As hospitality technology experts convene in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, HITEC 2023 is already underway with discussions surrounding artificial intelligence (AI), data collection and usage, and high-performing tech blended with human elements. During a panel titled “Tech Future Proofing: Planning for the Global Traveler,” led by Frank Wolfe, CEO of HFTP, and Sherry Malek, CEO of Aiken Street, participants discussed what they think are challenges within the hotel tech space as well as hyper-personalization for the next generation of travelers.
Across the hospitality landscape, it’s well known that there are a few tech pain points and challenges. Michael Levie, founding partner of citizenM, noted, “We’re behind the digital journey of every other vertical, and we’re just not getting our arms around it. We just simply cannot keep up with it. … We need to improve. I think we’re making progress, but we’re forced with our backs to the wall. It’s a little bit embarrassing that we’re so late today and there’s a lot of catching up to do.”
In addition to hospitality remaining behind in the digital journey, the industry needs to better blend the transition for guests between home technology and hotel technology. Tariq Valani, SVP of global support services for Accor and SVP of technology for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, said one of the challenges hotels face is “the technology that we all have access to in our homes. It’s accelerating at such a rapid pace, and hotels need to keep up. … I think [these] are pain points that we actually need [to be] resolved. [Technology] has to work, and that’s the key.”
While challenges and changes are a focus of the show, hoteliers also need to laud the successes they’ve had over the past few years in managing the fallout from the pandemic and the current growth of the hotel landscape. Sanovnick Destang, executive director of Bay Garden Resorts, said the Caribbean was the fastest market to improve following the pandemic by future-proofing travel. He found that there are “two things that will allow us to sustain that long-term. One is how we adopt and embrace new technologies. And two is how we embrace our employees. … You have to make sure that organization encourages people to take chances and risks and try and adopt new technologies.” Destang added that AI is a technology that hotels might consider deploying, along with adopting best practices for social media and web development to stay current.
Another topic of discussion was collecting data, which is tied to the increasing popularity of new technology in the hospitality ecosystem. Amandeep Sarna, chief information officer for ITC Limited Hotels Division, said data has come a long way in allowing companies to get a full view of customers. But he adds that it’s “double the challenge now with data privacy laws getting more stringent. … [That] seamless, customized experience has a very fine line of how we use data.”
Chairman of AAHOA Bharat Patel added that integrating multiple applications for data is a challenge. Hoteliers should be aware of what data they own and how they’re using it. “In terms of regulations, it’s how you educate the customer, what sort of data, how you use that data, how secure [it is], and then what you utilize that data for,” he explained. “Data is more valuable now. … My fear is that a lot of hotel chains are not planning for the future.”
Todd Wood, VP, global applications and transformation for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, added that hoteliers need to consider who their guest is and how they want their data used. The most important piece of using data, according to Wood, is what information from that data a hotel is going to use and how its team uses that information to create a more holistic guest experience. “The information you need at the point where you’re serving that guest is available, so they can utilize it or [incorporate it into] the digital touchpoint. … Give them that information and they can really [improve] the guest experience.”
Implementing data, AI, and more can allow hoteliers to provide a positive guest experience, especially for younger travelers. As Gen Z begins to explore the hospitality landscape, the panelists also discussed hyper-personalization for the guest experience while keeping the human element that makes a hotel stay more tailored to new guests.