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Article by Jos Schaap

Software as a Service? Better Focus on the Service!

StayNTouch Inc. 25 July 2017
According to Gartner, the worldwide market for public cloud services will be worth $204B in 2016. Of this $204B in revenue, SaaS will make up for 20.3% of the addressable public cloud services market.Applications are not only being delivered via SaaS, but they are also focusing heavily on mobile as the mobile landscape becomes increasingly necessary to run business efficiently and effectively. In the hotel industry, the introduction of a SaaS solutions combined with mobile usability is creating a new world of customer interaction and relationship building. There are really no limits to how the combination of SaaS and mobile will continue to embed itself into the hotel and travel industry.The service aspect of SaaS can be divided into several sub-services. These sub-services include distribution of the product, pricing of the product, management of the product and finally support of the product.Distributing a SaaS solution via the Internet has no physical need for indirect distribution because it is not "physically" distributed and it can be deployed almost instantaneously. In the hotel industry, the hotelier will still require multiple systems to manage their business, but as more and more solutions providers begin delivering their solution via SaaS, there will be less of a requirement for intermediaries and partners.The price models associated with a SaaS deployment are also service-oriented. No longer are there significant up-front CAPEX expenditures required to implement a primary or secondary system that will help you manage your hotel more effectively. SaaS providers generally price the solution via a subscription fee model that is charged via a monthly fee or even at times based upon occupancy. This enables the hotelier to budget effectively for expenses that in the past would have disrupted their yearly budget allocation taking monies away from guest facing priorities and having to sound large amounts of money on invisible upgrades. Most SaaS providers also work with the hotel in order to come up with the best pricing model that works for both parties involved.The management of a SaaS solution is virtually unseen by the hotelier. The maintenance of the platform along with upgrades are implemented instantaneously and isn't something that must be dealt with on property. Solutions that are premise-based create an operations headache. Whenever an upgrade or fix is required, the system has to be shut down in order to install the upgrade - which inevitably has an impact on operations. This is no longer the case with SaaS.In concert with the management of a SaaS solution is the support of the software. There is a myriad of backend dashboards that a SaaS provider has at their disposal which enables them to track system performance and even before a glitch is experienced with the system that would impact a hotel's operations. Problems can be anticipated and proactively addressed via the support and monitoring team. Also, when there is an issue that requires direct support, no support representative no longer have to "tunnel into your system" to see what is happening because with SaaS they are right there with you, investigating the problem and rectifying it ASAP.All of these elements are truly service oriented, but the delivery of a SaaS solution adds one more element of service that sometimes goes unnoticed. SaaS systems drive opportunities for higher levels of guest engagement. Employees don't have to be tied to the front desk or within other areas of the hotel because the SaaS solution can be available using most any type of mobile device. With cloud-based access, the executive team can keep an eye on operations or make changes when they are off-property. This would never have been possible just five years ago. Software as a Service is gaining momentum month to month, year to year and it will continue to do so. Most hoteliers are ready for a shift, as they're frustrated by the traditional cycle of buying a software license, paying for a maintenance contract, and then having to go through time-consuming and expensive upgrades. Many hoteliers believe they should have more control over the relationship with their technology provider and SaaS gives that to them. The future is extremely bright for SaaS companies and for those hotels that choose to move towards SaaS implementations.
Article by Maeve Walls

The Missing Link in Book Direct Strategies: the Front Desk

Net Affinity 25 July 2017
Hoteliers have been putting huge amounts of efforts into building solid book direct strategies. However, your fantastic strategy to align your goals for marketing & revenue might be missing a crucial element. Beyond ensuing that both departments communicate well, there's another link missing for a lot of properties: the full inclusion of your front desk staff in the goals and strategy.More and more responsibility has been given to front desk teams, and tasks have increased and diversified. However, how well are you communicating the purpose and importance of tasks designed to improve your revenue strategy?These tasks include:Establishing the purpose for guest visitIdentifying a return guestEncouraging an OTA booker to book directly next timeReservations out of hoursUp-selling on arrivalThese are big ticket items. However, too often, little explanation is given as to why these items are so important to the hotel's long term strategy. Additionally, many hotels don't seem to incentivise front desk teams to excel, or encourage healthy competition for the sales items.Taking the time to fully train your front desk staff and include them in your property's major goals will give you huge returns over time.Let's take a look at these tasks and why they're so important, one by one:Purpose of VisitsHow much time does marketing spend laboring over the market segmentation of guests? So much of a hotel's marketing spend and strategy is centered around the current market segmentation for hotel guests, and the areas where they want to grow.However, the simple phrase "if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out" is core here. If the purpose of the visit is not being recorded accurately at reception, then your hotel's segmentation process is flawed at best.Identifying a Return GuestYour front desk staff are the members of your team best placed to physically recognise a return guest and possibly spot whether or not a duplicate profile has been created for this guest.It's still a big ask on a busy reception desk, or at a larger property. To make sure you have an accurate record, reservations staff must be fully aware of why measuring returning guest numbers is so key to your revenue strategy. They must also be motivated.Encouraging Guests to Book Direct Next TimeEncouraging guests to book direct on their next stay is one part of an overall strategy. However, does your front of house team understand where they fit in?Your front desk team are reinforcing a message about the merits and benefits of booking directly with the hotel. This will hopefully already have been clearly featured on the hotel website and featured in the in-room literature.The front desk team become the face of this message in your hotel.The front desk team are the first voice or face to face encounter the booker will have with your hotel. The way guests are treated on calls, during check in and over the course of there is hugely important. It is the measure of whether the perception put forth by the hotel online then lives up to the reality.Reservations & Up-sellingBecoming a charming sales person, both on the phone and in person, requires a whole different skillset. Charming and encouraging a guest to make a booking or to enhance their stay in some way takes both talent and training. Sales skills need proper training, not just a script to use.Money shouldn't take precedence over the motivation to provide a great guest experience. However, if teams aren't incentivised to close sales, what's in it for them? They already have a full task list of work to fill their day. Incentivising here also helps foster healthy competition, some banter and will help the team become more of a team.Train, Include, Value and RewardIt cannot be stressed enough how important it is to properly train front desk teams. They must know how to use the various systems and handle the standard items of check in and check out, balancing accounts, and more. Here is a thorough list of front desk skills.The technical aspects aren't the most important part of the job, though. The value of committing meaningful time to upskill team members fully in sales skills, customer service and the bigger picture of your hotel's strategy is inestimable.Make sure your hotel's overall goals are specific and valuable. As Todd Cline writes, "There's no doubting the value of goals. Without them, it is too easy to become situation-oriented, and allow the environment to dictate responses instead of strategy. However, the key is to limit the number of goals. Successful execution relies on a disciplined approach that focuses on just a few critical principles." What are your hotel's critical principles?Your front desk teams must be included and valued for their core role in the end success of the actual guest experience. The guest experience is the result of the work marketing and revenue have completed to deliver the guest to the website and completing their booking. Make sure it's worth it.
Article by Jogbojogbo Abdulrahman

On Chatbots and the Hospitality Industry

Hotels.ng 25 July 2017
In the hospitality industry, one which is built around making the customer alpha, communication and information transactions must be smart, swift, insightful and analysable. Chatbots are hence the perfect tool for this type of communication and service provision. They live in messaging apps where today's internet user spends a significant portion of his time, they are also cheap in the long run and can provide deep insights into customer preferences that can greatly improve offerings for the the customer, the alpha.In 2017, the key players are still trying to figure out how to build the perfect chatbot - smart, capable of understanding complex semantics, and conversing with the customer as an experienced service rep would. Today's chatbots, limited as they are by the available underlying technology have been deployed by several players in the hospitality industry - flight providers, hotels and more.Hotels.ng, a Nigerian OTA looks at existing and projected applications of chatbots and attempts to estimate the net effect that they might have on the entire industry in years to come.Bookings and reservationsBrands that require that bookings be made - flights, hotels, tour guides and more are already rolling out functional chatbots. Using these bots is convenient, simple and gives an air of chatting with a friend. Hipmunk recently upgraded their chatbot to allow for group planning and chats on their Facebook Messanger based platform. It's easy to see how this can be adopted for OTAs providing group tours.Expedia and Kayak are some other early adopters of chatbots for the purpose of making reservations.Learn user preferencesBy silently sitting in the background, and potentially collecting information such as correlation between geolocation and time versus brand-specific actions carried out, smart deductions can be made as to the user's behavioural tendencies and preferences. Also, past responses, questions and queries that the customer made can be automatically processed to give actionable insights into the customer. Brands can as a result offer personalised and customised services to the customer and increase the chances of delighting him and spending less to acquire each dollar from him than they normally would.Customers can also be retargeted in the future with higher precisions. Brands are able to engineer a greater correlation between the time of the customer's need, and the content and timing of chats sent with a marketing intent.Upselling to clientsWith chatbots, brands can more easily induce customers to make more expensive purchases, upgrades, and add-ons thereby increasing the chances of squeezing more value out of the client without appearing over enthusiastic. Products and services can be upsold or cross-sold through casual suggestions to the client.Top-of-mind awareness (TOMA)The modern day internet user spends more time on messaging apps than they do on social media. In the fight for users' eyeballs, chatbots which mostly live in messaging apps therefore provide very great opportunities for subtle top-of-mind awareness campaigns. TOMA is defined as awareness campaigns aimed at making a brand the first a customer thinks of when asked an unprompted question about a brand's category.Cost effective customer supportEventually, AI driven chatbots become smarter through learning. When they become sufficiently smart and are able to handle complex queries, brands spend less on the supervision of chats, customer support, and can dedicate saved funds into other segments of the brand.Challenges & ControversiesAs with most novel technologies, chatbots too have controversies and challenges tied to their successful implementation. A few pressing ones are discussed below:Threat to existing jobs: As in all forms of automation, job shifts occur and jobs designing and managing the automation always displace the jobs that previously ran the processes. Markets will always demand for more reliable, cost effective, and faster processes making these threats to jobs an occurrence that can be managed but not eliminated.Sharecropping: To tap into what makes chatbots powerful for brands - large audiences, they have to be sharecropped on platforms that host the most people thereby expanding the potential reach and influence of the brand. Facebook, Wechat, and Amazon Echo are a few popular platforms that host numerous chatbots. They are popular because people want to interact with brands on platforms where they already interact with friends. Understandably, this hands over reins of control to the messaging and voice AI giants, but it's a reasonable compromise that should be made.-Privacy concerns: Chatbots have the potential to offer so much personalised information and services that they might come off as intrusive. Care must therefore be made while designing them to handle information transactions at levels of personalisation that are at par with the target audience's temperament toward AI. Helpful can easily become creepy.-High cost of build: Chatbots can be expensive to build. In the long run however, they are almost always smart investments as they bring down operational costs, open up new opportunities for brands and help generate more revenue.-Lack of empathy: Chatbots can come off as stiff or robotic. While this is not a problem for many, a few people are put off by it. Most primitive chatbots work like a search engine that search for some keywords that then trigger predetermined responses. AI driven chatbots are however more capable of handling more complex queries and conversing as a human would.ConclusionChatbots are simple, ubiquitous, and highly effective. AI driven chatbots also become better and smarter with use so while the wide adoption by hospitality brands will create job shifts, it will also create new opportunities that will allow for better personalisation of experiences for the customer.In one line, the hospitality industry will be benefit greatly from the adoption of chatbots.
Article by Pamela Whitby

Is Personalization Travel's New Super Power?

