We recently had our second webinar in the Leadership series with two seasoned technologists. As I sat in my living room, listening to Barry and Jo describe their battle-readiness with COVID, I couldn’t help but notice the underlying theme present… How fragmented the thought process of our industry has been toward technology over the last couple of decades!
Jo, a self-proclaimed outsider’ to this industry expressed the fragmentation existing when trying to have systems to talk to each other and how many ‘rogue systems’ existed in any hotels chain’s portfolio. Over the last 15 years I have spoken to many IT leaders who’ve come from other industries and have echoed the similar thoughts to Jo’s. What the COVID outbreak has shown is that hotels, including Standard Hotels whom she represents and are naturally tech-oriented have fared okay and will continue to fare better than the legacy hotel companies that have found themselves stumbling. Her first-hand example of how they quickly realized that the concept of take-away food from hotels wouldn’t really work. New Yorkers were desperate to get out and eat out as long as they felt safe. Standard hotels were quick to modify messaging and convey these aspects to local New Yorkers and saw a massive uptake in their F&B revenues.
The take away for me; Tech can be the vehicle to allow organizations to be more nimble and agile and respond to situations better or more thoughtfully. In this case, adjusting a concept to keep locals in mind.
It was very refreshing to hear Barry describe Rosewood’s holistic thinking around apps, mobile key, Chatbots and AI. We can agree these all have positive merits. However, can these initiatives make any impact if they don’t fit into a well thought through digital strategy? It was funny when Barry mentioned that there was a time when every hotel wanted an app because everyone else seemed to be getting one. I see the same thing happening with chat nowadays. It’s not enough to have an app but also think about the value it delivers to your guests.
The take away for me; If you can have an app that allows a guest to book a room, chat with the concierge (pre/ during / post stay), convey preferences, check-in, select a room, book a table at the restaurant, get a mobile key, request for items, order room service and convey post stay feedback, I am sure guests will download it. However, how can you ensure the app doesn’t get deleted post stay and is used to re-book? What value can hotels provide to guests which are no longer staying at the property? Hotels have to elevate themselves from just being a building with rooms and a restaurant to becoming the center point of communities. This community feel is how you build loyalty, offering guests with free Wi-Fi and late checkouts doesn’t cut it anymore. Every department head is an expert in their field, why not offer their expertise to your most loyal guests? Here are some crazy ideas:
- What if the chef shares some of his best recipes which are simple to make at home?
- What if I could still chat with the concierge and get recommendations?
- What if I could learn from the housekeeper how to remove red wine stain from my favorite shirt?
As we swiftly moved through our discussion, polls and Q&A—it doesn’t take long to recognize that our industry is very fascinated with buzzwords… bigdata, cloud, apps, chatbots, blockchain and the latest one doing the rounds these days is ‘AI’. The irony is that as much as we love talking about these things, the reality is that we are still struggling to get half-decent WIFI in our hotels (in 2020!!). Jo’s brilliant suggestion that it may be too early to introduce AI for guest communication since it becomes evident very quickly that one is dealing with a machine than a person hit home. Instead, echoed by both panelists and my take away…leverage a thought through digital strategy and rethink how to utilize AI in connection with business intelligence where it can actually deliver insights for better decision making. Banks and other industries have successfully been investing heavily into this field for a while now so why not learn from them?
So, who can we expect to effectively lead this change of the holistic tech strategy? This change will be, and in some sense, is being, led by the small and medium sized hotel chains like Standard hotels and Rosewood, the Hoxton, Nobu, Sydell etc. These groups have the size, the nimbleness and the vision to make this happen. The role of the technologist also has to also evolve and become more involved in running operations.
COVID will go away some day (hopefully soon!) but it is not the last crisis to hit us. Now that we live in a more connected world, we are also more likely to get impacted by global events. If you look at the theory of evolution, every time a crisis happened the species which couldn’t adapt quickly to the new conditions became extinct and the ones that changed quickly thrived. The same is happening with our industry at this moment in time. We are witnessing the evolutionary cusp of our industry; it’ll be interesting to see which companies lead the way into the future.
If you didn’t have a chance to join our webinar, please visit the recording here. It is worth the 45 minutes!