Technology – are you with IT?

HO tech panel

Hotel Management, with parent company Questex Hospitality + Travel and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), presented the third Hotel Optimization virtual event on 27 January. The day’s second panel examined how hoteliers can use technology to lower their bottom line.

“Our industry has to adapt,” said Neal Patel, treasurer at AAHOA and managing partner for Blue Chip Hotels. Hoteliers have until recently been able to pick and choose which technologies they want to incorporate and take their time as they decide, but during a pandemic, he said, the decisions have to be made faster and many of these technologies are now mandatory. While brand standards are driving some decisions, he emphasized that hotel owners now are taking the initiative on their own. “We know that these are unprecedented times and we have to step up and get the guests’ confidence back. At the same time, you have to make sure customer service stays the same or better than before. And that's what we're focusing on.” 

Scott Strickland, chief information officer at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, said his corporation has two distinct customers: the guest and the franchisee. “The perfect world is when a technology investment benefits both of them,” he said. In a time of crisis, guests want cleanliness, flexibility and safety in their stays. “The franchisee is looking for safety, as well—for their staff [and] for themselves because many of our franchisees suddenly became owner-operators.” While they may have been more remote in the past, he explained, desperate times call for business professionals to step up, so owners are rolling up their sleeves to run their assets. “They're invested,” he said. 

As demand spiked over 2020, Strickland said, Wyndham accelerated some initiatives that it had not planned to work on until this year or next. For example, while the company was already invested in boosting its mobile platform, it pushed the rollout of contactless payments “immediately,” he said. The next update of the Wyndham app will include both Google Pay and Apple Pay capabilities for guests. “That'll be great, because it's one less interaction point for everybody that's involved there,” Strickland said. 

The Next Generation

Brian Kirkland, chief technology officer at Choice Hotels International, expects 5G to be an “interesting driver” for where guest expectations go in the future, affecting on-property networks and guest devices alike. “There's a lot of evolution happening that's powered by the cloud, and the cloud is making it possible for some extremely advanced technologies to become mainstream—things that weren't possible before,” he said. “We didn't have enough staff to go off and build machine learning and AI capabilities and virtual assistants and all these capabilities.” 

Patel agreed, and suggested 5G technology will help lower costs at hotels. “We may not even need Wi-Fi going forward,” he suggested. “Everyone has a cell phone, and 5G is much faster than what we're currently offering [so] no one's going to be using our hotel Wi-Fi and we'll be saving huge costs.” Patel also sees good value in technology that helps hoteliers manage their teams. “You input all your employees on there, and it automatically schedules them and automatically texts them [their schedule]. And if someone cannot make it, [the program will] automatically replace them, and text the next person in line.”  

Five years from now, Patel said, traditional cable will no longer be needed in hotel rooms as streaming services dominate both at-home and in-room entertainment. “That is the future, and that is a low-cost technology, and the [return on investment] is going to be so much higher when you see the savings on it.” 

Property-level technology was Wyndham’s top investment in both 2020 and will be again in 2021, Strickland said, noting that the sector is consuming roughly 40 percent of the company’s total capital IT budget for both of those years.