EyeforTravel 21 July 2017
Is "Challenging Assumptions" the key to cracking customer experience? Booking.com thinks so and others do too. Love them or hate them - and yes hotels over the years have had a pretty tetchy relationship with booking.com - but few could dispute how successful a company the Amsterdam upstart has been.After being acquired in 2005 by Priceline for $135m in cash, booking.com helped catapult its US parent from a $10m company to one worth over a billion dollars. This booking.com acquisition, along with others like Agoda, Kayak and more, was, as Priceline CEO Glenn Fogel outlined at a recent EyeforTravel conference, part of a strategic push to go global. "We found companies that knew how to sell the way people in Europe [and other parts of the world] wanted toA decade on and in 2016, booking.com was responsible for 80% of Priceline's annual revenues. Great news for Priceline! Not such great news for hotels, which over the years have lost control of inventory and forked out commissions of anything between 15 and 30% for privilege of a presence on OTA websites.But with eroding margins and regulatory pressure brought to bear on OTA bully boy tactics in the US and Europe, the fight back has begun. Recently, we've seen some hotels taking back control by innovating with loyalty programs, technology and more, and even entering what are perceived to be fairer deals with Google (that is another story).Although there is still some way to go, there is a growing recognition that OTAs, if managed correctly, can play a valuable role. But as Brian Harniman, a former Priceline executive and founder of strategy advisory firm Brand New Matter, puts it hotels need to "partner wisely". Other advice includes using data to shift from cost per booking to cost-per-customer, providing real value (such as upgrades, free drinks and so on) and never ever allowing anybody to dictate RM practices.Data is key here, something that booking.com understands well. Just about every decision taken here is driven by data, which are driven by a clear purpose. That purpose, Booking.com Commercial Excellence Manager Ben Bates recently told an EyeforTravel audience is, quite simply, about "keeping the customer at the centre of everything we do".This core goal is one of the secrets of booking.com's success. Joerg Esser, a theoretical physicist and former senior Thomas Cook executive, believes that in these turbulent markets, it is Booking.com's ability to 'anchor a purpose' that has made it so successful. Anchoring purpose is the first of five simple smart 'ant colony inspired' rules that Esser has been working on since leaving a senior role at Thomas Cook last year, that will give firms a 'toolbox' to drive real change.But what exactly does this mean in practice within the walls of booking.com and are there any lessons for hotels? Bates, who will be speaking again in Las Vegas this October, makes this point: "We hear a lot about trusting your gut [about what the customer wants] but I would like to challenge that assumption."The results from A-B testing, a practice that Booking.com is an evangelist of, proves the point. "Nine out ten A/B tests fail," Bates admits, because very often companies design a product or tool by making certain assumptions about what users want and are time and again proved wrong.Esser agrees arguing that in competitive markets with shifting consumer behavior, you have to start from the position that everything you do is a hypothesis and not that you have an "expert gut feel"Innovative hotels are beginning to recognize this. In a recent interview with Sagar Desai, Head of Acquisitions & Development, Viceroy Group he said: "Lot of companies today are A/B testing. Smart hotels should A/B test too. Why put up one website? Put up two and see which responds best."Viceroy is one of those hotel organisations operating with a flattened hierarchy and in a more nimble fashion. According to Desai, who will also be speaking in Vegas, in order to survive, hotels really need to operate more like tech companies and be willing to work flexibly and rapidly test and change.As a successful tech company there are, perhaps, lessons to be taken from booking.com. Bates sees seven data-driven themes emerging for hotels to take note of, and whatever your relationship with the Amsterdam based upstart, this is pretty compelling stuff. Drawing from Bates' recent presentation we have compiled these top tips.Take a Long Hard Look at Your ImagesMost immersive experiences start with immersive images, says Bates, with 67% of travelers seeing more value in clear images than in the room description or guest reviews. Customers scan images to define what they are interested in and what they are not interested in, so keep that in mind. Interestingly, 150% more booking.com users engaged with a property on the website when there were more than 20 images loaded. Other insights show that women are particularly keen on bathroom images, and more likely to convert for a two-night stay, or more, if there were at least three bathroom images on the front page. Going forward, 360-degree images could be a game-changer, especially with Facebook - another platform to watch - stepping into that environment and ecosystem. A top tip recommended that hotels prioritise snaps to reflect what previous guests have said they like most about the experience.Come to Grips With What People are Saying About You on Social Media and Review your ReviewsWhat Bates calls "cafe culture social proofing," can also leads to "buyer confidence"; in other words reviews count. According to Bates, 78% of customers see reviews as a credible source information which points to a "revolution" in customer behavior that is leading customers to trust complete strangers over established institutions. Another tidbit is that online reviews today are more effective than star ratings. In fact 50% of travelers will not book today, until they have read a review. Since 66% of guests post at least once during travelling, hotels can also benefit from highlighting social activity along the lines of '20 people are viewing this property' as a definition of perceived popularity.Differentiate Room ExperiencesNot all rooms are equal, so why not display them differently? It seems this might be worth doing too, with 90% of guests complaining that rooms are not well differentiated online. For example, help the customer to understand, with images, why they are paying $30-40 dollars more for an upgraded room. Reviews and comments on comments on photos can drive engagement when the guest is still in exploration mode.Give Your Business Travelers 'Isolated Togetherness'People travelling on business want company while "being productive" but they might not always want to engage. This desire for 'isolated togetherness' means that 36% of millennials prefer to work in the hotel lobby. This desire to slip into a hotel without having to speak is also playing out in other areas with 56% of travelers saying they prefer automated check-in. Business travel upgrades are another opportunity as Bates says over 40% of travelers do not feel the need to - upgrade that is! So one tip is to offer single occupancy upgrades to achieve higher price point. Hotels could also offer upgrades for a longer stay, , given the trend to blurring lines between business and personal travel.Consider Eco-Friendly CredentialsOn an eco-friendly note, the data finds that 62% of customers appreciate a hotel's efforts to act in an environmentally friendly way and especially (47%) if it impacts their pocket. However, while might like to do the right thing, its worth noting is that most millennials won't pay more for an eco hotel. What is more, three-quarters say they disengage if the message is overdone.Understand the Same-Day Browse and Stay Culture, and Multi-platform BehaviorPeople can make quicker decisions today, and more customers than ever are booking spontaneously within shorter windows. 'Staycations' in key cities are also on the rise. Bates says that half of bookings made on smart phones today were for the same or next day. Top tip include guaranteeing a specific room but selection at check-in, to offer inclusive meals options (a last-minute customer preference), and in markets like the US, where 80% of domestic guests travel by car, to consider publicizing parking at the right time. On the multi-platform score, 43% guests are shopping across multiple devices when planning travel, and so ensuring a consistent experience on mobile, desktop and app is absolutely crucial.Come to Grips with LoyaltyThe last theme, delivered by Bates is that brands need to rethink loyalty, as it's "very common for customers to be loyal to numerous hotel brands". In what he admits are a somewhat "controversial" stats, their data shows 47% of leisure guests booking on the brand site, and 92% through a travel agent, don't belong to any loyalty program.Perhaps the hint is that it's a waste of time to launch a hotel branded loyalty program, something the bigger chains have been investing in to drive direct bookings! But, as Harniman says, hotels shouldn't let anybody dictate their business practices. Instead, they must take back control.
Article by Cindy Heo

Revenue management: Using data integration to move from tactics to strategy

EHL 20 July 2017
As the practice of revenue management continues to evolve, industry professionals should increasingly look to use their RM systems and processes strategically and move away from tactical operations. Integrating data from the various systems and resources is an important first step.Revenue management used to focus primarily on setting room prices and optimizing room inventory. The revenue manager's main job was to analyze data to recognize trends and make pricing and inventory management decisions. Over the last ten years, due to technological advances, the scope of RM has expanded as traditional hotel revenue management practice became much more complex, while offering new approaches to enhance hotel revenue. Today, revenue management strategy goes beyond pricing and inventory management, and revenue managers should look for new ways to optimize revenue growth and profitability. Although more advanced revenue management systems (RMS) have been developed over the years, with the aim of analyzing performance and forecasting demand, demand patterns have become much more unpredictable, while increasingly dependent on numerous external factors. Successful revenue management strategy starts with a clear understanding of the guests and market demand dynamics. Revenue managers should not just crunch RMS numbers but need to understand guests' selection behavior, consumer psychology and their competitors' strategies by analyzing various pieces of information.RMS cannot, therefore, be the only toolkit for a revenue manager, because customer data reside in different hotel systems. RMS should be integrated first with the property management system (PMS) to take into account the entire booking information, analytics, and reporting functions, as well as with other internal systems such as the central reservation system (CRS), point of sale (POS), the customer relationship management (CRM) system, competitive rate shopping software, channel management tools, the hotel's own website, and various social media channels.User-generated content is one way of learning about the guests' needs and wants. By analyzing such content, revenue managers can identify their competitive advantage from the guest's perspective and update their rate fence structure accordingly.Moreover, external resources can help revenue managers in their decision-making. It is essential for revenue managers to broaden their view of their market by incorporating external market data in their planning to make sure their RM strategies correspond with market demand. Data supply services like STR and HotStats offer reports on hotel performance metrics and trends, as well as supply and demand analysis, market segmentation, and supply pipeline reports.Some distribution partners also offer useful tools for revenue managers. For example, Expedia's Rev+ helps hotels gauge their rates against competitors over the course of 90 days and alerts hotels to changes to rates over the course of the last 24 hours. Hotels can keep track of up to 20 competitors operating in their area and averages for the lowest rates are displayed in calendar form. Further, a forecasting tool helps hotels view demand for markets based on data captured across the portfolio of Expedia brand. These external systems and resources provide valuable data analytics that offer visibility into a specific area of a hotel's positioning or market performance, relative to their competitors or even the entire market.Effective revenue management strategy depends on integrated information to ensure revenue managers can react quickly when they need to. Thus, combining data from various systems and sources is an important issue, because RMS cannot exist as a standalone application. However, the different systems used by hotels do not always share all the transactional data because hotels typically acquire different systems at different times from different vendors.Data integration is the process of identifying ways to bring data from disparate sources and combine them in a unified way to produce meaningful insights. This task, in itself, is not at all easy. It is the first challenge revenue managers face in connecting their different systems so that they work together and allow for seamless data transfer. Vivek Bhogaraju, director of global strategic alliances and initiatives at IDeaS Revenue Solutions, says "without better systems integration, companies may be missing opportunities to mine customer data for insights they can use to target guests with customized offers."Another challenge is turning all data into valuable, new insights. Information is powerful only if you can access and analyze it properly. Competent revenue managers should be able to pose the right questions and find answers through the careful interpretation of data and by providing actionable recommendations to all departments. To this end, revenue managers should be capable of communicating their analysis and strategy to all stakeholders in their hotels and then adjust their strategy based on feedback from the stakeholders.Without capable revenue management professionals, sophisticated systems and data are no longer useful. Organizational structures also need to be reformed to promote teamwork and collaboration across departments and the revenue management director should report directly to the hotel's general manager. Mike Chuma, vice president of product strategy for IDeaS, says too many revenue management teams still remain siloed and calls for RM teams to work closely with sales, marketing, F&B, and event teams.From a revenue management perspective, not all guests are equal. Some guests may only make use of the hotel rooms but not the other facilities, while others may spend hundreds of dollars on F&B, leisure facilities, and spa treatments. Identifying those guests with a higher value to a hotel in the long run is extremely important in today's market. In order to maximize long-term profits, hotels need to increase guests' spending by satisfying their expectations and encouraging repeat visits. An increased amount of data does not automatically lead to better revenue management decisions but it should lead to more opportunities.
Article by Georges Panayotis

Hospitalty Hiring Paradox: Time to take a stand!

Hospitality ON 19 July 2017
All too often, the hotel industry conveys the image of a sector that is ungrateful, has difficult hours, and under-valued careers; but what has truly been done to change that? With its history and that of generations of pigeonholed employees, the world of Hospitality is like a giant cruise ship trying - with great difficulty - to change its course. So it would be best to take the helm quickly. The transformation of concepts goes hand in hand with a return to the drawing board to reexamine the human role in the hotel industry. Traditional functions are exploding in in light of clients' increasing need for autonomy and - paradoxically - a need for more direct and more authentic exchanges with personnel. The jobs, defined in terms of vertical functions that are associated with one another, no longer correspond to the expectations of a more polyvalent, warmer, less technical and more interactive contact.The technological revolution that has taken place at headquarters must now trickle down to each property. This type of consideration of the hotelier's work, from every angle, must not be subject to any taboos. The use of artificial intelligence and different applications makes it possible to give employees new tools to strengthen their abilities to know clients, meet their expectations and control several functions at once, and thus gain in terms of expertise and qualifications.For hotel management, it is also a means of lightening structures, making them flexible again and increasing profitability that may thus result in better wages. There is no reason why the world of tourism and hospitality should be condemned to this image of minimum wages where propel work while they are looking for something better.In hotel groups, each employee had a kind of "passport", a more or less precise road book detailing their experience, training and qualifications. Today, they may be given a professional "toolbox" allowing them to handle any situation. This technical manual grows with the employee's knowledge, experiences, and any information supplied by management. Such software is already available at major industrial firms where it is a kind of "Pilot Book" with descriptions of jobs and and related tutorials to increase polyvalency.Hospitality is a world where start-ups get involved wholeheartedly. While hotel groups may have trouble bringing on this cultural revolution of management on the field, they can rely on the creativity of young people who assist in their metamorphosis, as other sectors have done. Daily management gains in efficiency and reactivity. The much hoped-for loyalty development can be realized when operations are able to give it meaning.The hotel industry needs to strengthen its heart and lungs, its core, in order to nourish a new form of passion and reception and service and breath new life into its trades, which while they are old should not remain antiquated.
Article by Terence Ronson

Cuba - A land that time forgot...

