The ubiquity of technology reached a peak during the pandemic, not only with consumers becoming more accustomed to platforms they normally wouldn’t use every day but also with virtual meetings replacing the need for some business travel. Amid this paradigm shift at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the HospitalityVIEW working group was formed to provide an online platform for hotel brand, management, technology, and operations experts to consider the current and future state of the hospitality and travel industries. The group serves as a forum for candid discussion to help hotel professionals recover from the pandemic.
Now more than ever, the HospitalityVIEW working group agrees that there is more openness surrounding innovation and technology solutions for hospitality and travel companies. LODGING joined HospitalityVIEW’s latest meeting on April 7, 2022, sponsored by IDeaS and keynoted by AHLA President and CEO Chip Rogers.
Rogers said that business travelers have “a thirst to get back on the road” that is “directly tied to the future success of whatever company they’re working for. We think that’s a very healthy trend, as people recognize the value of business travel.” However, Rogers noted that technology has replaced some business travel for some industries, but how those trips correlate to hotel stays is uncertain. He added, “Over the next three to five years, we’re going to look back and say, ‘Yes, technology replaced some business travel, but that was more than replaced by ‘bliesure’ travel where people can work remotely from their hotel room.’”
In addition, Rogers identified two major areas that will be affected by technology over the next five years: organized labor and workforce solutions. “The idea that technology is going to replace labor, that’s clear, and some of the brightest minds are working on it,” Rogers said, “The idea that technology is going to replace travel? I am not as convinced of that. It will replace some types of travel that I think will be replaced with other types of travel. The reality is that technology has brought the world closer together. We now as a world can see and experience things or want to experience things in other parts of the globe that we could not have seen just 10 years ago. I think that encourages travel.”
The conversation following Roger’s keynote focused on the industry’s openness to technology and innovation and how that affects hoteliers’ ability to attract and retain talent. Ravi Mehrotra, president, co-founder, and chief scientist for IDeaS, noted that employers now need to run operationally efficient with a thinner staff. “[We] have seen a shift in how people think about [technology] because they now need to do a lot more with a lot less. I don’t think that this will happen overnight, but over a period of time, technology will continue to increase.”
Global Director of Travel, Transportation, and Hospitality for Microsoft Shane O’Flaherty believes that the industry is “still moving the ball pretty slow in regard to technology.” And O’Flaherty said that attracting employees means being more tech-enabled. In a survey Microsoft conducted, O’Flaherty mentioned the company found that “employees want to be tech-enabled, tech-empowered, and have the information at their fingertips before the customer does, and they’re not there yet.”
Mike Chuma, vice president, marketing, enablement, and engagement for IDeaS, shared how technology can be used as a retention tool. “At the franchisee level and the property owner level… you can continue to incorporate technology into the fabric. And that becomes an ongoing learning mechanism to enable and grow employees.”
Every company can use tech-enablement to promote their business to potential candidates and attract younger talent to lasting careers in ways that meet their personal needs. Alex Cabañas, president of Benchmark Pyramid, said, “As an industry, and certainly as a company, our strategy is we’re going to have to hire fewer people, keep them longer, train them more, pay them more, and change the way we do what we do with fewer people. And that fundamentally requires technology.”
Chris Hemmeter, managing director of Thayer Ventures, added that the travel industry is opening up to using technology as more than just a tool. “For the last 20 years, we’ve always thought about tech as just tools to do the same thing we’ve always done, but with a little more efficiency. And now, and we see this across the board, we’re at a time where people are thinking about technology in the context of reinventing the way businesses operate in total.”
While the participants’ views on technology and innovation include a variety of perspectives, one common theme remained: That travel and hotel companies are more open to integrating technology and partnering with new companies to create new solutions. And as Mehrotra said, “I think the future is very, very bright.”