Here's a recap of last week's panel discussion on digital adoption amid the pandemic.

    While demand has slowed and revenue fallen over the past eight months, it has not stopped hoteliers from evaluating new technology. In fact, just the opposite is true: Hoteliers are looking to technologies to solve many of the new challenges we find ourselves in today.



    But purchasing, deploying and integrating the technology necessary to properly take care of our guests is often riddled with challenges. Managing the variety of implementations required to build an optimal tech stack can be a full-time job. Fortunately, hoteliers and tech suppliers are working closer than they ever have to make this process easier and more efficient.

    On a webinar held last week, several tech leaders came together to discuss the evolving needs operators are faced with today and best practices for building a tech stack that will help improve workflow, operate more efficiently and prepare to capture returning demand.

    “What we are seeing in the market is, even though our properties do have less staff, this time provides the opportunity to evaluate things that we didn’t have a chance to look at when our hotels were full,” said Priya Rajamani, VP of implementations at StayNTouch.


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    Let’s take a look at six revelations that came from the conversation:

    1. Managing integrations is getting easier.

    Estella Hale, Chief Product Evangelist at SHR, said the amount of technology needed and the way systems integrate is evolving.

    “There has been an effort to try to consolidate how systems communicate with each other, and that’s where standards come in. But sometimes standards are just the common denominator, and when you try and layer in new strategies and think differently, that’s where some of the challenges come in,” she said. “So, it's two-fold: The integrations are a means to an end, but when hoteliers have a goal in mind of what they want to achieve, integrations need to enable that. That’s where communication between the supplier and the hotelier becomes so important.”

    That hit home for Luis Segredo, founder of Hapi, a company building a “hub” to simplify hotel tech integrations.

    “The standards are helping to get things developed, but the other half is actually implementing the technologies. So, our idea is, if we could build connectivity to systems of record like the PMS and then manage that connectivity from a central place where all partners connect, the development support side is mitigated.”


    1. Systems are being asked to share new data sets.

    Julia Josephson, corporate director of revenue management at Salt Hotels, said 2020 has been a unique animal – her revenue department can’t rely on the same data they were using last year.

    “We used to do a lot of comparisons to last year’s STR data, but our STR data isn’t really even complete this year because not all of the hotels in our market are reporting data. So, I'm much more focused on comparing key metrics to how they performed last week,” she said. “It feels more reactive than I would like it to be, but that’s the only way can use data to make smarter decisions.

    “I normally spend more time looking at our competitors, and we're still looking at them and aware of what they're doing, but when they're making silly moves we're not following,” Josephson continued. “We need to maintain our rate integrity, and if there’s no demand, then giving away another $50 isn't that helpful.”

    Hale said developers changed the way SHR’s revenue management system, Wave, looks at data immediately after the pandemic hit.

    “For example, traditional forecasting was putting great importance on seasonality, on historic trends, and now the forecasting and the algorithm itself are looking a lot more at short-term expectations, short-term booking data and short-term behavior,” she said. “We are also considering new segmentation strategies, looking at segments that maybe in the past were not a big part of the mix, but now we need to pay attention to those.”


    1. Guest profiles are evolving with new technologies.

    While the traditional profile management model relied heavily on the basics of guest data – name, address and telephone number – building guest profiles today has become much more involved.

    “Now, we want alternate modes of communication captured so we are able to communicate with our guests on different platforms across the medium of their choice. So, there's a lot more focus on getting their email addresses their mobile number,” said Rajamani of StayNTouch. “We're also seeing a shift in the communication pattern itself, with a lot of pre- and post- as well as in-house communication that needs sent out to the guest. Hoteliers want to capture as much guest information as they can prior to arrival so that they better cater the experience and service their guests’ needs – all with fewer staff members.”

    At Hapi, the team has partnered with Salesforce to build connection to several PMS’s so hoteliers can use the industry leading CRM tool to manage their guest profiles.

    “Often, larger hotel groups would traditionally build their own CRM solution from the ground up – they want to own their tech stack,” Segredo said. “We’re really looking more at open platforms like Salesforce, with the idea that instead of building it yourself you can use what the rest of the world is using. Why try and reinvent the wheel when we’ve built connectivity that can flow data in real time, allowing you to store stay history and send guest communications based on previous engagements?”


    1. With leaner staffs, technology can automate many processes.

    While it can be difficult, Bianca Porto Barga – who managed tech systems for 74 different hotels in her former role as VP at Luxe Collection Hotels – said hoteliers need to find time to explore new technologies that can improve their business.

    “As hoteliers, we’re part of a 24/7, 365 business, so we really don't have time to evaluate the new technologies that are out there. But you can miss out on a lot of opportunities to automate as many services as possible so we can spend our time taking care of the guests,” she said. “Things like chatbots that I never really paid too much attention to, and now there are even tools to manage your seats at the pool, when previously you needed to employ more staff and manage an Excel spreadsheet to solve that challenge.”

    Hapi’s Segredo said automating property-level processes is one thing, but perhaps more importantly cloud technology has allowed companies to centralize operations rather than having an individual at each hotel.

    “Much like you've seen with revenue management and reservations, you’re going to see more roles consolidated, and many of the tools out there today are enabling that,” he said.


    1. Hoteliers must get past their technology misconceptions.

    The group agreed there a host of misconceptions that prevent hoteliers from leaning more on technology to solve their challenges.

    “A lot of people think it's going to be very expensive to implement these tools, and it wasn’t for us. The setup fees for cloud tools are reasonable, especially when compared to the legacy systems,” said Salt’s Josephson. “Also, these newer companies offer pay-as-you-go models where you’re paying for a service rather than all up front.”

    “I think a lot of people are concerned that the technology will replace the human, especially with revenue management systems,” added Porto Barga. “Sometimes we have this challenge convincing the hotelier that they aren’t doing anything wrong, but that this is actually going to make your life easier and your job better.”

    SHR’s Hale cautioned hoteliers that while the RFP process is important, comparing tech vendors is not as important as truly understanding why you need the technology.

    “Sometimes comparing vendors makes you somewhat inflexible – it prohibits you from thinking, ‘How could I do this differently?’ As you're evaluating vendors, also do an internal evaluation of what it is that you're trying to achieve,” she said. “Have an objective, understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, and then you can figure out the best way to deploy a solution.”

    by Jason Q. Freed

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