Pertlink Limited 19 July 2017
For a photographer, a voyeur of architecture, a history buff, a 50's car enthusiast, a Rum or cigar lover - this has to be on your list of must see - a bucket list item of the highest magnitude. You require a Visa to enter Cuba. Check the Cuban government's website to locate the nearest city where you can obtain one. Before the plane descends into Havana, the crew will spray the cabin for bugs. And be prepared to wait an hour for your luggage after you de-plane (have water and a fan with you - it's hot!). They x-ray everything and bags come out 1-by-1. The ride into town is about 30 minutes, and after sunset, some of the streets are pitch black and riddled with pot holes. They tell me Cuba is a safe place. And they could be right as I never felt threatened while walking the streets late into the night.Don't expect to go to Cuba to bathe in luxury, or experience haute cuisine either. It just isn't there. On the whole, the people seem friendly - but it's one of the world's cultures that they don't know what they don't know - and if you expect a five-star experience, you will be sadly disappointed - especially when paying five star prices for some things such as internationally publicised accommodations and meals at so-called, top restaurants. Going out for a drink - a Mojito, Daiquiri or Cuba Libre - which one must at least try once when in Havana, can vary in taste from place to place - but the prices are very similar. A meal too can vary tremendously in both quantity and quality - regardless of what you pay. There is often a disconnect between cost and product. Veggie options are available, but don't over expect simply because the raw materials lack in availability and quality. Cabbage, carrots, onions, sweet potato and tomatoes are the staple veggies - and long grain rice (that's not the Asian type). For water drinkers like me, Aqua Panna and San Pellegrino are readily available, as well as a local spring water. Tap water is not potable.If you seek international fast food fare - forget it. It does not exist. None of the names populating the high streets across the globe can be found here. Not even a clone. And if you want to use a public toilet (even in a restaurant), best to take your own tissues and wet wipes with you and be prepared to tip the Attendant.One thing you will find is consistent inconsistencies - one day something will be prepared or cleaned in a certain manner, and the next time, it's very different. Yes, this is a Training and Management issue, but like I said earlier, they don't know what they don't know and the talent pool is very thin.Hotels can perform currency exchange, but it's probably best to go to a money changer - "CADECA". However, be prepared to wait in a queue under the hot sun for possibly 30-60 minutes as they process one by one inside a small shop guarded by a security guard sat on a chair inside a cool room, operating the manual lock. Oh, and did I say, they close for lunch? ATM's are few and far between, and reject most international cards especially if they have a US link. You may be best to warn your bank card provider that you are going to Cuba to let them unblock the card. Phone roaming may also be an issue.There are several wonderful watering holes around. Often Hotel lobbies serve drinks and snacks, and they are sometimes accompanied by live music that can be quite outstanding. If there is anything that marks life in Havana - it's the abundance of amazing musical talent in almost ever bar in the city. "No smoking" areas are limited, and so you will likely be seated adjacent to someone enjoying a Cuban cigar - sold at that establishment, and lit by the Cigar Sommelier. That's an interesting experience since they use wooden spills (made from the box liners - Spanish Cedar) to light the cigar versus a lighter, or heaven forbid, a candle or matches. Prices vary from 10-15 CUC for a decent smoke. There are a few Pastelaria's around town (frequented by locals), and a famous one is close by Hotel Inglaterra where you can find a coffee and Palmier type pastry at a very inexpensive price.Taking a ride around the city in a taxi can be quite a treat! Parked along some central city squares are a wide array of colourful vintage 50's automobiles that operate as taxis to choose from, some with open tops (no Aircon). Or you can simply hail a yellow cab. Be prepared to negotiate before taking off on your journey. The vintage cars could be 30-40 CUC per hour. It would be a shame not to take one of these rides having gone all this way. They are an Instagram dream!Probably best to take an arranged tour to see the places of interest such as Revolution Square, the cemetery, museums, old city, Hemingway's hangouts and the cigar factory etc. These can range from half to full day and with or without lunch. Your Hotel concierge will direct you to the Tour Desk ran by one of the government's agencies like Gaviota. Your guide will speak English, and expect a tip. Take water and a hat. Try and take in a performance at the Opera House - it's a fabulous place with superb performances in a world class setting. Quite an experience!Internet is available in some locations and accessed by a pre-paid card - sometimes issued (free) by your Hotel. You need to sign on using 2 x 12-digit access codes, which you have to key in each time your device shuts down, or when you get thrown off the wifi. The card lasts 72-hours. Speed is acceptable. VPN's work...and may be required for some services like Viber. As I said, a visit to a cigar factory can be arranged - we went to Partagas which is very close to the city centre and not far from the Romeo y Julieta factory and shop. Here you will witness the process of leaf selection, rolling and bundling of cigars as well as labels being attached. What you won't see is the final selection process, and boxing - this is something off limits - and I wonder if that's part of their secret sauce. Cigars can be purchased at the RYJ shop -and expect to find the usual suspects - mostly Robusto sizes, and a very limited selection of upscale brands like Cohiba and Trinidad. You can buy single sticks, variety packs in small cello bags, or boxes. They are all fresh in nature, and most likely best to age them if you can avoid the temptation to light up. No limit as far as I can tell in regards the quantity you can buy. Cigars are touted along the streets, but I was not tempted to purchase what could well have been fakes. If you seek an upscale cigar experience, I recommend the newly opened Cohiba Cigar Atmosphere shop and lounge in the Gran Manzana complex. Here you can enjoy a reasonably priced smoke with a Cuban coffee in air-conditioned surroundings and a very comfy chair. The staff will also perform the lighting ceremony for you. If coffee is not your thing, they have alcohol and cocktails. Don't know if they do snacks. Remember, nearly all businesses are government run - so when you buy something or consume a service, you are invariably supporting the regime - something the current US President is very anti. In fact, apart from souvenirs - hats, t-shirts and cotton shopping bags, rum and cigars, as well as cost of Hotel, travel and dining, there is not much else you can spend your money on. There are no malls, or corner shops. Having said that, a small gallery of boutique shops had just opened at the same Gran Manzana complex, but it's unlikely you will shop there as the selection is limited.Better spend your time walking around Old Havana, enjoying the sights of imposing and impressive buildings and imagine what life must have been in its glory days and listen to the lustful sounds of Cuban music drifting from the bars as you walk along the streets willing you to come in and dance to the irresistible beat of the salsa. Cuba - a must see!
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Tips To Operate With Living Wage In The British Hospitality Sector

AETHOS Consulting Group 18 July 2017
On this basis, I sat down with Mark Kuperman, Chief Operating Officer at Revenue Management Solutions (RMS). Mark and his team assist the hospitality industry by providing data-driven solutions to better manage revenues. RMS takes "the guess work out of crucial business decisions while optimizing gross profit and protecting brand value." Mark and I spoke about how a significant number of employees in the UK received their biggest pay rise to date as the National Living Wage leapt to PS7.50 an hour on April 6th, 2017. In line with Chancellor Philip Hammond's Autumn Statement and Spring Budget announcement, more than two million employees over the age of 25 benefited from the 4% increase. Further to this, 21- to 24-year-olds received a rise of 10 pence per hour. This is in a bid to reach the government's target of PS9 per hour by 2020 for over 25s, with further demand to extend this increase to 21- to 24-year-olds. According to Tahola, an industry's leading business analytics provider, this could result in operators facing an annual increase of PS100,912.50. However, it's not just labour costs that will hit operators; planned increases in employer pension contributions from 1% to 3% could elevate the cost to operators to more than PS109,000 by 2020.It is thus quite clear that UK hotel and restaurant operators must become smarter in navigating this challenging business environment, which, in the recent past, has put a lot of pressure on the bottom line. Consensus within the industry is that many restaurant operators will be forced, amongst other operational levers, to raise menu prices, whilst streamlining their staffing structure. However, Mark believes there are other ways to effectively offset rising labour costs -- without the need to cut staff or dramatically increase prices. Here are some of his suggestions.1) Better align staffing needs to optimise labour costs: It may sound obvious; however, it's often something that gets overlooked by operators in search of shrewd ways to offset rising costs. Cutting staff is not the way, as this impacts the overall restaurant experience for customers. The key here is to manage the value equation in the eyes of customers and never consider raising prices, whilst cutting service levels. In fact, there's the saying, "food brings them in and service drives them out." Operators need to better align staffing needs, with consideration given to peak verses off-peak staffing rotas.2) The importance of taking a demand-based approach to pricing: Multi-site operators can go even further. Reviewing item-level data for each restaurant on a site-by-site basis across the estate will reveal which restaurants could be organised into different price bands based on customers' reaction to previous price moves. Taking the customer's willingness to spend into consideration will ensure customers continue to see value for money when visiting the brand. For operators to successfully navigate price barriers, they must first understand a customer's willingness to spend. For many operators, increasing menu prices is inevitable. However, there are certain price barriers consumers are reluctant to cross. Therefore, it is important that operators don't simply go ahead and increase prices, without first analysing customer sensitivity to pricing across all menu items. If done well, an operator can expect higher profits without any signs of customers changing their buying patterns and behaviours.3) Technology is the most powerful tool to let staff "serve up a storm": For the first time ever, technology really is becoming the driving force within hospitality. In such a saturated marketplace, operators are turning to technology, to not only get ahead of the competition, but also to deliver on that all-important customer experience. Think kitchen automation, delivery, online ordering, digital tablet ordering and mobile payments - the list really is endless. The beauty of technology for operators is that it seamlessly steps in as a silent partner to take care of the customer journey, leaving staff to deliver on that all-important experience.4) Get ahead of the times and have a game plan: Unlike increases in food inflation, which are somewhat unpredictable, rises in labour costs can be planned for. As such, operators need to get a long-term plan in place to address these additional costs. In an environment of increasing costs, operators will be in a much stronger position if they make price changes in smaller increments, which are spread over time, not touching the same items in consecutive rounds, rather than implementing them in one hit. The luxury of having time to plan also means that operators can test the water and assess what works best for their business, employees and customers before rolling it out across their entire estate.5) Profit versus efficiencies - spring clean your menu: Streamlining the number of items offered on a menu will help reduce labour costs and indeed improve execution. Chefs should be looking at the operational impact of specific menu items to see if the way certain dishes are prepared impacts profitability or throughput. Operators need to consider whether they have menu items that are profitable, but actually slow down service. To give you an example, a quesadilla could be a profitable menu item, but the resource needed to prepare it could be, in fact, slowing down operations back-of-house. Therefore, operators need to give serious consideration to where there are bottlenecks in delivering operational efficiencies.Mark thus urges the industry to be prepared and consider a variety of mechanisms available in one's tool box to combat the current business environment. Over a recent lunch with Mike Williams, People Director at Byron, Mike and I concurred with Mark's conclusion and recommendation. He said, "When faced with unprecedented operating cost increases, it can put the squeeze on even the best organisation. In the past, I have seen operations cut labour and costs to such a degree that employee engagement and the customer experience were both negatively impacted. Thus, a vicious circle begins... cutting costs because of decreased sales and thereby continuing to negatively affect the customer experience, which, in turn, puts further pressure on sales, resulting in a new round of cost cuttings." Mike continued commenting, "The solution is not so one-dimensional in such a complex and competitive sector. A blend of investment in technology, culture, service and consumer research can give you the best of chances to take advantage of this shift in the sector. While competitors cut costs and deliver less for more, those who invest and who are proactive will gain market share and continued consumer support." A senior industry executive spearheading business operations at another well-recognised casual dining brand added to Mike's comment, saying, "In times like these, characterised by a tight (and tightening) labour market, recruitment and staffing become even more challenging. We have thus re-doubled our efforts in regards to cross-training and building an internal talent pipeline whilst also further fine-tuning our processes and standard operating procedures to identify new best practices. Whilst none of this is revolutionary in itself, or even new, organisations are well advised to use these new market pressures and realities to re-direct and focus their efforts and energy."
Article by Piers Hughes

The importance of connectivity and integrations within the hospitality industry

Cendyntm 17 July 2017
Piers Hughes, Cendyn's Chief Information Officer shares his insights with us on how integrations with CRM and third party technology vendors lay the foundations to data insight for hoteliers and how they, in turn, can use CRM to evolve alongside the changing landscape of the hospitality industry. Data acquisitionThe way we use data has changed. As a CRM platform and data warehouse, we used to just focus efforts on getting enough information to send communications out to guests or even just to get enough details to fill out a guests' profile. We now need to focus our efforts on looking beyond that profile to see what the guest wants and needs are and use it to predict their behavior throughout the guest travel journey. Using data in this way has revolutionized how hoteliers can look to target their most valuable guests, look at how they can reduce costs, drive more direct bookings, maintain brand presence and stay competitive. How do they do all of this? Well, we've seen that the best way to achieve this is to pull data, from as many sources as you possibly can, configure it into a consistent format and relay that information and data into one single platform or dashboard to get a complete picture for the hotelier. From there, hoteliers are able to action that data in the ways that work for their guests. The evolution of technology in the hospitality industryBack in the day, everything in hotels used to be manual. From entering in a new booking, logging housekeeping activity to tracking room keys. It was a high cost, labor-intensive industry with no means to understand the difference between loyal guests and their preferences and those who visit once, never to return again. What we've seen in the industry however, is revolutionary. Technology advancements and changes in consumer travel behavior, whether it be for business or leisure, has shaped how hoteliers engage, manage bookings (direct or via other channels), measure and drive revenue and work together within the hotel. There are hotels leading the way in how they use technology and those at the other end of the spectrum, but what we do see day-in-day-out is in those hotels that have done so, have an improved ability to; send the right message to the right guest, through the right channels; gain a clear understanding about the history and preferences of each guest in real time regardless of how they booked; empower their guests to receive information and communicate in the ways that work for them; and deliver the best kind of service, whether it be human interaction or through the use of technology. I see the future of this industry evolving further on this basis with more open integrations between technology platforms and a higher flow of data between platforms. From this we'll see an increase in learned automation and intelligence that can deliver more of the right messages, at the right time through the right channel. Whatever those channels may be. Where does what you do fit into all of this?As the most connected customer relationship management (CRM) solution in the hospitality industry, Cendyn works hard to continue to innovate, evolve and partner with other leaders in the industry. We provide the solution to, what can feel like, a data avalanche by providing integrations to over 170 technology partners. These integrations all pull into our solution to provide a cohesive, clear way to view and take action on all that data. We like to think of our CRM as the glue that binds PMS data and third-party vendors together to push out consistent information for hotel brands to help retain and nurture guests. Each entity, or integration is unique, so every interface at the integration level is tailored specifically for that hotel, hotel group or brand. In order to be this specific, we have to continuously evolve to be in tune with emerging and fast-growing markets around the world. Data privacy laws vary in every region too, so we ensure we're aligned with every region and their laws to maintain the most secure data for every hotelier and their guests. It's a huge bonus for hoteliers as they have the freedom to pick and choose the vendors they want to work with but have the knowledge that their CRM will always be able to bring that information together into a single point of truth for every guest. It's now on the hotelier to demand the need for a CRM that will provide good quality, secure data that puts their guests first.
Article by Paul van Meerendonk

