What IT tools and platforms does the hotel of the future require? What might be the technology competencies of future hotel general managers? This imaginary interview between EHL professor Ian Millar and BOSC6 student Kelly Sebastianutto propels us into a top London hotel in 2030 where Kelly is the newly-appointed General Manager.
New position, how do you feel about it?
Great! But also a little bit overwhelmed as the industry has really transformed itself since I graduated from EHL in 2022. Since starting this role 6 months ago, we have already made numerous changes to our tech operations. Thinking back to 2022 when we were coming out of the pandemic, I remember vividly your elective course on Hospitality Technology Strategy. Many of the things we discussed I've already or will be implementing into my hotel operations and strategy.
What technology experience can you share?
The first thing was to take a 100% cloud-first approach. We have moved all our systems to the cloud and I operate SAAS as well as PAAS. Of course with this comes security issues, and I have a great IT team who take security very seriously as well as all the compliance I need to ensure we do correctly (PCI, GDPR). I only work with systems that operate on open API model.
I also took the first months to give my staff a better technology experience. The guest rooms are planned for renovation next year so I will wait a few months before starting on the guest experience. I have implemented a staff “PWA” that allows for real-time communication, employee sentiment and surveys, all the info they need to do their daily jobs and we have just activated the team virtual training program. So the PWA has a virtual onboarding module that all new employees take.
The initial feedback is superb as it gives them flexibility with their time but of course the interaction with their managers and colleagues is vital. These tools enable them to do their jobs better, better productivity and overall experience as employees, but not to replace the human touch. There is also a wellness module offered to the staff to help them relax and unwind, and one cool feature is they can swap their shifts with colleagues, giving them a better work life balance and last minute family time.
Describe a typical day as a hotel General Manager
Well, like all hotels there is no real 'typical day'. Firstly, as we are open API, I have realtime access to all the KPI and key numbers I need to know. I have a real-time dashboard on a screen in my office and also have those numbers on my phone in real-time. OCC% ADR, revenue so the key metrics are there. I have also adopted the “healthy building” mindset so I have installed various IoT solutions. For example I could receive a real-time alert that room 301 is showing signs of increased damp and humid air from the in-room IoT sensor. I confirm the alert and a message is sent to head of engineering and housekeeping to meet straight away in the room.
Another example could be I receive negative sentiment on a review site about bathroom cleanliness, I am able through data to know which housekeeper cleaned that room. This housekeeper is contacted through the internal app and asked to complete some additional virtual training on bathroom standards. A message is also sent to the executive housekeeper to follow up on this as the housekeeper concerned is excellent but needs some training.
A final example: occ% is low for next week according to predictions, AI has analysed the data and given me three options to activate. I choose option 1 and new availability and prices are live on our website as well as our automated CRM had done a campaign to relevant previous guests especially promoting kids' activities and the spa as next week is the half term holidays.
Name a few hotel technology trends
Firstly RPA. This has been excellent for us and removed so many back-of-house manual processes. We hardly work with Excel anymore. With the cloud solutions I have all my data and my dashboard can be configured to how we need it. Machine learning has come a long way and now is also affordable and relevant for us.
One thing we have just put in place is the adoption of SSI (self-sovereign identity). This is a game changer for hospitality. It has also reduced my reliance on OTA’s and I already have much healthier direct bookings than other hotels. Blockchain keeps everything safe for me, and also, the “basket” approach where individual personalisation of the stay is possible has worked well, and our guests love it. Our restaurant reservations with hotel guests is already up 10% as they book dinner along with their room, which they could not do before. Plus my spa has told me more treatment reservations are coming in as well.
How are you using technology for your strategic planning?
I actually remember back to one of your lessons where you used the phrase “Data driven decisions” and it's something that has stuck with me since then. When my team and I do strategic planning, data is front and centre. Not one decision is based on gut feeling. We only make decisions using data. Of course, our hospitality experience plays a role, but the data does all the talking. I have a data scientist in my team who works with all department heads and builds our data platform that we use when planning.
What is you main tech project in the near future?
Our next objective on our digital transformation scoreboard is to use technology to tackle labour shortages. Using technology to fight labour shortages does not mean that we will be losing the high touch our industry is known for - quite the opposite, in fact. The right use of technology can support the high-touch in the hospitality industry to improve/enhance the service and, at the same time, reduce needed labour for mundane tasks. This allows us to focus on the interaction with the client during any service, whether is it at Reception, or In-room check-in.
Ian Millar concludes
It's good to see industry people like Kelly. She has fully understood that technology is about enabling things; it's not really about the technology itself but more about what it can do for you. Cloud computing adoption and Open API are great ways to build a technology stack. It makes it so much easier to adapt and be agile in systems integration. Of course, there is the ever-growing area of compliance, especially GDPR. But as can be seen in this interview, the main reason for a successful technology strategy is the mindset. Having the mindset and company culture that technology will enable a better business, and you are halfway there.
What does a hotel General Manager do? A guide to the abbreviations:
- SAAS - Software As A Service
- PAAS - Platform As A Service
- PCI - Payment Card Industry
- GDPR - General Data Protection Regulation
- PWA - Progressive Web App
- API - Application Programming Interface
- OCC - Occupancy
- ADR - Average Daily Rate
- CRM - Customer Relationship Management
- RPA - Robotic Process Automation