Hotels that buy and keep their technology in boxes will soon find themselves with an out-of-date tech stack. The cloud is the future of hotel technology. That was the compelling message to come out of a Rethinking Hotel Technology panel discussion at the Revenue Strategy Forum in London.
Moderated by Lee Hazlehurst, Head of News at Travel Weekly, the panel discussion brought together innovative hoteliers and technology consultants who navigated through the future changes and challenges in hotel technology.
“Hotels tend to buy things in boxes and kept them in buildings. That has been a big barrier to the adoption of good modern technology, which you see in other industries,” said Nick Price, Founder of NetSys Technology and CIO of citizenM.
“We’re at a change point with the opportunity that comes with cloud systems and Software as a Service solutions, where you can buy once and go chain-wide much easier,” he added.
Richard Pemberton, hospitality technology consultant for Avenue9 Solutions, explained how many hotels have become so wedded to their legacy systems they only look at what other technologies they can lay on top, rather than putting a strategy together to move their systems forward.
“We're at a position now where we can change the way we look at investment in technology. The way we have invested in technology in the past has been part of a CapEx model. Cloud technology is very much on an OpEx basis, so we can start to shift that technology investment to a more cost effective base,” Pemberton said.
Marc Fries, VP of change management for AHM Hotel Management, challenged the RSF audience to head to World Travel Market and identify a system they would like to implement and then ask their procurement team how long it would take.
“It will take you years,” he said, pointing to long-winded internal purchasing and invoicing systems as obstacles to innovation.
“We have to take the step to break out of this and [swap] out that legacy PMS system for something that is flexible and connective to other systems. There are fantastic applications out there but we can’t integrate them,” he said.
Breaking the technology mould
“Why do we only purchase new systems when the old ones are broken?” Hazlehurst asked the panel.
Price from citizenM explained the benefits of breaking the mould and moving away from the CapEx model.
“If you buy as a SaaS then it cannot be legacy as it is being continually updated. That immediately changes the game,” he said.
Another question tackled was whether or not cloud computing led to a loss of control.
“You shouldn’t be frightened of putting your systems in the cloud,” Price said.
Pemberton pointed out that often hotels have “different legacy systems in place being used to run different parts of the business and no one knows they are there until you pay for them.” This is not the most efficient way to run a business.
Price explained how the citizenM model includes kiosk check-in, something not even thought about a decade ago. He explained how the kiosk has streamlined operations and enabled the guest to have the type of experience they feel most familiar with.
“Until recently, the kiosk has duplicated what you do at front desk. Today, we all carry a front desk in our pocket. The smartphone enables you to move as much of it up stream; check-in becomes more about choosing rather than just getting a key,” Price said. “Technology is here to help. Facial recognition is here, for example. The job of the front desk is to look in the passport and say ‘Yes, you are the person checking in.’ Now, we can use CC TV with AI face recognition to identify if we have frequent guests in the lobby.
“We can then repurpose that information for the ops staff,” he continued. “That kind of opportunity comes about by powering in the cloud.”
Price went on to note that hoteliers shouldn’t be looking to replace hospitality from the business: “Technology is freeing up the time for our employees to chat with our guests.”
The panel discussion concluded with all panellists agreeing greater connectivity and lower costs made cloud-based solutions the most forward-thinking, practical and cost effective solutions for hotel chains and independents alike.