What C-Level Executives Need to Know About Total Hotel Profitability

IDeaS 15 July 2017
While a hotel revenue strategy doesn't lend itself as the panacea to every organizational crossroads, it does provide hotels with a way to profitably navigate through the unpredictability of economical and geopolitical climates, natural disasters and terrorism. This is in addition to finding profitable success in hypercompetitive online environments prone to fluctuating markets and intensifying competition. Strategic revenue management is also recognized as an important component to increasing asset value, attracting investors and improving overall operational efficiency.Among other things, today's hoteliers face mounting pressure to increase their hotel profitability. From acquiring brand new customers to driving repeat business and loyalty, making the right operational decisions and running a hotel with optimal efficiency continues to be an ongoing challenge for top hotel executives. However, with increased scrutiny focused on the best ways to drive total hotel profitability, what exactly do the industry's c-suite executives need to know about revenue strategy and profit optimization?More specifically, what is this push toward profit optimization and where does it need to begin for the best results? What are the KPIs that paint the most accurate picture of a hotel's health and performance? How do hotel distribution channel costs impact overall hotel profitability? And, finally, what are the tools that facilitate these critical activities for hoteliers?What is This Push Towards Profit Optimization?Revenue management used to be considered a very niche function, and one that was only applied to guestroom strategies without the influence or contributions from other hotel revenue streams. Over the years, however, hotels have recognized its benefits and enthusiastically adopted more scientific and analytical approaches to strategic revenue management - experiencing significant financial rewards in the process.As these principles became even more popular and widespread, the industry has looked for ways to apply these holistic strategies to other operational areas and increase their overall profitability even further. And with a recent STR Global report indicating both revenue and expenses for rooms, F&B, payroll and other departments are on the rise in between 2015 and 2016 alone, more and more hotels are seeing the benefits of extending the principles of strategic revenue management to their ancillary streams.The goal of profit optimization is to leverage all hotel functions and maximize their profits in conjunction with one another. It encourages hotels to intelligently decide which business to accept across multiple revenue streams at all times, based on greatest overall value to the asset. This kind of holistic approach to revenue management goes beyond guest room rates and maximizes profits from the strategic management of other revenue streams. Hotels that adopt these principles successfully can drive profit performance to new heights across their entire asset with more competitive positioning, pricing and inventory management.However, it is very important that today's hotel executives recognize that a shift towards profit optimization means they may also need to focus on strengthening their internal culture. Moving revenue management past guestrooms into other organizational areas requires having a robust revenue culture in place, something the industry has fundamentally identified as an ideal environment for supporting initiatives that increase total hotel profits.Today's hotel executives are tasked with converging the traditional roles of sales, marketing and revenue management with an inclusion of other departments like F&B, banquets and finance. Focusing all departments around identifying and nurturing the most profitable business will result in the most lucrative results. The performance metrics that matterThe shift from focusing solely on guestroom revenue to the adoption of an organizational culture that applies revenue management throughout various departments has also encouraged hoteliers to broaden the types of metrics they use for performance evaluation. Traditionally, hotels solely relied on KPIs such as occupancy (OCC), average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR) to evaluate the revenue and profit performance of their properties. And while these are still important metrics of performance measurement, the industry has begun gravitating toward other standards that represent their wider spectrum of operations.One area of increased interest for hotel executives is a focused attention on market share, which gives hoteliers a better estimation of their market performance compared to the competition. This is a critical factor when considering today's often uncertain environments. It also makes identifying the right competitive set extremely important, and one of the most crucial elements in accurately measuring overall performance. By identifying a property's true competitors, a hotel can benchmark their market penetration index (MPI), average rate index (ARI) and revenue generated index (RGI) with the valuable context they need to make the best strategic decisions.If a property measures itself and strategizes against an average of hotels that are targeting a vastly different mix of business, or represent a different type of accommodation segment (such as a full service hotel vs. a limited service hotel), it could end up making unprofitable decisions that dilute its brand value and soften its position in the market. There are other opportunities for measurements that the industry should be looking to as well.Aside from standard rooms-focused metrics, hotels need to shift toward a comprehensive understanding and comparison of total revenue performance metrics. Hotel meetings and events space, onsite restaurants, spa services and other hotel revenue streams all make significant contributions to overall profitability. When these revenue streams are not properly measured and evaluated, the hotel's big picture view of its overall profitability misses some very critical pieces.Establishing KPIs that measure areas beyond rooms to meetings and events space (also commonly referred to as function space) is typically the best place for organizations to start. Emerging KPIs in function space revenue management include space utilization, profit per occupied space (ProPost) and profit per available space (ProPast), and are fast becoming the industry standard metric in evaluating function space performance.Establishing these types of performance metrics within an organization, in addition to having the right technology and processes in place to capture, measure and control these KPIs, will help establish a baseline for hotel teams to work towards improving and optimizing against. And while the industry largely lacks a standard KPI to account for total revenue performance and profitability, it is an area of focus steadily gaining more traction.Where Distribution Fits inThe role of distribution is one historically intertwined with the strategic function of revenue management. While distribution strategy has a very micro and specific business focus, it is something that has become a hot topic of interest for hotel executives. As another facet of revenue management, we, as an industry, have spent a lot of time over the recent years analyzing and dissecting the opportunities an intelligent distribution strategy can bring hotels.Most notably, there has been a significant evolution in the role it plays in driving hotel profitability - largely due to emerging industry data sources, channels and various types of technology. Add in the complexity of prices, restrictions, add-ons, channel usage, technology and distribution costs, and many hotel organizations have easily considered this function large enough to split off on its own, increasing job roles that develop, execute and measure their comprehensive and intelligent distribution strategies.The complexity of distribution and its impact on today's organizational structure makes it critical for executives to understand how the quality of this role increases their overall hotel profitability. Not accounting for real distribution costs (which include details like basics of percentages, tracking direct costs and monitoring revenue results) can have an extremely unprofitable impact on overall revenue management strategies. Not properly managing or accounting for distribution costs directly affects the net revenue results hotel executives can expect from their property's distribution channel strategy.The Tools Driving Increased ProfitabilityBig data has undoubtedly helped our industry make big moves over the years. One of the profitable ways hotels have capitalized on the influx of big data is by recognizing that most intelligent revenue strategies look past the "big" description and identify "smart" data. For hotels focusing on driving better business through loyalty programs, personalization and a wealth of attractive guest choices, revenue technology that offers them data-driven methods and powerful analytics has become one of the first stepping stones in doing so.There are many different factors that can influence a hotel purchase decision: online ratings and reviews, competitive pricing, strong loyalty program rewards, location, etc. Hoteliers need to leverage and analyze every one of those factors - and the data sources that drive them - to build guest loyalty, provide a personalized guest experience, boost marketing ROI, attract an optimal business mix and improve their market performance. For a successful data-driven approach to holistic revenue management, it is critical to employ analytical tools and technology that incorporates market intelligence, ancillary revenue data, online reputation sentiments, competitor pricing, and historical data. For today's hotel executives looking to strategic revenue management for increases in profitability, it's important to recognize that maximizing revenue is different from maximizing profits.There is a complexity of revenue management - and the data that it needs to make optimal decisions - that may seem counterintuitive and perplexing at times. However, trusting, investigating and understanding its underlying principles pays off in dividends in the end.Hotels pairing powerful and analytical technology with the right holistic data sources are finding themselves with the most profitable way to strategically tackle today's unpredictable climates and fluctuating markets - improving asset values and efficiencies.Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com
Article by Margaret Ady

High Tech or High Touch? What Hotels Need to Know About Technology Adoption & Guest Service

Snapshot GmbH 13 July 2017
So exactly how much can be automated, or more to the point, how much should be automated? (And, really, at what point does it cease to be a hotel when there is no service?) Clearly, almost everything can be technologized, so hotels are confronted with just where and how much of the human touch is needed to create a satisfying guest experience.The question of high tech or high touch lies with your guests. In some ways, we need a new market segment based on technology needs. Some segments want as much automated as possible, but many of these guests want just as much, if not more, control over their experience as those who prefer one-on-one service. And then there are guests who want to hold hands all the way through the process; this is their definition of hospitality and asking them to download an app to check in won't do. With technology, these guests actually get better service because staff is more available to walk them through the process.The answer to the question of high tech or high touch isn't an easy one because the answer is: options. You can take any aspect of hotel operations and service to the cloud as long as you offer guests easy access to staff person at any point along the way. Perhaps a guest wants to book online, check in via mobile, control her AC from an app, and request a pillow via text message--all of these are absolutely possible. BUT she also wants to make her spa reservation on the phone, because she has some specific needs and wants to be sure she can properly get the message across to guarantee the ideal experience.If technology tasks hotels with offering more options, does it actually uncomplicated anything? Does it save money and time? Still a resounding yes. Especially in cases where the technology is integrated with major systems and when hotels have maximum control over the technology and the way it functions. Every time a guest is satisfied by technology, which is more often than not these days, or every time messaging helps staff communicate an issue more quickly, or every time one fewer front desk person takes the elevator to the eleventh floor, efficiency is achieved. Each time this happens, energy and space are made for the instances where guests desire a person. These very critical moments are more effective and more meaningful.So let's say you can automate anything pre-stay, during stay (except for housekeeping itself), and post-stay. Let's say you can integrate major systems and streamline your internal communication, using messaging that interacts with the PMS and the CRM. What specifically still needs the human touch?Most importantly staff should be present. And by "present" we mean that they should not only be visible, but they should also be clearly available and ready to engage. As reliance on technology for guest services increases so does the need for staff to appear undistracted. Having staff at entries and exits--whether at the front desk, the spa, the restaurant, or on checkout--is essential.Additionally, the phone becomes (surprisingly) more important. Every call should be answered, and the speed of answer matters more than ever. When guests decide they need to speak with someone, someone should be available as soon as possible, including reservations, guest service, housekeeping, and so forth. This is the tradeoff for the efficiency of technology. Availability and responsiveness are paramount for the personal moments that matter to guests.Hotels aim at every turn to prioritize efficiency and cost-saving measures while continuing to offer the highest possible level guest service. If the person-to-person elements of guest service are handled well, and they really are fairly simple, technology adoption can better serve hotels and their guests.
Article by Benjamin Jost

A Platform Approach to Feedback

TrustYou 12 July 2017
To answer the first question, a significant majority of guests expect that the hotel will initiate communications upon booking; 80% of consumers expect an email confirmation, so our view is that "guests" earn that title the moment they make a booking decision (and have expectations for the hotel).In terms of communication requests:Most (73%) prefer their communications to be through online channels. This includes e-mail, social media and text messaging (SMS). In general, e-mail was the most common form of communications, with nearly 70% of people using the channel.A majority (75%) prefer to communicate one-on-one with a person on site. It makes sense intrinsically that guests may have questions about local happenings or special requests that they feel are more likely to be met if they speak with someone who's in the actual building they're staying in. However, combined with the previous point, it speaks to the need to create systems and policies that enable front desk employees to communicate directly with guests through electronic means.Of course, not all feedback and communication happens before the actual stay. Guests will check in and have interactions with the hotel staff while on the premise. One of our more interesting findings had to do with when guests will provide feedback about an issue. Roughly a third of guests acknowledged that they were most likely to address an issue while they were in the checkout process, rather than when the issue arises. This puts hotel leaders in a tough spot; they can't fix an issue that they don't know about.This again points to the need for hotels to have a way for guests to use electronic communications to address the front desk. In a separate analysis, we looked at 10,000 messages that had been sent through our platform, and found that roughly 2/3rds of them were actionable requests (more than a quarter of them had to do with the room). In other words, people were more comfortable providing real-time feedback when they were able to maintain some sort of anonymity. Using our real-time communication app TrustYou Messaging, hotels can stay up to date with any issues, encouraging a better experience.Moving beyond the stay, feedback is most often created after a person has checked out. This can be through online reviews, social media or surveys.Online reviews can, and should, play a critical role in how a hotel operates. After all, this information is from actual customers, offering a first hand look at their experiences. No one wants to be considered "high maintenance," but the internet allows for airing of grievances without personal attachment. Hotel executives will often find the most critical, and most honest, feedback online.This isn't to say that all online feedback is aimed at the worst parts of a hotel experience. In fact, 80% of online feedback for hotels is positive. Managers in properties should understand that addressing the 20% of negative feedback is a priority.Another important component of the feedback loop is social media. Facebook and Twitter can be among the most important parts of improving the guest experience. These sites help shift attitudes and respond to grievances, as well as bring in new customers. Negative reviews can be responded to in public, and when done correctly, can greatly change the perception of the hotel to potential and past guests. Responses can define the values of the hotel, to show the human side of the industry, and spotlight positive experiences.Facebook is the #1 source for travel inspiration, and garners around 1.6 billion daily users, so a well-reviewed profile for a hotel can greatly increase the likelihood that potential guests will see the hotel. When exploring potential travel locations and lodging, customers rely on images just as much as reviews. Seeing happy travelers and an engaged hotel staff on social media is a good way of knowing what the experience will be like in reality. The way a hotel is represented online helps discern what the hotel will be like in person; if the hotel pays attention online, they likely pay attention offline. When hotels are responsive and show appreciation for their staff, potential travelers will recognize it. Much of guest satisfaction stems from direct responses to their experiences; hotels benefit greatly from personalized contact and an engaged media presence. "Liking" and commenting on posts goes a long way, it reminds people that the hotel cares about their feedback and experiences.Twitter also provides a way to engage, but in a distinctly different way. Twitter users expect to receive multiple relevant posts a day as they scroll through their feed. It requires constant engagement and quick replies. Of its 307 million users, 26% utilize Twitter to give feedback. For travelers, this form of contact can be a way to receive immediate information about a hotel, as well as a platform to express grievances. It is important to reply to all mentions, positive and negative, as, when done in good taste, this can be an actionable way to reach an even larger audience. Being personal and showing the human side of the business remains important here. Users tend to retweet and favorite comical and informative content, expanding the influence of the hotel.Social media platforms help build a community, positively impact hotel reputation, and help assess guest satisfaction in real-time. While social platforms do provide a form of "anonymous" reviewing, as the guests are likely no longer at the hotel capable of being the "high maintenance" customer, they do not provide the same kind of anonymity found in a post-stay survey.While it's easy to think of post-stay surveys as something that's nice for a hotel to do, surveys can actually have considerably more impact than most people understand. The obvious benefit to a post-stay survey is that it gives guests the anonymity that makes them feel more comfortable in sharing their experiences, while giving the hotel access to a more robust set of data. The hotel sending the survey can control what's being asked in order to pinpoint problem areas and reduce future negative feedback, as well as glean more thorough responses from reviewers.Generally speaking, information and data gleaned from post-stay surveys tends to be 4-8% more positive than online reviews, so this information can actually have positive impacts on internal metrics and customer facing numbers. On the latter point, many hotels pipe this information into the scores and search result details that customers performing a search will see. This means hotels can positively influence the ratings customer will see on sites like Google, Kayak and Hotels.com with real reviews.4-8% may sound minimal, however, a huge number of hotel guests (almost 90%) will immediately filter out any hotels that have less than 3 stars. For properties at 2.9 stars, this 4% can open an entirely new world of potential guests. It is a difference that can increase revenue; inflating both the price tag and number of travelers. Moreover, the reviews provide tangible complaints to act upon in order to increase satisfaction overall; eventually moving the hotel's star-rating up on its own accord.Since guests expect to communicate with their hotel prior to their stay already, and communications during have been shown to increase positive experiences, after-the-fact communications should be just as much a part of the guest experience. By allowing a chance to express grievances privately, as well as providing a platform to communicate directly with a hotel staff, guests are more likely to associate positive attributes to a hotel. As such, it is important to establish substantial means of communication across media and messaging applications.The effects are undeniable. Companies who chose to ignore feedback and neglect interaction with guests see a deleterious effect in regards to booking.So, when does a customer become a "guest"? The moment they make a booking decision. The moment they can actively begin to enjoy their communications with their chosen hotel, and express a valid opinion.Getting the traveler to that point is the bulk of the battle. Since they rely upon the opinions of previous guests, it is imperative that hotels communicate, receive feedback, and brand themselves in a good light.Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com
Article by Frank Wolfe

Will Blockchain Technology put Airbnb, Expedia, and Priceline out of business?

