech across their portfolios and update their legacy systems, many in the industry have come to realize that less is often more. The industry is shifting its approach to technology to focus on fewer and more comprehensive solutions that are scalable and able to integrate easily with other technologies on the property.
“Today, the technology in the hospitality space is extremely myopic,” said Ash Kapur, senior vice president of hotel asset management and chief revenue officer at Starwood Capital Group, during Tuesday’s panel of c-suite executives at HITEC. Kapur added that rather than implement band-aid solutions to problems, hotels should approach technology more strategically by first determining what brand, vision, and customer journey they want to create, and then assessing what role technology will play on all aspects of that journey—whether guest-facing or back-of-the-house solutions. “It’s very important to have a sense of where you want to be two, three, four, five years down the line and to partner with organizations that can help you get there.”
Kapur added that hotels also must address existing disconnects in their systems—for example, when a hotel using SMS messaging to communicate with guests on the property asks for a guest’s mobile phone number rather than automatically integrating its guest data gathered at the time of booking. In those cases, lack of integration creates a break within the guest’s seamless experience. “When we look at platforms that will deliver great service, they have to go the extra mile of speaking to a hotel’s software.”
Integrating these systems also allows hotels to merge and analyze more guest and property data. “That data becomes the basis for all future marketing and all future outreach,” says Cindy Estis Green, co-founder and CEO at Kalibri Labs, LLC. Partnering with third parties like Expedia and Booking.com that do not integrate with a hotel’s systems can put that property at a disadvantage by removing its access to guest data. “If we think it’s hard to gather this information and make this data flow seamlessly, it’ll be impossible for a third party to connect those dots and be able to provide a seamless journey from booking through the stay.”
Accounting for scalability and consistency are critical when rolling out new technologies across a brand, said Barry Goldstein, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Wyndham. “I do think we are doing some things just because technology says we can,” he added. “When we look at technology and think about the guest, if we can’t do it in 9,000 of our hotels, then it doesn’t make sense for us to do it in 10 of them because we would create this false expectation.”
The behind-the-scenes tech that guests don’t see—like technology that connects the front desk and housekeeping—often has a greater impact on the guest experience than novelty technology that guests actually interact with directly, noted Cindy Estis Green. “There’s the part that the guests see and the part that the guests touch, and then there’s the part that you don’t want them to see that needs to work even better to make their experience more efficient, more personalized, quicker, easier, or more convenient. We need to keep an eye on both.”
Today’s back-of-the-house solutions promise major returns on investment through enhanced operational efficiencies—from communication, training, and engagement platforms that mitigate employee turnover to systems that reduce energy usage by automating guestroom lighting and thermostats. However, even when hoteliers agree on the ROI of implementing certain technology into their operations, the question remains: who will drive (and pay for) that initial investment—owners or brands? “Technology is an element of how we advance across the entire business—whether it’s an accounting functionality, a direct-sales functionality, distribution, or just simply being competent at high-speed internet, it touches every element of our business.,” said Mark Carrier, president of BF Saul, hotel owner and operation, and AHLA chair.
“The driving need for the bigger brands to have technology platforms that really work and are really integrated is a manifest issue,” Carrier explained. “Many owners are far more engaged in pushing [brands] to innovate and to develop [technology] further. I do believe they will figure that out as it’s mission-critical to their long-term effectiveness and survival, and a value proposition to owners.”
Photo (left to right): Michael Levie, COO at citizenM, moderates a HITEC panel discussion with Cindy Estis Green, co-founder & CEO at Kalibri Labs; Mark Carrier, President, BF Saul (owner/operator) and Chair of AH&LA; Barry Goldstein, EVP and Chief Commercial Officer at Wyndham; and Ash Kapur, SVP of Hotel Asset Management & Chief Revenue Officer at Starwood Capital Group.