Today’s hotels, OTAs, and other hospitality technology companies are competing fiercely with one goal in mind—to own and control the guest experience during travel. Klaus Kohlmayr, dubbed “Chief Evangelist” for IDeaS Revenue Solutions, says that OTAs and other technology companies are leveraging technology to make the guest experience much more seamless and efficient. “The risk is that hotels believe they can win on [human] engagement, but they’re not fast enough to catch up to the technology that’s already evolving,” he explains. Kohlmayr sat down with LODGING at the 2017 Phocuswright Conference to discuss this high-tech, high-touch approach to guest engagement, and what it means for hoteliers across the industry.
What should hotels be aiming for when implementing new technology to transform a guest’s experience?
The ultimate goal is to make the hotel’s brand stickier for great loyalty, satisfaction, and revenue. Those are the three levels that people are looking to address and creating the experience is just tapping into the change and the consumer behavior. Give people what they want, when they want it, and customized to what they need at that point in time. That’s when they’re going to pick one hotel versus another.
Are hotels adopting technology fast enough to keep up with the competition?
If hoteliers offer great service, have great people, and a great staff, that’s going to make all the difference. But on the other hand, OTAs are engaging with consumers on a technology level, and that engagement is often much more relevant than somebody speaking to me at a hotel.
Human engagement is not going to be a key differentiator because you can have the nicest person checking you in, but if it takes ten minutes to check someone in, you’re still going to be frustrated no matter how nice that person is. And while you’re checking in, you already get a number of messages from Booking.com or Expedia or whoever you make the reservation with while you’re still waiting to be checked in. Hotels are trying to compete on engagement and the OTAs are already doing that through technology. The question is: Have they lost already, or is there still a chance to catch up?
I think the reason why the industry is not adopting [technology] is because it’s so fragmented. You have hotel management companies, you have owners, you have franchises, you have asset managers, you’ve got all these layers of people that have influence, and that’s why it gets so complicated. I talked to a hotel owner a couple of months back. They said, “We’re overwhelmed by the amount of things we have to implement.” Just from the brand, from the different brands—it’s a constant stream of things that they need to do, operational standard service, and technology. That’s a challenge.
Adopting new technology can be expensive. Why is it important?
When the next downturn hits, in whatever period of time that is, the hotels that are going to be the most efficient and use technology in the best way are going to be the ones that will remain profitable. Investing in technology now with the foresight to consider how the property is going to survive the next downturn, that’s critical. The biggest cost line in hotels is the labor. Looking now at how to make your operation more efficient using technology, you’ll help your operation in a few years when the economy downturns.
How can hotels make better use of data to engage with guests?
The data is so siloed at hotels. They have all these different technology components that are not talking to each other. You have a system to check somebody in and check somebody out. You have a reservation system, a customer relationship system, and a loyalty system. They don’t necessarily speak to each other, so the data sits in all these different systems.
When you have the data sitting in one place, it becomes much easier to interact with that consumer because you know what that person wants, their past shopping behavior, and you can predict what they want in the future. Hotels don’t have that consolidated information—they have to do it through humans, which is not cost effective. That’s a big challenge.
Will we see more hotel companies acquiring and integrating tech companies that are already engaging with guests?
Hotel companies have become more open to doing that. Maybe in the past they wanted to develop everything in house, but now they’re open to partnerships and being more synergistic across the travel technology space. They’re following the market. They realize they can’t be as quick and as efficient to keep up with the changes in technology. It’s the same problem with individual hotel owners’ perspectives. The technology’s becoming cheaper and cheaper and it’s becoming quicker and quicker to buy. It’s becoming more accessible.
What trends have you noticed at this year’s Phocuswright Conference?
There’s a lot of focus that I’ve seen today about what I call the “seamless intelligence” or “seamless travel.” Between your flight app, your hotel app, and your Uber, there are typically five or six apps you have to use when traveling. Nobody’s cracked it yet where you just use one app across the journey. I think we’re starting to see some of that coming out now, where information is exchanged between different providers—hotel, travel, and even airlines. If the app knows that your flight is leaving at 6 a.m., why can’t the app automatically call you two and a half hours before? Why can’t it automatically get you through security at the airport or check you in and alert the hotel when your flight is delayed? Some of these things we’re seeing now, and I think that’s a huge opportunity. When you have that artificial intelligence that goes across those providers, that’s going to be really exciting to see.
Is capital still available for tech startups in hospitality?
I think that’s the easy part, actually. From a venture capitalist to an investment point of view, there’s a lot of money out there that wants to be invested. I’m not sure how long that’ll last, but what I always hear is that money is the least of the issues. If you have an idea and you can sell it, then the money is there to get you funded.
Photo: Klaus Kohlmayr