HFTP 12 July 2017
Here are some of the points that the industry audience should find useful:What is Blockchain Technology (BT)?"The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value." Alex and Don Tapscott.Both Don and Alex have been keynote speakers for HFTP previously and both received excellent reviews. But there is a lot of information in that one sentence. In an attempt to interpret the statement for our industry, the following is offered:Picture if you will that you are the CXO of a major travel enterprise with thousands of spreadsheets containing thousands of financial transactions that are duplicated at each one of your locations. Then picture that the decentralized network is designed to regularly update the all of the spreadsheets at all of the locations. This is the basics of a blockchain.Is BT something for hospitality to be concerned about or is it just another Y2K?BT is actually the technology behind cryptocurrency (altcoin), the most widely known of which seem to be Bitcoin, and Ethereum. It is real, "in play" and it is something people are already spending billions of dollars on. But, it is highly controversial and has generated a firestorm of headlines...good and bad.Since HITEC Toronto,HFTP has been contacted by a lot of industry VIP's who want to be involved with us because they believe its impact is going to disrupt the industry. Conversely others VIPs in the industry were totally unaware of BT and some contacts have said BT is like Y2K.So with that disclosure, according to a recent interview published in SKIFT (www.skift.com), Fritz Joussen, CEO of TUI Group says "It will be very difficult for intermediaries to have sustainable business cases. These platforms [travel intermediaries] build reach by spending billions on advertising, and then they create monopolistic margins on top of what they have as sales and marketing. They do offer great sales and marketing. Booking.com is a great brand, but they create superior margins because they have monopolistic structures. Blockchain destroys this." Later in the same article, Joussen goes onto explain that his vision of blockchain was a key reason TUI sold Hotelbeds last year for $1.2 billion, moving TUI out of the role of business-to-business intermediary, which he believes blockchain can easily replace.Will BT put Airbnb, Expedia, and Priceline out of business?Research would indicate that if BT catches on as predicted it will change the business model of anyone in the transaction business. But unless these companies don't adapt to the market, they are not going to go away. The good news, unless you are an intermediary, is that anytime that a customer and supplier can cut out all or part of an intermediary in the transaction process should increase money in one or both digital wallets. HFTP is a small company and our transaction fees for currency conversion and credit card processing are HUGE...imagine if your enterprise could erase even a fraction of these due to BT.Another benefit to BT is that it is continually updated, reconciled, and stored in decentralized locations. This makes records transparent and auditable because the transactions cannot be changed in just one place and the network has to "agree" to changes. If this proves to be true, hacking will be virtually impossible.Why is HFTP creating an industry Task Force and what is it going to do?One of the things that makes HFTP a bit different than most people realize is that we represent a very wide group of verticals. These include entities that provide a hospitality experience to its guests, members, or visitors, by providing lodging, food/beverage, recreational and tourism services at establishments such as clubs, hotels, motels, resorts, casinos, restaurants, recreation facilities, tourism, cruise lines, community associations and theme parks. This is a big responsibility for HFTP. According to our bylaws, we "provide leadership in the establishment and enhancement of hospitality accounting, financial management, and information processing practices and standards." Leading the industry to determine BT impact on our industry is right in line with what our members envisioned 65 years ago when we were founded.The mission of the BT Task Force is to study the topic and help HFTP's defined industry make their own decisions on how it will impact the industry and how we should respond to this new technology.How can I get involved in the industry's BT Task Force?If you are interested in being considered for our BT Task Force, please email your interest to blockchain@hftp.org. Volunteers should be prepared to attend at least two in person meetings annually and have employer time and financial support. For those who are unfamiliar with HFTP, we are a global nonprofit hospitality association that uniquely understands the industry's problems. We are recognized as the spokes group for the finance and technology segment of the hospitality industry. HFTP assists our members in finding solutions to industry problems more efficiently than any organization via our expert networks, research, conferences such as HITEC, and certification programs. HFTP has several thousand stakeholders across the globe. Through our HITEC brand, we also assist both members and stakeholders in deal facilitation.
Article by Jos Schaap

Service and Reputation Go Hand in Hand: Tech Suppliers and Hotels Need to Work Together

StayNTouch Inc. 11 July 2017
"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." Warren Buffett"Reputation is only a candle, of wavering and uncertain flame, and easily blown out, but it is the light by which the world looks for and finds merit." James Russell LowellWe now live in a world where service, technology, and reputation are on a collision course - and this affects the hotel industry more than most other industry segments. According to a recent Hospitality Technology study, 85% of guests consider positive reviews and high ratings very important when making a hotel selection.When thinking about a hotel's reputation, TripAdvisor, Google and the companies that supply reputation management solutions come first to mind. However, the reputation of a hotel goes much deeper when you intersect service and technology. Looking at a hotel's reputation from the outside, the top factors that affect reviews, and thus reputation, are cleanliness, Wi-Fi, service, food, amenities and believe it or not, the pool. All of these issues are directly related to the guest stay and the most prominent areas that the guest sees or uses. These areas are critical however with certain tweaks here and there, the reputation scores for each area can be increased by implementing better procedures, monitoring and delivering quick and effective resolutions.Things that cannot be seen by the guest but that can complicate their visit immensely is when the technology that drives the hotel has issues. The issues can be as minor as a clock radio not working properly or the TV malfunctioning to a full system collapse where the hotel can niether check guests in or out, take reservations, or the door locks will not work making for a very uncomfortable service environment.The service shift happens here. The technology provider must have exemplary service and deliver on their agreed upon service level agreement with the hotel to ensure that any system issue is dealt with expeditiously and with positive results. Also, shifting the primary systems, your PMS, out of the property and into the cloud helps immensely. While writing this article, I found a thread online where an IT person stated the following about their hotel PMS, "I'd rather burn my server room to the ground and get everyone to use construction paper, and crayons than ever let XXXXX into my environment again."When a primary system goes down or has integration issues, it impacts every aspect of your business and ultimately affects every guest. Will they post online about this specific experience? Probably no, but they will post a derogatory review about the long wait at the front desk or not being able to check-out or order room service. The technology behind the scene can create havoc if it is not working at its optimal rate.A strong and mutually beneficial relationship between the hotel and its software provider is incredibly important. A relationship of mutual trust must be achieved to deal with problems that arise that may impact hotel operations and thus the service delivery side of the business. Many technology companies tout themselves as partners but are viewed by the hotel as a vendor. If a technology company can escalate the relationship with the hotel by providing responsive service and support of their products, they can be seen as a true partner rather than just a vendor - and all stakeholders should be driving towards this goal.Finally, when discussing service and support related to your technology providers, it is critical to ensure they are on the same page in regards to your expectations. Hotels can easily have over thirty different technology providers - and many of them need to interface their solutions. Too often, tech providers lay the blame and point fingers at each other when it comes to interface or integration issues. Hold each partner to the highest standard and commit to developing long-lasting relationships with them with a focus on service. The delivery of great service by technology providers to the hotel will ultimately enable the hotel to deliver on their guest service promises.
Article by Cristian Grossmann

Trump's Travel Ban Impacts More Than Tourism And Threatens Stability Closer to Home

Beekeeper 7 July 2017
The Supreme Court has allowed parts of the Trump administration's travel ban to go into effect for foreign nationals who lack any "bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States." Relationships between U.S. universities and employees who have accepted jobs in the U.S. are considered formal relationships in the court's ruling. Although employees and students are allowed, the court, in an unsigned option, left the travel ban against citizens of six mostly Muslim countries on hold.When the travel ban was announced earlier this year, it stirred emotions and created a worldwide uncertainty that was palatable. Interestingly, employee communications and engagement was the source of much of the media surrounding the topic. Taking center stage, senior executives from Ford, Google, Goldman Sachs, Salesforce, Apple, JP Morgan, Facebook, Nike, Coca-Cola, Morgan Stanley, and others have made public statements to their employees.Even though employees are not individually impacted by this iteration of the travel ban, many of their family members will be. Uncertainty brought into the workplace threatens to ruin the best corporate cultures and workplace diversity. Given the level of recent political and social uncertainty, we commend leaders that choose to proactively address employee concerns and reaffirm their corporate values.Apple CEO, Tim Cook, led the charge when the travel ban was first released. The outspoken leader published a public letter to employees letting the world know that each of the potentially impacted employees would receive assistance from Apple's HR, legal, and security teams. Cook also reached out to the White House in defense of his team, but what stands out is that he also took the opportunity to reinforce his corporate culture.Cook sent an email to all Apple employees worldwide, part of which stated: "...And if there's one thing I know about the people at Apple, it's the depth of our empathy and support for one another. It's as important now as it's ever been, and it will not weaken one bit. I know I can count on all of you to make sure everyone at Apple feels welcome, respected and valued."Cook is right--corporate culture is more important now than ever. Gallup polls show that a mere 32% of employees are engaged within their organizations. This leaves most of the workforce uninformed and uncertain. If you haven't taken the opportunity to address your employees concerns, now is the time.Starbucks also joined the ever-growing ranks of corporations acting to protect their workers. They launched an Immigration Advisor Program in partnership with Ernst & Young for immigration advice. Their message of leading with humanity is on point, but is it being seen by the people who matter most?In the case of each of the mega-organizations listed above, their statements of solidarity are making headline news. Their messages were disseminated to the masses and employees with email addresses, but what about non-desk workers without corporate email addresses?80% of the global workforce isn't sitting at a desk or given computers when they're onboarded. Hospitality, retail, manufacturing, and other industries have distributed workforces in many locations, and most employees don't have email addresses. This makes sending company-wide messages especially difficult. And unfortunately, it is this worker segment that is potentially the most impacted and needs to hear messages of solidarity from corporate leaders. Ford has always been a leader in employee engagement. When Mark Fields took over as CEO, their internal communications team understood the importance of maintaining engagement during times of significant change and helped facilitate a seamless transition. The past few months have been no different.Times like these are always a good reminder to address any gaps in communication your organization might have - before the next crisis or critical event hits.At Beekeeper, we have employees from 27 different countries working within our company. We believe that we truly work better together - as a company and as a community. We are fortunate to have immediate access to information and maintain a culture of transparency and connectedness. We hope times like these serve as a reminder to all employers the importance of nurturing and defending corporate culture.
Article by Amanda Wisell

