Why COVID Has Been The Technology Kick We Needed

November 10, 2020 | Jennifer Jones, Founder, J2 Hospitality Solutions

When everybody started working from home earlier in the year, those who were already set up for success were those who were already working cloud-based and could easily tap into their PMS, RMS etc. from home.

Since then, a lot of hotels have been taking advantage of the slower periods to implement new technologies. I have clients who are undertaking a complete tech overhaul, swapping out their PMS, CRM, RMS etc. When you are open and operating a hotel at high occupancy that is very complicated to do without impacting guests and raising anxiety in staff

These hotels are open, but now the business is slower. It gives us an opportunity to integrate systems in a live environment and have a little more time to test, iron out issues and get things right.

A lot of hotels are now finally focusing on the technologies out there that are designed to integrate with open APIs. Although those integrations aren’t brand new to us, most integrations previously required an interface server to sit on site as well as hiring professional services from the vendors to complete the installation and thus an integration could take weeks.

Now there are a lot of vendors out there who are offering open APIs where you can easily “click in” technologies. It is super-fast, and it is light on your budget. Suddenly you are transferring data from A to B, which is helping to alleviate manual intervention.

From a revenue management perspective, I have seen a lot of people trying to use these tools to see where their comp set is right now, because it is hard to gauge what is going on. We cannot use statistics from where we were at the same time last year to be making decisions for today.

One of the benefits a fully integrated tech stack can provide is a 360 degree view of your guest, which enables you to communicate with them on a personalized level as well as capture their spend across all of your property’s outlets, allowing for you to see their true value to your organization.

Using technology to increase efficiency

Hotels are scaling back their teams right now in both front and back of the house. Technology can help here. I have been working with a lot of contactless tech, such as mobile keys - a technology that is growing by leaps and bounds now, where pre-COVID, the adoption of this type of tech was not at the forefront. In addition, guest messaging solutions have become super popular, where hotels are communicating with guests via SMS text or a web-based chat application

With both of these technologies staff do not need to be front and center, which fits in very well for those properties who want to offer good service but be respectful of distancing.

In fact, an AI powered chatbot can create lots of efficiency for teams, as many of the questions asked by guests are the same. A great example of a common question such as ‘What is the WIFI password?’, can be easily configured to provide an automated answer immediately.

These messaging technologies enable hotels to seed the application with answers to popular questions to alleviate them from having to staff someone to continuously answer guest calls while servicing other guests.

Furthermore, these systems learn, as more questions get asked. Only when the chatbots don't know the answer does it escalate to an actual person. That person doesn't necessarily need to be standing in the hotel, of course, because the technology is cloud based and can be accessed on a mobile phone, tablet or laptop.

And there’s a business learning here too. We can run analytics on the most popular questions that have been asked that could not be answered by the bot. This encourages us to continually improve our chat bot configuration helping it be more efficient and automated than we may have originally imagined. This includes opportunities for more revenue streams as we can better understand what the guests really want.

Using technology to boost guest loyalty

We talk a lot about OTAs, their high commissions and how we need to drive direct bookings. I think a lot of us have finally submitted to the fact it is OK for the origination of our guests to be via an OTA. But once that guest has arrived onsite, it is our job to cultivate that relationship to get them to book direct next time. The question then is ‘how do we connect?’ How do we continue to market to that guest? And that is where CRM tools becomes very valuable.

When I say CRM, I don't just mean the system that we use to email out attractive confirmation letters. A true CRM intelligently builds a valuable profile of your guest. This is created from aggregating data across your portfolio of systems that house guest data. Transactions from these integrations flow seamlessly into the CRM to provide analytics to enable you to design individualized marketing to that guest, including a promo code to book again, but directly on your hotel’s website, saving you dollars from costly OTA commissions. If properties can continually build and grow their CRM profiles and marketing strategies while keeping the integrity of the data as a key component to success, they should be able to gain guest loyalty that will provide valuable return.

2020 is proving to be one of the most challenging years ever experienced by hotels, but perhaps from a technology standpoint this is the catalyst that we needed.

I'm seeing organizations that were very heavily dependent on on-premise technology now starting to replace these with cloud-based systems. The key is to choose a vendor who has reliable hosting and support as well as a platform that is built for scalability allowing your organization to grow with them.

Jennifer Jones is an independent consultant specialising in hospitality technology. Discover more at http://www.j2hospitalitysolutions.com/

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