Shiji’s Dan Bell on Future-Proofing Hotel Technology

Dan BellDan Bell, a veteran of hospitality technology with over 20 years in the industry, has held leadership roles at NCR, Oracle Hospitality (previously MICROS Systems), and now Shiji—a global hospitality technology company that has risen to become one of the “big four” travel tech companies in the last decade. Shiji provides a range of solutions from hotel distribution through POS, PMS, activities solutions, and all the way to guest-facing applications and engagement solutions. As the SVP Americas of Shiji, Bell oversees every aspect of these solutions in the region—from Canada to Brazil. Since his arrival at the company in 2019, Shiji USA has grown from one to three offices and over 70 employees with customers including the likes of Marriott, IHG, Hyatt, Wyndham, Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, Lowes, Omni, and thousands of other regional and independent properties. In total, Shiji serves over 37,000 hotels in the Americas alone and 91,000 globally.

Bell shares with Adrienne Weil, vice president of strategic partnerships and business development for the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), what Shiji is all about, the innovations that are changing the company’s approach, how the industry is evolving, and more.

Can you give a bit of background on your company?

Shiji started a little over 20 years ago as a network and IT service company for hotels. It grew beyond that into a reseller of PMS and POS software and over time, between acquisitions and building solutions, grew into a complete technology company with large operation and support teams in the United States, Europe, and Asia. One of our biggest centers of engineering is in Europe, which is where data security and privacy regulations are the strongest, and that is one of the core values of our solution offerings.

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Shiji’s mission is to provide the hospitality, food service, retail, and entertainment industries with a complete and modern technology stack that is secure, scalable, and ready for the future.

What innovations have changed the way Shiji approaches its hospitality clients over the past few years?

We spent a lot of time looking at how to build modern systems that can scale for enterprise hotel companies. While some of it existed and we acquired many solutions, it turned out that there was no core solution on the market that could really scale. So, over the past few years, we’ve been building an enterprise hotel platform from the ground up, which is unique to the industry: a cloud-based, enterprise-first hotel management platform that brings the PMS into the modern age and encompasses things like data sovereignty, privacy, single-guest profiles across an estate, and—most importantly—APIs that are open for everyone, even if they’re a competitor on one or more products.

How do you see the hotel industry evolving over the next five years?

I’m optimistic about the return of industry growth again in all segments as we work through the ups and downs of the pandemic. Some segments will return quicker, as we saw over the summer months, and some may take more time—group travel in large cities, for instance.

From a technology perspective, I think we need to take advantage of the imposed downtime from the pandemic to see how we can modernize the hotel experience. Today, our guests are more tech savvy than ever, and a lot of the experience happens in a tech-enabled environment. We need to factor that into the hotel experience. There are the obvious things like mobile-keys, mobile check-ins, ordering room service on one’s phone in an intuitive manner (don’t forget Uber Eats is now a competitor to room service), and more. The winners will be those who use this time to replace the legacy core systems in hotels with modern and future-proof solutions. The dual experience of tech plus excellent hospitality will bring in a whole new hotel industry in the next five years.

How did you first hear about AHLA and what made you want to get involved with the organization?

I’ve been familiar with AHLA and all the services and value they provide to the hotel industry for many years. With Shiji continuing to grow in the Americas, we want to continue to be a contributor to the industry and help the industry recover from the pandemic and thrive again. We’ve been a member and strong supporter of HTNG and now, with their integration with AHLA, it’s exciting for us to be part of this organization to serve the hotel industry in any way we can!

What do you like most about being in the hotel industry?

It is the friendliest industry in the world. Hotels really strive to make great and friendly environments with excellent service. I think this is the pinnacle of the service industry. At Shiji, we try to service hotels the way they service us when we stay there. It isn’t always easy and the expectations are high. But so many technology vendors are just tech companies and they forget that they work for one of the best industries with the best service in the world. We want to be part of the hospitality community and help our customers serve their guests at the highest levels possible.

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Adrienne Weil is vice president of strategic partnerships and business development at the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). Weil is responsible for the design and implementation of a comprehensive growth strategy to stimulate incremental growth in AHLA’s premier partner program.