Hospitality Technology as a Guest Service Differentiator

PAR Springer-Miller 7 July 2017
"Guests need to feel connected to us, not their phones or other tech gear so that they can truly relax and enjoy," commented Denny Grosclaude, Hotel Manager of Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie, Washington. "Less tech and more personal engagement is always a good way to go."In today's digital landscape, guests' expectations are influenced by their experiences online where their preferences are automatically remembered. Guests know that Amazon can remember and suggest their favorite brand of shampoo. Their expectation now is that their favorite resort should remember their anniversary or the bottle of wine that they always purchase. Hospitality technology can provide the framework to make that level of guest service operationally feasible if the solution is carefully and thoughtfully implemented."Technology can automate processes but it needs to be carefully applied as there is no automation for personal interaction with guests, especially in the resort industry," noted Tjibbe Lambers of Otesaga Resort Hotel.Use Technology to Recognize Repeat GuestsBuilding a closer relationship with guests is one of the ways that a property can distinguish itself amidst a sea of hospitality providers. Recognizing their repeat guests will go a long way toward establishing this relationship."We start by identifying return guests at the point of making a reservation," commented Susan Engler, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Blue Harbor Resort. "Understanding the guest's history prepares us to have a better understanding of their expectations and provides a platform to deliver a personal level of service."Use Technology to Personalize Each Stay "We use technology to manage the guests' reservations, itineraries, communication and preferences - even down to the color of flowers they like for their stay," commented Tanya Walker of Chateau Beaver Creek in Colorado.Crafting a unique and individualized stay is another guest service differentiator. With a combination of hands-on service and technology, hotels and resorts have the ability to ensure the guest experience reflects the unique preferences of each guest and exceeds their expectations.Singita Safari Lodges and Reserves in South Africa captures important guest details in their property management system prior to arrival. These room requests, dietary needs and personal preferences are automatically shared with the 12 different Singita properties, ensuring that guests enjoy this personalized attention from the moment of their arrival. Once on property, the guest's profiles are continually updated in SMS|Host with detailed information about their experience, their activities and interactions.At Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Alabama, reservationists have honed their listening skills. "We make notes in our guest-centric PMS as we speak to guests on the phone during the reservation process," noted Beth Bagley, Hospitality Manager at Pursell Farms. "We catch things that are important to them, even if they weren't necessarily relaying the information."This ability to use high-tech to power a high-touch service environment helps hotels and resorts create that memorable stay that attracts guests to return."Our shift supervisors write notes on all significant guest interactions and share them electronically with all departments so guests do not need to repeat themselves and staff can anticipate needs," commented Ted Horan, General Manager of Primland, a luxury resort situated in the Blue Mountains of Virginia.Building Specific Guest-Facing ApplicationsRecognizing the shift in guest communication preferences, some properties are introducing guest-facing apps to facilitate service requests. Other properties are rolling out apps to assist with on-property text messaging and social engagement."With our guests and, particularly, millennials becoming increasingly technology focused, we recently launched a new app that allows our guests to communicate with us in their preferred messaging platform of choice," commented Marc Rodriguez, General Manager of Esperanza Resort. "With the app, they can make reservations at restaurants, arrange transportation and even request a margarita while at the pool."Using Technology to Cultivate LoyaltyThe Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, New York automatically enrolls repeat guests into the Otesaga Select Program. The loyalty program offers individualized concierge service and rewards guests with personalized gifts, discounts and other benefits based on their visitations.The Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth, Michigan also invests considerable effort into their loyalty program with great success and engagement. "We have grown our loyalty club to over 24,000 families who pay to be a member," commented Jim Engel, COO of Bavarian Inn Lodge. They are able to leverage the transactional data of their loyalty club members to offer personalized and relevant offers.Overcoming Challenges in Deploying Technology As hotels and resorts expand their use of technology to power guest service, they face multiple challenges. Connection issues, integration problems and staff training are just a few of the hurdles that a property must leap in order to have a successful technology roll-out."At a rural resort with limited internet connection, where many activities take place in different locations or outdoor locations," commented Beth Bagley of Pursell Farms, "you can't always access property management systems or other programs you need to assist the guests. It makes it even more important for us to truly know our guests and anticipate their needs."Many of these challenges in deploying technology are not new - hotels and resorts have faced integration and training issues from the beginning. However, hospitality technology tends to be a fragmented ecosystem and properties have to deploy a myriad of new systems to keep up with the needs of their guests."The choice and variety of software to assist in digital engagement with guests is widespread," commented Jim Engel of Bavarian Inn. "Though no two companies offer the exact same features, none provide them all so comparing is difficult."For most properties, the value of adding software solutions to support guest service efforts far outweighs the challenges. Hotels, resorts and their technology partners continue to innovate, helping them extend the warm hospitality and service that characterizes this industry.
Article by Larry Mogelonsky

The Housekeeping Training Revolution

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited 7 July 2017
Of course, this all relates to technology - putting your internal curriculum onto an online portal, thereby enabling e-learning. It works because it fosters an environment of microlearning - that is, allowing your team to learn at their own pace and in bite-sized, modular chunks, both of which are better for knowledge retention over the classical intensive and condensed period of instruction. Additionally, by putting your curriculum online, it frees up your supervisors' time as well as allows associates to explore other aspects of your operations that are beyond their current job description but nonetheless a subject of interest for prospective lateral promotions.While it may seem too good to be true, obstacles present themselves during the implementation process and in getting your team to adjust to the new system. And these growing pains are most evident than in the housekeeping department.Likened to the last holdout against the invasion of purely technological processes, your housekeepers are now prone to disruptions on nearly all fronts. Training manuals can be put online or plugged into motion-capture performance tracking stations for new employees to quickly learn the basics before job shadowing begins in earnest. New mobile-centric software platforms offer real-time synchronization to streamline internal communication, shift priorities on the fly and appease the current demand for 24/7 room readiness to the point where the morning lineup is all but obsolete. And then there are engineering firms working to build robots that can fold laundry and clean rooms, thus eliminating the need for human housekeepers altogether, but this is still at least a few decades away from practicality.Additionally, you must consider the health and safety of your housekeeping team. Unlike most other desk jobs, theirs is one of physical rigor, lending itself to a much higher risk of repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) as well as everything that results from that - lowered team motivation, erratic staff scheduling and long-term disability payouts to cite three.While it's a much more straightforward line of thought between how technology can benefit your property from a training perspective, there are also significant implications for how it can be utilized to also boost the wellbeing of your team. Firstly, most contemporary SOP training modules teach the proper techniques which minimize injury. Next, there are now platforms with dedicated ergonomic curriculums so that your housekeepers can get in the habit of using the correct muscles for any given cleaning-related task.This is but a quick overview of how technology can work to propel your team into the 21st century and I would highly recommend you investigate your options. I've purposely left this article company agnostic for brevity's sake, but if you'd like the names of a few to help get you started, email me and we'll discuss what will work best for your specific hotel.
Article by Danny Bryer

Tech takes on travel

Marriott 5 July 2017
The last thing you're thinking about when putting your feet up on holiday is that you may be enjoying a break as a result of something as disparate to travel as data analytics, but, increasingly, that's the case. Behind the scenes, in tourism, there's a new wave of business strategy driven by technology processes, all generated to create a better experience for the visitor. At the forefront of this wave are teams of young IT geniuses, making the most out of the growth spurt in this dynamic sector.The technology infiltration is not a trend, it's here to stay. An outmoded way of thinking about the tourism sector is that it's spearheaded by front-of-house hospitality profes sionals, visitor-facing tour guides and operators and shuttle drivers with a mind map of their local areas. While those roles are central to the visitor experience, they don't tell the whole story.As the market develops it is becoming dominated by the younger segment of the population, aspirational, mobile-savvy travellers who research, plan and record their experiences from their devices. Up to 45 percent of all travellers are using their devices to do this, and this is what business operators are understanding. They have to stay ahead of their markets and provide the means for those travellers to travel according to their preferences. To remain successful in a competitive market, companies must be preemptive in their strategies.Larger tourism organisations such as airlines and hotel groups are harnessing the power of big data, information generated by and about their customers. Online transactions can provide a wealth of detail about your customer, fr om cookies generated by their web searching habits to the information they provide on booking and feedback forms. This data allows for targeted marketing strategies that are intimate and personalised. You can target customers based on their preferences - how, when and where they are likely to travel, based on their habits. The more they interact with you, and you with them, the more information is produced; multiply that by thousands, and you can see how useful the cloud becomes for storing and accessing all of this data. Then there are apps - for everything from research to booking and exploring in destination. Apps aid visitors by making their process of organising what they want to do much more efficient - the demand for easy-to-navigate apps to facilitate travel is huge. As are user-friendly websites that get results fast.The point is, IT professionals, designers, data analysts, advertising and marketing specialists, social media analysts and co mmunity managers are all becoming more central to the tourism sector, these careers dominated by young, creative people who understand their market. It's often relatively easy to develop the skills necessary for those careers by doing free courses online, so they are accessible to a new workforce who may not have the resources to study degrees. Their skills are bankable, however, and, within the right context, they can go on to lead teams and access senior positions in an economic climate that would see them battle to find employment.We're acutely aware that tourism is enjoying a period of growth in the Western Cape, despite many challenges. There's large-scale investment in hotel and conferencing properties, so the long-term prospects are looking good. Across the continent, even, international investment is following suit, and, as African nations join the race to get their countries connected, the pace is picking up. This rapid digitalisation presents rich o pportunities for young people seeking to maximise on the potential available by building businesses around strategies that are less about guesswork but around real-time data. We can study trends that show where areas of growth are and develop our strategies to meet needs even before our market is aware that those needs exist.Of course, we're not saying that the wealth of accumulated knowledge of older tourism professionals isn't of value - we need the brilliance of seasoned professionals more than ever before, to channel this hunger for technology and the marketing power it offers, we need leaders with vision who can motivate and direct the creative energy into strategies that benefit travellers.Those who will succeed are the forever-young who can relate to people of all ages, for those are our visitors, travel is an experience that rejuvenates and refreshes, always bringing new perspectives, so the people who work in tourism must have the desire to constantly evolve and maintain a fresh approach to life.It's not certain where the industry will be in ten or twenty years' time: after all, at the rate technology is developing, it would take a visionary like Bill Gates to predict how travel trends will change, but, for young people in South Africa, there's an opportunity that will endure, both for those that are in love with all of the possibilities technology offers and for those brave enough to step out as entrepreneurs.Next time you're on holiday, think of all the processes that got you there, from reading friend's posts on social media to booking online. Imagine the specialists working behind the scenes to make that happen. One doesn't always consider all the people whose contribution goes into you having a good time, but, if you do, you'll begin to see why there are so many career opportunities in tourism.
Article by Michael Frenkel

Israel's tech community steps forward as innovation hub for hotels

MFC PR 5 July 2017
From the tech ecosystem that brought us Waze, MobilEye and the self-driving truck, the country's tech innovators find themselves smack in the middle of key issues and debates confronting the U.S. hotel industry, including the hotel-OTA relationship, the rise of Airbnb, the emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the lethargy of the hotel community in the face of threats posed by new gatekeepers and disruptors.These and more were discussed at Travel Tech Israel 2017, created by Innovel, a Tel Aviv-based innovation center that incubates start-ups in the travel space.The conference drew close to 400 attendees, including more than 100 Israeli start-up companies; brands, including AccorHotels, Hilton, and well-established tech leaders, such as Booking.com, Airbnb, Skyscanner and Fornova.Of Battleships and Dynamic Distribution"[Travel companies] are battleships," said travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt, who opened the conference and served as its emcee. "They talk a good game, but are slow to innovate."Many brands have made innovation a priority, but industry wide, the progress is slow and impeded by the size of hotel companies and lack of corporate incentives to innovate quickly--all on the back of antiquated legacy technology systems that were created as long ago as the 1960s.None of the problems are new, but some of the Israeli start-ups brought a distinctively original perspective.Fornova argues that the hotel-OTA competition is not a zero-sum game, with hotels standing to gain much more by partnering with OTAs on their own terms, than by casting them as villains and net negatives for the industry. Fornova believes there is an opportunity to turn OTA relationships to hotels' advantage, using them to sell rooms in markets where brands or smaller chains do not spend a lot of money, and marshaling real-time rate data to help hotels market brands more efficiently and effectively.Another innovator, VDRoom, painted a picture of a future booking path in which guests will book hotels via Google Glass in an augmented reality environment--and with AR all the rage, why not?A third company, SmartTag, has designed an elegant RFID chip bracelet to allow guests to make cashless payments for products and services throughout the property, opening the potential for increased F&B and retail sales at resort hotels and attractions.A start-up called Viggo Hotels is combining on-property WiFi services with Smart TV upgrades and guest engagement software on a single platform--promising to solve in a single place many of a hotelier's most persistent headaches.OTAs, Data, Security Threats and 'Meeting in the Middle'The conference's hotel panel featured Vineet Gupta, CIO for AccorHotels' luxury brands (Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel) and Brennan Veys, senior manager of corporate strategy at Hilton worldwide.Gupta said his chief concern comes much more from the OTAs than from Airbnb. He argued that the true differentiator for recapturing the guest relationship is providing services guests cannot receive elsewhere, in the booking path, and more importantly, once the guest reaches the property and throughout her stay. Personalization, of course, is the ultimate goal. He encouraged start-ups to focus on the entire guest experience, beginning pre-booking, continuing on property and through check out to the next visit.Gupta noted that there are 70 million guests coming to AccorHotels each year, including more 20 million bringing luxury data.Further on data, Israeli security start-up Trustifi spoke about hotels' vulnerability online, ranging from malware that can expose hotel records and guest profiles, to disabling attacks that can separate guests from their rooms, their belongings or their credit cards. Trustifi adds a new layer on top of encryption to ensure that the person who visited a hotel is the only one with access to his bill and credit card information--no one else.Hilton's Brennan was asked about the best way for hotel brands and start-ups to work together. With hundreds of innovative companies offering solutions touching on every part of the hotel's operation, how can the hotel community leverage the newest innovations without digging into each individual solution and getting overwhelmed?"Hoteliers don't necessarily know yet what we need," said Brennan, echoing the Steve Jobs mantra that the key is developing new products and services before the end user knows they need them. "You guys develop what you think we need--and then we'll meet in the middle."Silicon Valley Meets the Holy LandSumming up the day's discussions, Innovel Founder Rom Hendler noted that travel is one of the most vibrant sectors in Israel's tech ecosystem, which is a natural: high tech and tourism are two of the small country's top five industries. The intersection of leading-edge technology and the travel business should not come as a surprise to anyone.What was new at TTI 2017 was the incredible sense of vibrancy and depth of understanding of the hotel industry's global innovation challenges. Prediction: Of the more than 50 companies I spoke to in the course of two days, at least 10 of them will find themselves into the upper echelons of disruptive hotel technologies in the next five years. All they need is the worldwide stage, and the funding to nurture them along.Silicon Valley, beware: Israeli innovation is coming up right behind you.
Article by Marco Benvenuti

Hotel Technology Pendulum Swings Back To Best-Of-Breed Approach

Duetto 4 July 2017
Until recently, the advantages of a single enterprise solution executing all the functionality of your hotel technology could be justifiably argued.A single system providing everything from reservations through check-out would ideally minimize the number of different user interfaces for staff and reduce the potential for errors in data storage and processing.The idea of a functional enterprise system from a single vendor -- offering a booking engine, PMS, CRM, RMS and channel management, for example -- means that there is only one user interface, one database and one support number to call.On the flipside, one could argue that advancements in hotel technology, particularly cloud computing, have all but eliminated the advantages of a single enterprise solution.First, it's hard to envision a one-size-fits-all solution that appeals to hotels of all shapes and sizes. Additionally, nobody is confident that one provider is able to match best practices for specialized products in the fields of property, guest, channel and revenue management.Simply put: You can't be the best at all things. If you have a single provider that does everything for you, there's little chance it can do everything well.So smart hoteliers are considering a hybrid approach, consisting of many different solutions all plugged into the same centralized, cloud-based platform.This type of setup fixes three things immediately:The number of integrations is greatly reducedGuest and transactional data is centralized, not replicated or brokenAll applications can move to the cloud, saving hosting and hardware costsA best-of-breed approach also solves for gaps in a software suite, where a provider might be proficient in channel management, for example, but lack sophistication in revenue management.RED LION BRINGS A NEW APPROACH TO HOTEL TECHNOLOGYFor a recent example, look at Red Lion Hotels Corporation. Understanding that leading-edge technology, e-commerce and digital-marketing solutions would be critical to a brand turnaround, but realizing the company didn't have the time or the budget to attack each of these technologies internally, executives decided a best-of-breed approach would give them agility and room for future growth.In 2014, RLHC announced RevPak, a technology platform that brings together best-in-class third-party technologies to handle reservations, distribution, customer relations, CRM, marketing, revenue management and other tools.Since systems are all well interconnected, communication amongst them is quick and reliable. This makes it easier for hotels to present customers personalized offers based on their profiles and past behavior."There's a beauty within RevPak because if one system is not working or not playing well in the sandbox, that's a component that we can remove and replace," EVP and CMO Bill Linehan told Duetto. "I don't have core competency in all 12 or all 14 of these systems, but I do have a competency of understanding what it's supposed to do for us and a competency in understanding what else we would like for it to do for us."A CENTRALIZED CLOUD SOLUTIONThe next step is pretty clear. When your database is centralized and above-property, it gives operators access, in real time, to accurate data from all parts of the operation.For example, consider Adobe's newest push into marketing automation, with the Big Data behemoth accurately portraying hospitality as an industry with serious communication issues.One might guess that Adobe is inserting itself into hospitality as a single enterprise solution to solve all of hospitality's problems in one fell swoop. In reality, Adobe is not building a booking engine, PMS or RMS (to my knowledge). Instead, they are banking on a hybrid approach where Adobe will plug into a centralized platform or database, which is also seamlessly connected to all the tools needed to run a hotel.With a hybrid approach that allows a variety of different systems connected to a centralized, cloud-based platform, it no longer matters that your technologies talk to each other. They just have to talk well with the main platform. So if you're shopping for a CRM, which PMS you use no longer matters. Your PMS would essentially connect to a "common denominator" before connecting to your preferred CRM.DO IT WELL OR NOT AT ALLThat is not to say connecting several best-of-breed systems will go without hiccups.In Hospitality Upgrade, hospitality technology consultant Jon Inge suggests hotels looking to go this route need to ensure they're asking the necessary questions to their technology partners:Which combination of systems will provide the most seamless user interface?Will I be able to add or remove components without issue?Who will I go to for support?Once these issues are resolved, it's clear that hoteliers should move forward with a hybrid approach to their hotel technology stack, where PMS, CRS, CRM and RMS providers should be left to hone their individual craft. Leave developing top-tier systems to the experts, but rethink system integrations by adding a centralized data center through which all systems communicate seamlessly.
Article by Qian Long

Service of Silence in hospitality industry

University of Houston 3 July 2017
Sometimes rather than to satisfy guest needs, we realized a better choice is to create guest demand. We prepared a poster with a slogan "Escape from the digital world. Embrace the inner peace." We also created some activities, like surfing summer camp and watching open-air films, to help guests experience disconnection from the noisy world. These activities not only brought high guest satisfaction, but also increased our revenue.This experience reminds me of a new concept called "digital detox", which is focused on silence in hospitality industry. Dr. Franz Linser, founder of Linser Hospitality, said in 2016 Global Wellness Summit: "wellness programming at hotels/retreats today can sometimes feel like nothing more than an "operational line-item", while future destinations will need to put a deeper, more comprehensive focus on the true "art of living" and that will include a much more powerful focus on silence and nature."There are many industry pioneers that have already applied service of silence to their resorts, restaurants, gyms, salons and even airports. A wellness monastery named Eremito in Italy, without Wi-Fi or phone signal, offers services of meditation, yoga, hiking, reading, etc. Its brand is "peace, contemplation and re-finding oneself". Other examples of applying service of silence can be found in airports like London City, Bristol, Barcelona, Warsaw and Helsinki, where the announcements are only made at boarding gates (except in true emergencies).The service of silence is not anti-technology, but will embrace new technologies to create a silent experience for customers. We can identify the future trend of this unique service in hospitality industry. As the world will become noisier and more digitally connected, the service of silence in hospitality industry will have the opportunity to became a popular project for guests to escape from noise temporarily.
Article by Daniel E. Craig

Will Technology Replace Customer Service in Hotels?

Reknown 26 June 2017
On recent travels, I've noticed an increasing number of hotels using digital technology to interact with guests. Hotels have used technology for decades, of course, but the latest wave brings it out of the back-of-house and into the hands of guests.The question is, do travelers want these options? And are they using them?According to a Cognizant survey, over half of U.S. travelers want more automation in hotels. This includes using their mobile device to check in (54%), open their door (50%), communicate with staff (49%), and check out (57%). The numbers were significantly higher for frequent business travelers. (Phocuswright, 2016.)But humans are strange creatures. Just because we say we want something doesn't mean we will use it. And by many accounts adoption of guest-facing technology has been slow.Digital Check-inTake check-in kiosks, for example. Several years ago, big-box hotels began installing lobby kiosks at a frenzied rate, gleefully anticipating huge savings in labor costs. Then guests more or less ignored them.A 2016 Market Force survey found that only 3 percent of U.S. consumers checked in online, 2 percent used an app, and a mere 1 percent used a self-service kiosk. The vast majority--93 percent--checked in with reception.Why the resistance? No doubt our perception has been soured by airport kiosks, which may make check-in less labor-intensive for airlines but make it more onerous for passengers.More than anything, however, I think that consumers are reluctant to give up one of the last bastions of good customer service: hotels.While other businesses make it increasingly difficult to reach a human being in customer service, obliging us to wait in line or on hold, navigate voice systems, fill out online forms and converse with chatbots, hotels make it as easy as picking up the phone or walking up to the front desk. Hotel employees are so approachable they practically encourage complaints.Now that so much of the trip-planning process is digital and self-directed, it's no wonder that travelers rush into the arms of employees the moment they arrive at a hotel.And yet so often, upon approaching hotel employees, I encounter not a smiling, eager face but a lowered head. Travelers may be resistant to technology in hotels, but employees can't seem to unglue their eyes from their computers and electronic devices.And what are the first words out of the front desk agent's mouth? "Credit card and ID, please."I expect this type of greeting from a kiosk, not a hotel employee. If staff can't deliver the fundamentals of hospitality--eye contact, a warm welcome, a smile, intuitive service, the ability to go off script--they might as well be replaced by computers and kiosks.And then there's the waiting. Today the check-in process is no more efficient than when I was a front desk clerk almost (gasp) thirty years ago. How can travelers be expected to check themselves in efficiently when hotel staff still can't?Many hotels now offer digital check-in, but is it any more efficient? After checking in online to a New York hotel, I still had to go through all the usual procedures at the front desk, and the special requests I had submitted were either missed or disregarded. It made me wonder why I had bothered.Labor is expensive, so it's understandable that hotels look for ways to automate certain tasks. But technology is expensive too--especially when it irritates guests.Clear Benefits, Choice and ConvenienceIf hotels want guests to adopt self-serve technology, they must offer clear benefits, such as saving time or gaining access to special offers and services. The technology should be simple, user-friendly and efficient. And it must work.It also helps to offer benefits that were not previously available. A great example is the pre-arrival email, which invites guests to start planning their stay in advance, providing links to restaurants, activities and onsite services. The message is automated, but it feels personalized and makes you feel like hotel staff are anticipating your arrival.Previously, hotel employees didn't call up guests and offer to help plan their stay. Here technology is enhancing, not detracting from, the guest experience.Luxury is about choice and convenience. Guests should have the option of serving themselves or having an employee serve them.Digital CommunicationsMany hotels now have mobile apps that allow guests to book a room, check in, open their door, order services and check out using their phone. Hotels love having an app because they can control the content and track guests' activity and preferences.But it's hard to get people to download a new app, much less use it. We can presume that the big brands have had more success due to scalability and loyalty program tie-ins, but we don't really know because they don't release hard numbers. It's easy to boast a 50% increase in downloads when you started with 100.Some hotels interact with travelers on popular chat apps like WhatsApp, Messenger and WeChat. But many people are reluctant to open private channels to businesses, and hotels aren't keen to rely on third-party apps to communicate with their guests.Social media is often touted as a customer service channel, but why would travelers use Twitter or Facebook to request extra towels or complain about breakfast unless they want an audience and don't mind not knowing when--or if--the hotel will respond?For now, text messaging seems to be the simplest solution for digital communications. There is no app to download, messages are received instantaneously, and the only personal information travelers give away is their cell number.After checking in to a Dallas hotel, I received the following text: "Good afternoon, Mr. Craig. Welcome to the [Hotel]. If we can assist with anything, anytime, simply text us. How is your room? Andrew J."Impressive. But when I texted back a request the response was, "Can I have your room number please." So hotels are still working out the kinks.By some accounts, chatbots are the next big thing in customer service. Maybe for businesses whose relationships with customers are primarily transactional, but hotels are experiential. A hotel stay is charged with anticipation and emotion, especially for leisure travelers. A bit of hand-holding is required, and it's hard to automate such conversations.And if you have a complaint, do you want it handled by a chatbot or a manager? Computers may have artificial intelligence, but humans have emotional intelligence.Guestroom TechnologyGuestrooms are a natural place for automation because no employees are present; guests have no choice but to do things for themselves.The challenge is that travelers expect guestroom technology to be as current as the technology at home, and yet at home we have weeks or months to figure it out, and even then many of us can perform only the most basic functions. Why spend an hour or more learning how to work the television when you're only in house for a night or two? Personally, I keep pressing buttons until something works.At a hotel in San Francisco, everything in my room was controlled from a touchscreen computer next to my bed--temperature, lighting and entertainment. How cool. Except I couldn't get it to work, nor could the employee I called for assistance.Some hotels focus too much on investing in the latest technology when their money would be better spent on staff training and property upgrades.The best way to compel travelers to adopt technology? Leave them to their own devices. That's not to say abandon them, I mean make technology compatible with their smartphones, tablets, laptops and preferred apps like Netflix, Hulu and Spotify.As more people become accustomed to using voice-activated assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant at home, they will expect them in hotel rooms too. Soon hotel guests may be able to bark out orders like "Turn up the music!", "Bring me a cheeseburger!" and "Come get my bags!" from the bed or bathtub.Digital CheckoutHotels have offered remote checkout for years, but I'm never confident the bill will be accurate or emailed to me as promised, so I usually line up at the front desk.On the day of my checkout from a Las Vegas hotel, I received a copy of my bill by email with an offer of a late checkout for $20. It's a great example of how digital technology can simultaneously benefit both travelers and hotels. I got the convenience of a late checkout without having to plead with the front desk, and the hotel received a bump in revenue.Another example is the post-stay survey. Previously, hotel managers didn't call up guests to ask how their stay was. Now they send an email. Guests can easily vent frustrations and sing praises, and managers receive instant feedback on how to improve.Blending Technology with Guest ServiceDigital technology won't fully replace hotel employees anytime soon, but there's no question that the two will increasingly work in tandem.Guest-facing technology works best in hotels when an employee is readily available to guide and support the user. Essentially, customer service facilitates technology, and technology facilitates customer service.A perfect example is the Airbnb app. As an Airbnb guest, you may never meet your host, yet through the app you feel as though your host is available to you throughout your stay.For hotels, the great differentiator is the physical presence of employees. But as technology enables travelers to perform more transactions for themselves, the frequency and duration of interactions between guests and employees will decrease. This makes these touch points even more important than ever.Hotel owners and managers are wise to invest in digital technology, but at the same time they need to ensure that employees are there for guests when they need them and trained to excel in the human side of hospitality.
Article by David Turnbull

No More Excuses - It's Time For A Change

Snapshot GmbH 26 June 2017
Technology is not static, it's flexible, and just like processes and services in hotels, it needs to adapt to quickly changing guests expectations and market demands and, if possible, anticipate them. Hotels need to be able to add, tune, upgrade or even completely change their technology stack quickly. Scalability and adaptation to market changes must be a hotel's mantra when choosing a technology provider.This is a challenging and overall pretty new concept, because the legacy systems that have been in place in hotels need to urgently integrate with an entire new generation of SaaS solutions. That said, hotels that manage to embrace this new concept will have a competitive edge.So why is this concept so difficult for hotels to embrace? For one, there is too much friction between softwares. Integrations are the weak link of our industry. Even for some of the best tech companies, integrations can involve months of development and testing to create stable connections.But despite frequent outages, data validation struggles and lengthy waits to be "scheduled", the necessity to integrate prevails. Hoteliers keep accepting that "that's the way it is." That mentality coupled with long sales cycles leave hotels in a technology paralysis. Hotels buy and install key customer-facing technology then sit for seven years complaining about it before making a change. That idea is a scary one, particularly if we look at how quickly technology is changing.Hotels must fundamentally change the way they look at technology planning, purchase and usage. They should consider their technology systems as platforms (rather than servers in the basement) that can be constantly optimized, tweaked and adjusted.Technology needs to have multiple options or versions that fit various segments of hotels. Not every hotel needs an enterprise in mind designed operating software that can handle every task imaginable. So why should they pay for that? Hotels need a modular technology choices, that allows them to pick out the features that they want and need.This modular approach is scalable and doesn't require large upfront fees that swallow-up valuable CAPEX with non-questionable recurring maintenance costs, no matter if the hotels are using the system or not. Flexible pricing models allow hotels to be nimble, adding or removing parts they don't need, in order to keep their technology lean and cost efficient for any property size.Hoteliers can then download apps in seconds and A/B test before paying for the one they want. This flexibility translates itself into changing purchase and usage expectations of the same hotelier when buying hotel technology.With this freedom, as the business grows, the hotel can add features. If business needs change and a feature is no longer needed, the hotel can easily remove it.Hoteliers need to be able to do what hoteliers to best - meet and exceed their customer's expectations. To do this however they need to work with vendors and an entire technology community that promote greater interoperability, flexibility and open access to the data needed to power their guest experience.On paper, all-in-one or full technology stacks are practical for a hotel, but they too need to be able to integrate with new apps and integrate with multiple providers - the grass is always greener. And taking into consideration that an "insignificant" app today could be the next big thing of tomorrow, continuous R&D is a must.The large tech industries have long understood the concept of building platforms that work unilaterally. Our industry needs to adapt to that thinking.The good news is that many incumbent technology providers realize this, reflecting the changing mindset and fickleness of the hotel client base they serve. As we build those systems with open and flexible integrations and pricing, hotels can improve service quality and focus on taking care of guests in ways that no other industry can. Because, at the end of the day, that's what hospitality is really all about.
Article by Matthew Stubbs

Hotel restaurants - the next boom trend for hospitality technology?

BookingTek 23 June 2017
People of all ages are embracing the dining experience, close to home and on vacation. Hotels can capitalize on this right now - but only if they have the right technology and strategy.Dining out is a vital part of the travel experience Over the last five years, eating out locally has become part of our daily lives. Not only that, but dining is now a much faster and more informal affair, leading to a boom in both casual and fast-casual restaurants.Unsurprisingly, this willingness to try local restaurants, experience 'craft' foods, make spur-of-the-moment choices, and eat in a more relaxed atmosphere, has altered the way we eat on vacation too.Millennials say eating out is increasingly an important part of their travel experience. In fact, according to a survey by Topdeck Travel, 98 per cent of young people ranked 'eating local cuisine' as very important. Chinese travelers, who are becoming ever-more important for the hospitality industry, also say that food is important when traveling. In a survey by Hotels.com, Chinese travelers weighted cuisine as the third most important factor when picking a destination behind only safety and historical sites - and ahead of shopping.Of course, we're also all eating out closer to home as well. For example, in the US and Canada consumer spending on restaurants is rising. In fact, last year spending on eating out in the US surpassed spending on groceries for the first time in history. As fears about the outlook for tourism play out across the industry, hotel restaurants provide hoteliers with an attractive way to increase revenues from people living locally.Competition is fierce, and hotel restaurants should look to invest in tech to compete more effectivelyHotels have worked hard to increase revenues from their bedrooms business, and entice these guests to stay with them by upgrading their facilities. They've launched loyalty schemes, and introduced cutting-edge bedroom tech, like in-room voice activated assistants. But still, hotels would like to get more of these guests to use their restaurants.Local restaurants and increasingly online delivery services are still in the lead. They're winning the battle for these customers and their business.Some hotels have fought back, introducing new fast-casual restaurant experiences - or are exploring partnerships with chains to introduce the concept. But while accepting and reacting to this growing trend may well pay dividends long term, it doesn't tackle the immediate core problem.Hotel restaurants could capitalize right now by adopting online restaurant reservation technology that would boost their bookings quickly and economically.Surprisingly few hotel restaurants have direct online-booking capability. Many also lack the tech that is becoming common for a good restaurant experience - such as front-of-house management systems that make delivering a personalized service easier.To make up the ground being lost, hotels should tool up now and get the right technology in place as quickly as possible.But hotels shouldn't cut corners. They must launch direct booking firstIt can be very easy to jump in with both feet and live to regret the decision - especially when it comes to technology. Early adopters can get burned and the hospitality industry is littered with tales of tech decisions gone wrong.The same is true when it comes to restaurant technology. When you're looking around at the competition growing every day, it can be very easy for hotel managers to convince themselves that the best - and quickest - way to launch online booking is with an intermediary.But this could end up costing hoteliers more money in the long term.As the hotel industry has learned to its cost, listing with OTAs and intermediaries first is not without its risks; in particular, it gives the intermediary a head start on building a mine of customer data, such as names, preferences, and email addresses, which they can use effectively for future (chargeable) marketing purposes. As we have seen from the bedroom business, after customers start booking through third-party websites, it's increasingly difficult to win them back and secure direct bookings.To be sure of a successful outcome, hotel restaurant managers must look carefully at all the alternatives and prioritize launching their own direct table-reservation system first. Intermediaries can come later - they have their role to play in any booking strategy. But to establish themselves and build a loyal direct-booking customer base, hotels must put themselves first this time.
Article by Alicia Whalen

What Travel Marketers need to know about Local Search and Mobile

aliciawhalen.com 23 June 2017
With today's connected mobile consumer, travel marketers large and small, can impact the mobile and local path to purchase - simply by being there in local search, being accurate, managing reviews, and providing "in the moment" customer service.What has changed in the customer path to purchase of travel:1. Mobile Access has changed consumer buying process, expectations, and even the way they buy travel and travel related services.2. Local and "near me searches" have changed the travel path to purchase with in-destination or "in the moment" sales increasing year over year.3. Consumers expect the "mobile first" user experience with easy access to contact information, maps, directions and reviews. They expect accuracy in listing information, and immediate response from brands in solving problems.4. Within the online mobile experience, local listings, maps, and review sites are dominating the points along the customer journey, and directly impacting revenue in the travel category, more now than in the past with reviews integrated into the local and mobile search experience.The impact of reviews on revenue within the travel category is not new.But with the increased use of mobile devices, and visibility of local search on mobile devices, travel consumers are now making "in the moment" decisions while in-destination - and even modifying plans around transportation, accommodations, dining, and activities throughout their travel experience.The Mobile search experience is much different than on desktop: A search on a mobile device highlights paid search results, then maps, then local listings and reviews take top real-estate in both Google and Bing.There is no room for "organic" rankings in a mobile search environment. This makes sense, as users accessing information on a mobile device are "mobile," on the go - and looking for different information than when searching from a desktop or laptop.Mobile has changed the travel buying journey:The consumer buying journey on mobile devices is primarily local, and focused on immediate access to information such as maps, directions, contact information, and reviews to allow for "*in the moment" decisions.The mobile effect has changed the travel buying path as follows:The mobile user experience is different than on desktop, with consumers looking to complete an action and accomplish a task, instead of browsing.Local and "*near me searches" have increased year over year, with in-destination or "in the moment" decisions impacting purchases before travel and throughout the time while in-destination. (Think with Google)Consumers expect a "mobile first" user experience with easy access to contact information, maps, directions, and reviews. Customers also expect accuracy in listing information, and immediate response from brands in solving problems.Increased Importance of reviews and social comments in gaining both reach and revenue. With reviews highlighted at the top of mobile search real estate, users are more likely to access reviews in making purchase decisions than they would be if they needed to leave the search experience and go to a review website. The number and quality of reviews are also factors in local search engine rankings.Why user reviews Impact revenue more now than ever before:A recent comScore study looks at the impact that online consumer-generated reviews have on offline purchase behaviour:"Nearly one out of every four Internet users (24%) report using online reviews before paying for a service delivered offline. Of those who consulted an online review, 41% of restaurant reviewers subsequently visited a restaurant, while 40% of hotel reviewers then stayed at a hotel."This is not a new trend in the tourism industry. What is new is that "Review us Here" has expanded to include listings on Yelp, Facebook, as well as travel booking sites, such as Expedia and Booking.com.All have an impact on consumer perception and on search rankings - and specifically on mobile search rankings.The *comScore report also highlighted:"Consumers are likely to pay between 20% and 99% more for an excellent (5-star rating) than for a good (4-star rating), depending on the product category." (Source comScore).This suggests that the impact of reviews on hotels, restaurants, airline, car rental, attractions, as well as other travel suppliers, can alter consumer perception and modify a decision to buy - or event change their decision to purchaseImplications for travel and hospitality marketers:Local SEO is a must, or your business will not be found.Google my business listing must be claimed, and the accuracy of Google and Bing business listings is important for all brick and mortar businesses or services with a storefront.Google Maps Pins must be accurately situated.Google listings should have the Click to Call feature enabled.Reviews must be managed across channels and in real-time to ensure consumer confidence and service level.All review channels are important. Positive reviews affect revenue. with Google, Facebook and Tripadvisor being the most critical to mobile search rankingBy optimizing and leveraging consumer mobile connectedness, local search, and social review platforms together, travel marketers can ensure that they are visible at every place along the buyers travel journey.All travel category suppliers from hotels, restaurants and rental cars, to attractions, tour operators and destination marketing organizations need to be optimizing and managing their local and mobile user experience to win with today's traveler.It is essential to have full-circle integration and management of brand, local, mobile, and social in the travel category, to provide a seamless and consistent brand experience across search, social channels, listing sites, review sites and forums.Some additional tips to win with today's mobile connected customer:Provide a seamless and consistent brand experience across search, social channels, listing sites, review sites, and forums; listen, respond, and deliver on value as well as consumer expectations.Solve problems and create value: Monitor and understand consumer user experience at a localized level to ensure a clear path to information, easy access to location details and directions, contact information - and information to make the buying experience easier, and with a clear point of transaction.Be accurate, transparent, and relevant: Ensure inventory is consistent across channels (e.g., car rentals and hotels should ensure price parity across distribution channels ), information is accurate (e.g., Google map pins, and listings are optimized (e.g., Google Business listings, etc.).Focus SEO and marketing resources around "mobile moments" - and the impact that "near me" search has had on the customer journey.Reviews impact ROI: Managing local reviews in widely used channels like Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp - and even on popular travel related sites, such as Booking.com and Expedia - will help to increase your ability to reach to your target audience via higher search rankings. It should also help to drive sales due to increased customer confidence based on comparisons of your product, business location or service to others.In preparation for the summer travel season, a review of your listings on all popular review sites including Facebook and Google Reviews is a must.Claim and optimize Google and Bing business and map listings. The good news is that a more direct relationship with the customer is easier now than it was in the early days of search and social.For large brands with multiple franchises, and numerous locations - this is the time to shift the focus of SEO and digital marketing budgets to ensure that localized support is provided. The sum is the total of its parts as they say. One or two locations who are missing the mark can have an impact on the brand.
Article by Abdulrahman Jogbojogbo

The future of hotel rooms

Hotels.ng 23 June 2017
Take a spin back to 1950, and you'll be sure to find a well written and animated article on the subject - the hotel room of the future. It's an interesting subject for players in the hotel space, a culmination of unhinged literary creativity, and fairly logical projections based on the trends and technology of the day.More than ever, hoteliers will in the future strive to offer unique and personalised experiences to the guest, and to immerse him in an environment that is closest to his ideal throughout his stay. The changes and advancements in the hotel business have always been driven by this quest, and with technology, the leverage is greatly increased.In the hotel business, there is such a race towards automation and robotics that in a couple of decades from now, hotels are expected to re-introduce human concierges and attendants. This will be in a bid to revive the personal touch that will be missing from a lot of service provisions. One can hence expect, that the stoic, friendly, discreet, and polite hotel attendant will be a character that is re-introduced after robot butlers become less popular.It's not all bad news for technology however, as it's expected that technology drives augmented reality which in turn drives seamless guest-specific customisations. The hotel will eventually evolve past one block of rooms with similar themes into a grouping of less dependent room units that are differently customised on an as-needed basis to have themes and settings required by the guest.Interactions that guests traditionally have with rooms are driven by sight, smell, and touch. In the future, these interactions will be redefined with at least a fourth added - sound. Window panes will be transformed into a gateway to the guests imagined destinations - a stretch of the Sahara, or the heart of the Amazon... The walls will change colours through light to match the guest's mood and temperament. The boring mirror will be transformed to an interactive surface through which guests can input room commands or access the internet. The guest is expected to be immersed into a realistic augmented environment where theme-specific ambient sounds, smells and feel are programmed to his taste.The gym experience should also be affected as rooms are even today, being merged with the gym. Simple set-ups like the treadmill or the workout bike can be coupled with augmented reality to provide outdoor-like experiences for the guest as they exercise - a walk, jog, or run through Thames Park, Central Park or the Harbour of Sydney - all from atop a mechanical contraption.The bed. This is the single most important and prominent feature of any hotel room. One imagines that in years to come, the science of levitation is fully mastered and that guests will be treated to resting on floating masses of warmth and softness, with an ever so gentle rock now and then as guests retire for the day.Voice control, a novelty of sorts today will tomorrow be a norm. All functions and room settings that are typically controlled by a button or a tap will be controlled hands-free in tomorrow's hotel room, all with a voice command or two. Already, Starwood line of hotels such as Sheraton Hotel, and Le Meridien Resort are already experimenting with this feature.Several other impressive and guest centric features that revolve around technology will define the future of the hotel room. All the advancements will be geared towards making the guest king, a customer to be tended to and feted on one hand, a guest who knows what he wants and is unafraid to take charge on the other hand.It will be all about the guest, giving him control, providing him impeccable services, and customising every aspect of his stay to the closest that technology's complex algorithms will allow.The future is a long time away, but if this writer witnesses these changes, he'll be glad to sit back and do a hearty kids, what did I tell you?!

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